CAUTION!! Boundary Work Ahead for Internet Studies

This past October, Mary was one of  the plenary speakers at the Association of Internet Researchers IR13.0. Below is the text from her presentation.

Suggested citation: Gray, Mary L. “ ‘CAUTION!! Boundary Work Ahead for Internet Studies …or, Why the Twilight of the ‘Toaster Studies’ Approach to Internet Research is a Very, Very Good Thing”. Paper presented at IR13, University of Salford, Manchester, October 19, 2012.

CAUTION!! Boundary Work Ahead for Internet Studies


Why the Twilight of the ‘Toaster Studies’ Approach to Internet Research is a Very, Very Good Thing

My thanks to the organizers, particularly Feona Attwood and Ben Light. I’m honored to share this session with 2 scholars I read and admire. They, along with the other plenary speakers and keynote, produce scholarship critical to the relevance and future of internet studies. Their momentum is why I think we’re heading toward the twilight of a techno-centric approach to internet studies.

This year’s conference theme asks us to examine the place of the Internet in the contemporary world and in relation to a range of existing and emerging technologies. To consider its impact in a context where life is entangled with technologies of all kinds.

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The Cost of Collaboration for Code and Art

Does collaboration result in higher quality creative works than individuals working alone? Is working in groups better for functional works like code than for creative works like art? Although these questions lie at the heart of conversations about collaborative production on the Internet and peer production, it can be hard to find research settings where you can compare across both individual and group work and across both code and art. We set out to tackle these questions in the context of a very large remixing community.

Remixing in Scratch
Example of a remix in the Scratch online community, and the project it is based off. The orange arrows indicate pieces which were present in the original and reused in the remix

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Look Who Stopped By: Siva Vaidhyanathan

We get a lot of wonderful and interesting visitors here at SMC. Today, we had the pleasure of spending time with Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor and the Chair of the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia. 


SMC: So what brings you to MSR today?

SV: For years I’ve wanted to visit MSR and talk to the folks who are working on the social science questions. Ever since danah boyd came here 4 years ago, maybe 5 years ago, I knew that something really interesting was happening here, and that someone here was smart enough to hire danah. That said a lot. But then once  Kate and Nancy and Mary all announced their willingness to join this team, I knew that the absolute best work was going to come out of this group. So, you know, I’ve been itching to hang out with these folks. They’re not only doing the best work on internet culture, but they’re also really fun, nice people. And they attract other fun, nice people! So I was not disappointed.

SMC: What’s the most fun thing that you learned during your visit today?

SV: That Neal Stephenson goes to church. (laughs) Cambridge is a tremendous salon of thought and research about the most interesting questions about digital technology and culture. I don’t know that there’s a better town in the US for these sorts of conversations, and MSR is a big part of that. Between MSR and Berkman, you have critical mass of really smart people who are asking all the right questions and generating sophisticated answers.

SMC: SMC has quite an extensive beverage bar.  Out of our many options, what was your drink of choice today?

SV: (laughs) I had chai.

MSR Social Media Collective 2013 Summer Internships


Microsoft Research New England (MSRNE) is looking for PhD interns to join the social media collective for Summer 2013. For these positions, we are looking primarily for social science PhD students (including communication, sociology, anthropology, media studies, information studies, etc.). The Social Media Collective is a collection of scholars at MSRNE who focus on socio-technical questions, primarily from a social science perspective. We are not an applied program; rather, we work on critical research questions that are important to the future of social science scholarship.

MSRNE internships are 12-week paid internships in Cambridge, Massachusetts. PhD interns are expected to be on-site for the duration of their internship.

PhD interns at MSRNE are expected to devise and execute a research project during their internships. The expected outcome of an internship at MSRNE is a publishable scholarly paper for an academic journal or conference of the intern’s choosing. The goal of the internship is to help the intern advance their own career; interns are strongly encouraged to work towards a publication outcome that will help them on the academic job market. Interns are also expected to collaborate with full-time researchers and visitors, give short presentations, and contribute to the life of the community. While this is not an applied program, MSRNE encourages interdisciplinary collaboration with computer scientists, economists, and mathematicians. There are also opportunities to engage with product groups at Microsoft, although this is not a requirement.

We are looking for applicants to focus their proposals on one of the following eights areas:

  1. Big data, the politics of algorithms, and/or computational culture
  2. Entertainment and news industries and audiences
  3. Digital inequalities
  4. Mobile media and social movement/civic engagement
  5. Affective, immaterial, and other theoretical frameworks related to digital labor
  6. Urban informatics and critical geography
  7. Personal relationships and digital media
  8. Critical accounts of crisis informatics and disasters

Applicants should have advanced to candidacy in their PhD program by the time they start their internship. (Unfortunately, there are no opportunities for Master’s students or early PhD students at this time.) While this internship opportunity is not strictly limited to social scientists, preference will be given to social scientists and humanists making socio-technical inquiries. (Note: While other branches of Microsoft Research focus primarily on traditional computer science research, this group does no development-driven research and is not looking for people who are focused solely on building systems. We welcome social scientists with technical skills and strongly encourage social scientists to collaborate with computer scientists at MSRNE.) Preference will be given to intern candidates who work to make public and/or policy interventions with their research. Interns will benefit most from this opportunity if there are natural opportunities for collaboration with other researchers or visitors currently working at MSRNE.

Applicants from universities outside of the United States are welcome to apply.


The Social Media Collective is comprised of researchers, postdocs, and visitors. This includes:

Previous interns in the collective have included Amelia Abreu (UWashington, information), Jed Brubaker (UC-Irvine, informatics), Scott Golder (Cornell, sociology), Germaine Halegoua (U. Wisconsin, communications), Airi Lampinen (HIIT, information), Jessica Lingel (Rutgers, library & info science), Alice Marwick (NYU, media culture communication), Laura Noren (NYU, sociology), Jaroslav Svelch (Charles University, media studies), Shawn Walker (UWashington, information), Omar Wasow (Harvard, African-American studies), and Sarita Yardi (GeorgiaTech, HCI).

If you are curious to know more about MSRNE, I suspect that many former interns would be happy to tell you about their experiences here. Previous interns are especially knowledgeable about how this process works.

For more information about the Social Media Collective, visit our blog:


To apply for a PhD internship with the social media collective:

1. Fill out the online application form: Make sure to indicate that you prefer Microsoft Research New England and “social media” or “social computing.” You will need to list two recommenders through this form. Make sure your recommenders respond to the request for letters so that their letters are also submitted by the deadline.

2. Send an email to msrnejob -at- microsoft-dot-com with the subject “SMC PhD Intern Application: ” that includes the following four things:

  1. A brief description of your dissertation project.
  2. An academic article you have written (published or unpublished) that shows your writing skills.
  3. A copy of your CV.
  4. A pointer to your website or other online presence (if available).
  5. A short description of 1-2 projects that you propose to do while an intern at MSRNE, independently and/or in collaboration with current SMC researchers. This project must be distinct from the research for your dissertation.

We will begin considering internship applications on January 30 and will not consider late applications.


“The internship at Microsoft Research was all of the things I wanted it to be – personally productive, intellectually rich, quiet enough to focus, noisy enough to avoid complete hermit-like cave dwelling behavior, and full of opportunities to begin ongoing professional relationships with other scholars who I might not have run into elsewhere.”
— Laura Noren, Sociology, New York University

“If I could design my own graduate school experience, it would feel a lot like my summer at Microsoft Research. I had the chance to undertake a project that I’d wanted to do for a long time, surrounded by really supportive and engaging thinkers who could provide guidance on things to read and concepts to consider, but who could also provoke interesting questions on the ethics of ethnographic work or the complexities of building an identity as a social sciences researcher. Overall, it was a terrific experience for me as a researcher as well as a thinker.”
— Jessica Lingel, Library and Information Science, Rutgers University

“Spending the summer as an intern at MSR was an extremely rewarding learning experience. Having the opportunity to develop and work on your own projects as well as collaborate and workshop ideas with prestigious and extremely talented researchers was invaluable. It was amazing how all of the members of the Social Media Collective came together to create this motivating environment that was open, supportive, and collaborative. Being able to observe how renowned researchers streamline ideas, develop projects, conduct research, and manage the writing process was a uniquely helpful experience – and not only being able to observe and ask questions, but to contribute to some of these stages was amazing and unexpected.”
— Germaine Halegoua, Communication Arts, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“The summer I spent at Microsoft Research was one of the highlights of my time in grad school. It helped me expand my research in new directions and connect with world-class scholars. As someone with a technical bent, this internship was an amazing opportunity to meet and learn from really smart humanities and social science researchers. Finally, Microsoft Research as an organization has the best of both worlds: the academic freedom and intellectual stimulation of a university with the perks of industry.”
— Andrés Monroy-Hernández, Media, Arts and Sciences, MIT