About the Research Behind This Site

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This site was the focus of a digital humanities literture dissertation successfully defended in Spring 2015. The site has been migrated to a non-interactive static version as of October 2017. If you'd like to know more about the research behind this site, please read on!

Research Statement

This site was part of my literature/digital humanities Ph.D. dissertation. I was interested in several related things:

  1. How we can design humanities sites (like this digital edition) to be better at involving the public in our work?
  2. How we can make user testing more a part of the digital humanities project cycle?
  3. On social sites with potentially a lot of information (like this site's user annotations and comments), how can we customize the reading experience to fit each reader's different needs and background?
  4. What happens to novels that were authored to be complex, chaotic, and difficult (like Joyce's Ulysses) under hyper-annotation? How do people read such a book online, and how does their reading experience change as more annotations and conversations surround the novel?

The design and testing of this site are helping me answer these questions.  

How are you studying those questions?

I'll be using a variety of means to answer those questions, which can be divided into two main types of data-gathering: user studies and analytics.

User studies include:

  • asking site visitors to fill out a short web questionnaire after using the site or periodically throughout their return visits to the site
  • in-person observation of site use (e.g. a paired talk-through, when two new site users visit my lab and let me listen and take notes as they explore the site together, discussing things that interest or frustrate them as they navigate the site)
  • other conversations with site users (e.g. email conversations, when the user has consented to my including the conversation in my data)

Analytics such as Google Analytics are automated trackers for anonymous site activity that give me information such as:

  • what percent of site visitors are using a mobile device?
  • how long does the average site visitor spend on a page?
  • from which site pages is a site visitor most likely to leave the site for somewhere else?

I'll be using this information both to improve the website (e.g. prioritize mobile design if many site visitors are using mobile devices) and to help me answer my research questions.

Who are you?

I'm (Dr!) Amanda Visconti, a digital humanities builder and researcher of digital interfaces for social learning and reading. I hold a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Maryland English Department, where the Winnemore Digital Dissertation Fellowship at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) helped me complete my degree. I also hold a master's degree in Information from the University of Michigan, where I conducted a similar user study about how members of the public use digital humanities archives. Additionally, I've been a professional web developer focused on digital+social reading interfaces for over ten years now, and I've been interested in digital Joyce research for even longer. Joycean work includes an outdated prototype of this project (UlyssesUlysses.com), information visualizations of character interactions in Ulysses, and textual interventions with the first episode of Ulysses (Ulysses Usurped).

You can read more about this project on my research blog, LiteratureGeek.com. I'm on Twitter @literature_geek (note the underscore).

I'm conducting this dissertational research out of my own academic interest. All funding I've received has been expressly to support my own research/living expenses while conducting the research (you can check out the credits page for more on my funding sources).

How will my rights be protected?

Respecting my users' rights and privacy is very important to me; you were encouraged to contact me if you had any questions about this research or your participation in it.

On June 26, 2014, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at the University of Maryland approved this research as not comprising human subject research (which differs from the types of website user/usability/user studies I'm conducting) and thus not requiring institutional oversight.

Any potentially identifying demographic data I collected about a user (e.g. age, profession, location) will be kept private (viewable only to me) and only used to produce an aggregated picture of the site's audience (e.g. x% of users were from the U.S., y% of users were age 50-60). Answers to any user studies questions, as well as notes and quotations from observation sessions, will all be anonymized unless the user expressly gives consent to be named. Anonymization entails removing the username, real name, and IP addresses of users.

Private versus public

Site visitors should understand that any content they post to a public area of the site (any place not expressly marked private/only viewable to the researcher) can be seen and reused by anyone. Content you add, such as annotations and comments, can be reused by anyone as long as they follow the CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, which states that

  • content can be reused non-commercially
  • as long the author is attributed (username) and
  • as long as the reused content carries the same CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license

I may use screenshots of any public-facing area of the site (which may show your username) in a publication (but never any private area of the site, such as private demographic questions on a user profile, without your express permission).

If you're not comfortable with your username being used in these ways, consider replacing it with a pseudonym.

Don't give identifying details in your annotations and comments unless you're okay with someone guessing who you are.

You have the right to unpublish your content from the site (that is, make it unviewable by anyone except the researcher) or to have your content moved to a different username of your creation (e.g. one not associated with your real-life persona). Note that any unpublished data will remain in the private dataset I'm analyzing for research purposes, but will never be made individually viewable (only used in aggregated form with the rest of the dataset). Also note that anything posted publicly but later unpublished may have been seen by someone else before its depublication and used according to the CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license discussed above; if you wish this content to no longer be used, it is your responsibility to contact any such person using it.

Where can I see the results?

Check out dr.AmandaVisconti.com to read more about the dissertation surround this site.