Social media can be described as open, evolutionary socio-technical systems that provide a (potentially heterogeneous) platform for communication, content creation and social linking, typically involving large numbers of users (‘the crowd’). The emergence of social media over the past decade marks a major milestone in the application of information and communication technology, with a profound impact on society, businesses and personal life. While social media are in widespread use and many systems have been established in the commercial market, significant research gaps still exist with respect to analysing and understanding user behaviour when interacting with social media, both at the individual and the collective level. We believe the design of social media systems can be improved by more strongly and systematically taking the users’ needs and expectations into account, hence applying a more user-centred approach to their design and development. Open design questions relate, for example, to more effective methods for searching and exploring social media content, for creating optimal levels of user awareness, for supporting adaptability and traceability, or for ensuring privacy. An overarching research goal can thus be seen in empowering users to more effectively and securely utilise, evaluate, control, adapt, or extend social media for their individual purposes and activities.
To address these challenges, interdisciplinary research efforts and new development approaches are needed, which combine methods from computer science, psychology and other fields such as sociology and economics in an integrated, synergistic manner. Accordingly, there is a growing demand in academia and in industry for scientifically trained experts with knowledge in both the human-oriented and the technical aspects of social media. Due to its orientation toward the user-centred aspects of social media, the Research Training Group (RTG) User-Centred Social Media (UCSM) focuses on computer science, information systems and psychology as the core disciplines for this interdisciplinary approach. The RTG provides an outstanding research and qualification environment, located in a department that fully integrates researchers from computer science and psychology, the first of its kind at a German university.
The research programme investigates the problems described above from three different perspectives: the individual ‘user’, the ‘system’ as the technical social media platform with its functionality and applications, and the ‘crowd’ as the set of individual users connected through social media. Given our interdisciplinary background, the RTG will address the following high-level objectives in these areas:
- to identify, analyse, and understand determinants and patterns of individual and collective behaviour in social media, based on a better understanding of user characteristics and the users’ needs and goals,
- to empower users of social media by (1) increasing awareness, transparency, user control, and privacy, (2) designing user-friendly systems which take into account psychological factors of user behaviour and expectancies, and (3) supporting social media evolution through context adaptivity and flexible social media integration.
From a theoretical and methodological perspective, the RTG researchers will jointly adopt empirical approaches in close conjunction with analytical methods, such as data mining or social network analysis, aiming to gain insight into individual characteristics and determinants of social media use as well as into interactional, communicative and social processes. By combining empirical and analytical approaches, we intend to contribute new methodological instruments for investigating social media. Accompanied by empirical and analytical studies, we will develop constructive models and methods for designing, developing and adapting those technical aspects of social media systems that pertain to the users’ perspectives, including user interfaces, visualisations of social media structures or processes, awareness techniques, context adaptivity, and recommender functions. In particular, we aim at providing methods that allow end users to influence, adapt or extend functions that are currently beyond their control.
The qualification programme aims at providing the knowledge and skills that are required to successfully address these research goals in an interdisciplinary approach and environment. It is mainly targeted at students with a background in computer science or psychology. Computer science students will be especially trained in empirical methodology and will also learn about perceptive and cognitive abilities as well as motivational and personality aspects of users. This will enable them to follow user-oriented approaches, e.g. conducting well-designed user experiments or building better user models, and, generally, developing systems with a perspective of empowering users. Students with a background in psychology will not only learn about the technical features of social media systems, but will also be trained in data mining and formal methods, which will allow them to make use of all types of available data in the studies they perform. They will also develop competencies in designing and developing functionality and user interfaces that help to empower users.
Here you can find the proposed PhD topics.