Ping (zestyping) wrote,

Research thoughts.

For as long as i've been in graduate school, i've been telling myself and everyone else that my thesis research would be about improving online discussions. I think there are a lot of interesting things that could be done to create a more productive medium for engaging in debates and making decisions. Most people use mailing lists now because they're easy, but they don't work that well. In contrast to many of the previous research projects on computer-supported argumentation, which require users to fit their statements into formal structures using specialized tools, i'm interested in augmenting e-mail while letting people continue using their current software.

However, i've been doing a lot of other things for the past four years. Pretty much all of it has had nothing to do with computer-supported argumentation. I've dabbled in interaction devices and done a bunch of writing about usability and security. I've recently spent a lot of time working on a contribution to a book about usability and security, and when i showed my draft to a friend of mine, he figured it was obvious that i should be doing a thesis on this topic since i'd already done a lot of thinking about it.

I've had a lot of ideas floating around in both of these areas for a while. So i sat down and tried to map it out. The red blobs are research topics; the green blobs are applications; the purple blobs are mechanisms; and the blue blobs are studies or evaluations. The maps are incomplete, but here they are (argumentation first, security second).

Click to enlarge in a new window.

On one hand, security and usability is getting pretty hot these days. The design recommendations i've made could really use some experimental verification, and the results of such studies would probably be pretty significant (if only i could figure out how to design a study that would convincingly validate a design principle). And it would probably be a shorter path, since i'm still working on designs for better argumentation tools.

On the other hand, i feel that computer-supported argumentation is a bigger and more important topic. So many things are wrong in the world today — at all levels, big and small — because decisionmakers are not being held accountable for having evidence and valid reasoning to support their decisions. In particular, technology is getting more and more powerful while governments seem to be getting worse and worse at deciding what to do about it. And while there are several other good and competent people working in security, there is really no one trying to improve argumentation for ordinary people (i.e. aside from discourse theorists, Semantic Web nerds, and students).

It's kind of embarrassing to still be wondering what my research topic should be at this late stage of the game. I welcome any helpful thoughts you might have.
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