Read my thesis!

My PhD thesis, “Reputation management in a digital world: The role of online information in the building, management, and evaluation of personal reputations”, is now available on the Edinburgh Napier University repository.

This work was completed at Edinburgh Napier University under the supervision of Professor Hazel HallAlistair Lawson, and Peter Cruickshank. You can read the full abstract below and you can find research outputs from this work on the publications page of this website.

Download a PDF of the document here:
https://www.napier.ac.uk/research-and-innovation/research-search/outputs/reputation-management-in-a-digital-world-the-role-of-online-information-in-the-building

Please get in touch if you have any questions about my thesis or my current research.

Citation:
Ryan, F. V. C. (2019). Reputation management in a digital world: The role of online information in the building, management, and evaluation of personal reputations. (Doctoral thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from http://researchrepository.napier.ac.uk/Output/2090098

Abstract:

This work is concerned with the role of online information in the building, management, and evaluation of personal reputations. The main contributions of the research relate to: (1) the means by which people evaluate the personal reputations of others from the online evidence available to them, and (2) strategies for the building and management of personal reputations through the use of online information. The findings extend knowledge within the domain of Information Science, notably with respect to the established body of research on human information behaviour and use. They are set against a theoretical framework that is anchored to research in bibliometrics (for example on citation practice and citation analysis), and takes into account the multidisciplinary nature of the field of Information Science.

A multi-step data collection process was implemented following the practice of extant studies in Information Science and human information behaviour and use. This focused on a sample of forty-five UK-based social media users. A qualitative analysis of data collected from participant diaries and interviews was undertaken using NVivo10.

The main contribution of this work with respect to the evaluation of personal reputations on the basis on online evidence is that the information available is largely consumed and evaluated in a passive manner: social media users are more interested in the content of the information that is shared on social media platforms than they are in the signals that this information might convey about the sharer(s). Closer attention is paid in cases where the information shared is in stark contrast to the opinions and practices of those who consume it. In terms of the management of personal reputations through the use of online information, this work introduces and develops new concepts related to managing the “blur” that occurs at the intersection between private and professional lives, and online and offline environments.

The doctor is in: Frances Ryan, PhD

It has been a long time coming, but I am finally a doctor. Oh yes, I am now officially Dr Frances Ryan. The PhD kind of doctor, not the medical kind – just so that there is no doubt.

When I say “a long time coming”, I mean that my PhD Dreams began with my undergraduate degree way, way, way back in 1999. At the time, I had hoped to move directly from my undergraduate work at Central Washington University into a master’s degree followed, hopefully, by a PhD. But after meeting a cute boy during my undergraduate year abroad, I put my postgraduate dreams on hold so that I could get married and do all that lovey-dovey family stuff. (No regrets!)

Later, with the full support and encouragement of my husband, Paul, the plan changed to doing part-time postgraduate studies whilst we raised our family (we were getting ready to adopt from the foster care system). But my beloved Paul died before I was meant to begin my studies, and so I put my dreams on hold so that I could relearn how to breathe. (No, really. When you become a widow, you can forget how to do simple things like breathe, eat, sleep, laugh, and even hope…)

But, eventually, I managed to find the strength to return to school for a master’s degree. And at some point during that degree path, my PhD Dreams were renewed. I was privileged to be offered three different PhD placements and I happily accepted the one at Edinburgh Napier University.

My PhD studies began in November 2013 under the supervision of Professor Hazel Hall (director of studies), Alistair Lawson (second supervisor), and Peter Cruickshank (third supervisor). Whilst the “ideal” PhD journey is about three years, my journey took a bit longer than that. Which isn’t uncommon, but I am a bit disappointed at myself for not finishing sooner. (Some of the delays were out of my control, but I have to acknowledge that some were down to me and my self-confidence – or lack thereof.)

In the end, I submitted my thesis on Halloween (2018) just shy of five years after beginning my studies and my (slightly delayed) viva took place in February 2019. I was quite keen to complete my minor corrections in time for the summer graduations, so handed in my corrections a tad bit early (so not everything about my PhD was delayed). After all, graduating on the 4th of July is a pretty cool thing for an American – especially one who is the daughter of two United States Marines!

And so, finally, here I am: Frances Ryan, PhD. Or Dr Ryan, if you prefer.

Of course, this dream could never have been realised without the encouragement and support of others. So, thank you to all of my family and friends in America, the UK, and in the virtual world for helping to see me through this crazy adventure!

I am not certain where life will take me next. Ideally, I will be able to remain in Scotland working as an academic for the foreseeable future. But I am a realist (begrudgingly so) and I know that I will have to be open to opportunities wherever they might be. (If you know of a job opportunity I should consider, please get in touch!)

And now that I have accomplished this great dream of mine, I suppose I should start thinking about the Next Big Thing. After all, having a big goal to focus on is what keeps me going!

You can watch the ceremony on YouTube below. I enter the stage about 6 minutes in, so no need to watch the entire 90-minute show!

My new post-doc at Dundee

I started a new job last week and I am quite excited about it. The job is a short-term contract as a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Dundee (through November). During this time, I will be working with Professor Wendy Moncur on an EPRSC-funded research project, TAPESTRY: Trust, Authentication and Privacy over a DeCentralised Social Registry.

The TAPESTRY team is studying the socio-digital design of trusted services, and developing novel blockchain and machine learning solutions for identity assurance. It is a collaborative project between the University of Surrey’s Centre for Vision Speech and Signal Processing (project lead) and Centre for Cyber Security, the Department of Media Communication and Design at the University of Northumbria Newcastle, and the Duncan Jordanston College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee (that’s where I am).

The aim of the project is to investigate, develop, and demonstrate new ways to enable people, businesses and services to connect safely online, exploiting the complex “tapestry” of multi-modal signals woven by their everyday digital interactions. Through this project, the team will develop a de-centralised registry that stores trails of users’ digital activity, enabling users to share portions of it to prove they are trustworthy – without giving away so much information that it violates their privacy. By doing this, the work will de-risk the Digital Economy, delivering completely new ways of determining or engendering trust online, and enabling users and businesses to make better decisions about who they trust online.

Now, if you’re wondering how I managed to land a job on such a techy project, it’s simple: Sometimes the technical side of life needs a bit of the human side of life to help weave things together. (weave, tapestry… get it?)

To that, my role on the project is to run two qualitative studies looking at different aspects of determining trust in online environments. I am just starting to get my head around the details of what I’ll be doing, so I won’t get into the details here just yet. However, I will share more about this work as time goes on.

This will be my first time contributing to a large-scale study of this kind, which will be a learning experience in its own right. I will also be balancing this role along with my post-doctoral work on my “social media proxies” project, as well as completing my thesis edits. So, I expect it to be a fairly chaotic few months. But chaotic in a good way (I hope!)

Wish me luck!

Accepted for publication: “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”

Last month, I was notified that a journal paper I wrote has been accepted for publication. The paper, “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”, was co-authored with my PhD supervisors, Peter Cruickshank, Professor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson. It began life as a peer-reviewed conference paper at the Information: Interactions and Impact Conference (i3) in Aberdeen, Scotland and has since been expanded and refined for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.

This paper considers online information sharing practices used to build and manage personal reputations – specifically as it relates to the blurring between individuals’ private and professional “selves”. The findings are formed from my larger doctoral investigation into the role of online information and reputation. The main findings show that:

  1. The portrayal of different personas online contribute to the presentation (but not the creation) of identity.
  2. Online information sharing practices for reputation building and management vary according to social media platform.
  3. The management of online connections and censorship are important to the protection of reputation.
  4. The maintenance of professional reputation is more important than private reputation.

 

My own use of the three platforms considered in this research (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) share a lot of commonality with the findings in this paper. (Note: There are many variations, which you can read in the full paper.)

Like most of the participants in this study, I use LinkedIn as a professional networking platform and as an electronic CV. I have connected with a few people from my private life, but it is overwhelmingly filled with professional contacts. I only post information related to my professional life there, and I am quite put off by the idea that the site even asks me for my birthday and marital status (two bits of information that I don’t feel need to be divulged on a professional networking site).

I use Facebook as a private social networking site. I am quite strict about not connecting with current colleagues on Facebook (I have allowed for one exception) and only connect with former colleagues if they pass the “friend” test. I do not use Facebook for professional networking. I do, however, share some information related to my professional life on Facebook, as I find that my professional life blurs with my private life and personal interests at times.

Twitter is a mixed bag for me. For a while, I mixed my private and professional personas on one account (it was started as a private account). But then I realised that I needed to have two separate accounts, so I’ve branched off a bit.

When I share information on LinkedIn or my professional Twitter account, I have a standard rule of thumb: It should be related to my professional activities or interests. I rarely have to consider the negative implications of information I share because I try to avoid the political side of academics. (Though this is not a hard and fast rule.)

Sharing information on Facebook or my private Twitter account requires a bit more thought. This is because I am aware that (1) information shared in a private setting can find its way to a public or professional setting and (2) my social and political views are contrary to those of many of my connections. To address the first issue, I ask myself if the information is something I would be happy to share with my grandmother or my (fairly liberal) priest. If the answer is no, the information does not belong online. To address the second issues, I ask myself if I will stir up trouble with or offend certain connections. If the answer is yes, I will consider (a) not sharing the information, (b) sharing the information in an altered state, or (c) changing the privacy settings to hide the information from some people.

Of course, there is a lot more to how I manage the blurring between my professional and private information online—just like the participants in this study. To read more about how they manage the blur, you can download the paper here.

As always, I am very happy to answer questions about this paper or about my research as a whole.

Download:
Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online

Cite:
Ryan, F., Cruickshank, P., Hall, H. & Lawson, A. (2018 in press). Blurred reputations: managing professional and private information online. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.

And please do share!