Expanding the horizons of digital social networks: Mixing big trace datasets with qualitative approaches


Authors: Whelan, E., Teigland, R., Vaast, E.Butler, B.

Publication: Information and Organization


The study of social networks has attracted much interest from the IS community in recent years, driven mainly by the accessibility of trace data that remain as a by-product of interactions conducted through technology-enabled platforms. Despite its rapidly growing influence, we have some concerns about the current trajectory of social network research in the IS field. Our purpose in this commentary piece is to accentuate for the new generation of social network researchers, who are au fait with mathematical techniques for analyzing massive digital datasets, how the combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches can enrich our understanding of networks. First we highlight how the social network perspective has contributed to our understanding of IS phenomena. Next we review mixed methods research in IS social network research. An agenda for future IS social network research is then presented where we suggest how qualitative approaches can best complement trace data in addressing focal social network questions. We conclude by discussing the challenges of conducting mixed method studies of digitally enabled social networks. 

Read full article: Information and Organization, 1 June, 2016