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Prof. Nancy Van House
School of Information Management and Systems
University of California, Berkeley

Research Projects

My concern is understanding people's information creation and use, and their uses of information systems and technology for knowledge work. I'm interested in understanding how people's knowledge-related purposes and activities and their local, situated practices interact with information artifacts and technology. With this understanding, we can better design information systems and technology to be useful and used.

My research is rooted largely in STS (studies of technology and society), studies of work practice, and ethnomethodology.

The Social Uses of Photos Credibility and Blogs Networked Environmental Info

The Social Uses of Personal Photos

Project site
Overview paper added Dec. 21, 2004.
Publications related to this project.
Powerpoint presentations:   May, 2004;  October 2004. 

The goal of this study is to understand the social uses of personal photography as an aid both to understanding how people use and will use emerging digital imaging technology, and to designing image-related technology that supports people’s actual practices. A secondary goal is to ddevelop and refine method for understanding the uses of – and resistance to – emerging technologies based in social science methods and understandings, particularly STS.

Digital photography, coupled with the possibilities of the internet and of networked image-capture devices such as web-enabled cameraphones, is creating major changes in photographic possibilities. Our premise is that users define a new technology according to its usefulness for their on-going activities, concerns, goals, and practices. To understand the emerging and potential uses of digital imaging technology, then, we are looking at the higher-order social uses of present imaging media and technologies, as well as at other on-going activities for which emerging media and technologies may be useful.

In this study, we have interviewed casual photographers, including both digital and analog photographers and photobloggers. We are giving networked cameraphones to graduate students in our program. We have also examined photos on publicly-accessible photo web sites. We are drawing on the literature of HCI, visual sociology, and the history of photography.

This project was associated with my colleague Marc Davis' Garage Cinema research project developing networked imaging devices and applications.

Trust, Credibility, and the Internet

In this research, I'm interested in how the Internet, by by-passing the filtering mechanisms of formal publishing and cutting information loose from its contexts of creation and use, both affects and reveals people's practices of assessing and demonstrating trust and credibility.

The ways in which people both perform knowledge work and evaluate others' work are rooted in the situated, and therefore variable, practices and understandings of knowledge communities. Information that is not warranted by publishing and other institutional mechanism, and sources that are either unknown or outside of the information users' own knowledge community, are difficult to evaluate.

Internet-based information both reveals and challenges the taken-for-granted, often invisible, methods by which people assess cognitive authority. At the same time, the explosion of available information makes such judgments all the more necessary.

Weblogs as Knowledge Communities

I am extending my work on trust and credibility in networked information to blogs. My concern is not with the popular personal journal-type blogs, but with topical blogs, which address one or a related group of topics. Avid topical bloggers see blogging as a transformative technology for building and maintaining an intellectual community, and doing individual and collaborative knowledge work. I'm interested in how blogging may be transforming the work of knowledge communities.

Blogging gives us a place to watch how participants cope with the decontextualized world of the internet, and how they evolving practices of knowledge creation and determination of competence and credibility. I am not interested in blogging itself as much as in how it may reveal and transform how knowledge communities do knowledge work, especially in relation to issues of authority and credibility.

Paper on this prepared for CSCW '04 workshop that was cancelled (pdf). Added 10/14/04

Digital Libraries and the Practices of Trust: Networked Environmental Information

Short Powerpoint presentation on this project. Publications related to this research.

Environmental planning is a multidisciplinary effort among people from various scientific and social science disciplines. It is also overtly political, often with clearly-drawn battle lines. Participants use a variety of information from a multitude of sources, current and historical, expert and amateur. Networked information makes both information access and “publication” easy. Users assess the credibility of information on a variety of dimensions, scientific and political.

In this project I:

  • Developed a conceptual framework for addressing issues of trust and credibility in a networked world;
  • Investigated knowledge work and networked information in environmental planning, with particular attention to the practices and mechanisms of trust and credibility.

Some of this work was done in conjunction with the UC Berkeley Digital Library project. More recently I worked with CalFlora, a nonprofit organization developing a web accessible, publicly available database synthesizing plant distribution information for California from disparate sources.


This page last revised 5/7/06