SIGCIS 2012 Workshop, Parallel Sessions I: Works in Progress

Name: Ramesh Subramanian

Institutional Affiliation: Quinnipiac University

E-mail address:

Paper Type: Work in Progress

Paper Title: Starr Roxanne Hiltz: Pioneer Digital Sociologist

Paper Abstract: An important sub-stream in the evolution of networked societies relates to the work of a husband-wife team – Murray Turoff, a physicist who in 1971 built the first computer-mediated, multi-machine communications and computer conferencing system (EMISARI)1; and his collaborator, Roxanne Hiltz, a sociologist who used EIES2 (a successor to EMISARI) as a platform to do pioneering studies on emerging computer-based networked communities.

While Turoff developed EMISARI primarily as a group decision making and negotiation tool, it was Roxanne Hiltz who saw the potential of the conferencing system in building networked societies. She played a critical role in the design of EIES in 1974. The name "EIES" (Electronic Information Exchange System) was first suggested by Hiltz. She used it as an early social network platform, popularized it, and made EIES a home to early "virtual communities" of researchers. Hiltz studied the sociology of networked societies that "lived" in EIES3. Hiltz also developed the concept of virtual classrooms, an early precursor to today's course management systems, and pervasive information systems, precursor to today's smart mobile devices. In addition to being one of the early group of sociologists to study networked societies, Hiltz is also one of the first female sociologists to be inducted into a university computer science department with tenure. In 1975, Hiltz came up with the idea of the book The Network Nation4 to explain the emerging phenomena. The book, a collaborative effort with Turoff, was published in 1978 and became a best-seller. It was a brilliantly prescient seminal work on the emerging networked nation, and became a defining document and standard reference in computer mediated communications. In her 1993 review of the book in The Village Voice, Pulitzer Prize winning author Teresa Carpenter said:

"The Network Nation ... contained a fascinating vision. In it home computers are as common as the telephone. They link person to person, shrinking, as the authors put it, 'time and distance barriers among people, and between people and information, to near zero.'"

The Hiltz-Turoff collaborative research on the EIES system and the study of the sociology of virtual networked communities spawned more than 18 doctoral dissertations and numerous masters' ptheses in the 1980s and 1990s. My paper examines Hiltz's pioneering role and work on networked virtual communities, using a biographical and historical approach, focusing on the vision, role and relevance of Hiltz in this field.