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Isaac Sparling works with Professor Shilad Sen on Poliwiki, a web site that allows for social interactions about politics.
BY Isaac Sparling '10
New York City and Berkeley, California
Poliwiki was a unique summer research project—four students and Professor Shilad Sen working in a start-up environment, as opposed to lab-based research. We were building a socially driven, political website that provides a space for politically minded people from across the spectrum to interact civilly while discussing issues and, we hope, broaden their ideas. There are two parts: an encyclopedia side with data, and a conversation side. Our goal was that the site would be neutral on issues, but the members would be biased.
Poliwiki was created from the ground up to be a fertile bed for research about social interactions on the Internet.
—Isaac Sparling '10
My "Internet Computing" course prepared me exceptionally well for this project, but it would be unfair to discount the breadth of perspective in the Macalester environment as an important factor in readying me for this work. In creating this platform, we leveraged our personal experiences on the Internet as well as theories grounded in psychology and sociology to create a site that allows for clear conversation and exchange of ideas.
Poliwiki was created from the ground up to be a fertile bed for research about social interactions on the Internet. My computer science honors research project was carried out on the Poliwiki platform. I studied how Internet communities react to user-moderation systems. Another computer science student will be studying how the community uses tags.
Macalester's emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach to learning encourages projects like Poliwiki, which sits between computer science and social science. One of the most exciting things about developing Poliwiki was knowing we were giving back to the Macalester community by affording future students fantastic opportunities to do research—be it in computer, social, or political science.