Academic Communication and Internet Discussion Groups:
Transfer of Information or Creation of Social Contacts?

by U. Matzat
ICS/Department of Sociology
University of Groningen


This paper analyses the role of Internet Discussion Groups in informal academic communication. It tries to find out whether there are general benefits of academic mailing lists and newsgroups for researchers as it is stated in the literature. Different hypotheses relating to potential contact and information benefits are tested with data of a random sample of English and Dutch university researchers within the humanities, the social and the natural sciences. The results support hypotheses about a few information effects and, more often, contact benefits of Internet Discussion Groups. Researchers build up weak contacts that make their research more visible and that make them more aware of other researchers' work. These weak contacts are useful for the reception of new research papers. However, contrary to what is stated in the literature, the data show no evidence for expectations about equalizing effects on the general structure of academic communication. Internet Discussion Groups do not reduce inequalities in the distribution of access opportunities to informal communication channels. Finally, the paper explores disciplinary differences in the benefits of academic Internet Discussion Groups.

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