Types of Web Based Methods

Web-based studies can be categorized as nonreactive Web-based methods, Web surveys, Web-based tests, and Web experiments.

Nonreactive Web-based methods refer to the use and analysis of existing databases and text collec tions on the Internet (e.g., server log files or newsgroup contributions). The Internet provides an ocean of opportunities for nonreactive data collection. The sheer size of Internet corpora multiplies the specific strengths of this class of methods: Non-manipulable events can be studied in natura, facilitating the examination of rare behavioral patterns. An early example of the use of nonreactive data is the study of communicative behavior among members of several mailing lists, conducted in 1996 and 1997 (at a time when SPAM was a rare phenomenon) by Stegbauer and Rausch (2002). These authors were interested in the so-called "lurking behavior" (i.e., passive membership in mailing lists, newsgroups, and other forums). By analyzing the number and time of postings and the interaction frequencies pertaining to e-mail headers in contributions, Stegbauer and Rausch empirically clarified several questions regarding the lurking phenomenon. For instance, about 70% of subscribers to mailing lists could be classified as lurkers, and "... among the majority of users, lurking is not a transitional phenomenon but a fixed behavior pattern [within the same social spacel" (p. 267). On the other hand, the analysis of individuals' contributions to different mailing lists showed a sizeable proportion of people may lurk in one forum but are active in another. With this result, Stegbauer and Rausch empirically supported the notion of so-called weak ties as a basis for the transfer of knowledge between social spaces.

The fifth section, Three Web-Based Assessment Methods, describes log file analysis as an (important) example of a nonreactive Web-based method. For more examples refer to Nonreactive Methods in Psychological Research (Fritsche & Linneweber, this volume, chap. 14).

Web surveys: The most commonly used Web-based assessment method is the Web survey. The frequent use of surveys on the Internet can be explained by the apparent ease with which Web surveys can be constructed, conducted, and evaluated. However, this impression is somewhat fallacious. Work by Dillman and his group (Dillman

'Because Web addresses (URLs) may change, the reader is advised to use a search engine like Google (http://www.google.com/) to access the Web pages mentioned in this chapter. In the present case, typing "Web Experimental Psychology Lab" into the search field will return the link to the laboratory as the first listed result. The Web Experimental Psychology Lab can also be accessed using the short URL http://tinyurl.com/dwcpx

& Bowker, 2001; Dillman, Tortora, & Bowker, 1998) has shown that many Web surveys are plagued by problems of usability, display, sampling, or technology. Joinson and Reips (in press) have shown through experiments that the degree of personalization and the power attributable to the sender of an invitation to participate in the survey can impact survey response rates. Data quality can be influenced by degree of anonymity, and this factor as well as information about incentives also influences the frequency of dropout (Frick, Bachtiger, & Reips, 2001). Design factors like the decision whether a "one screen, one question" procedure is applied or not may trigger context effects that turn results upside down (Reips, 2002a). Despite these findings, converging evidence shows that Web-based survey methods result in qualitatively comparable results to traditional surveys, even in longitudinal studies (Hiskey & Troop, 2002).

Web-based psychological testing constitutes one specific subtype of Web surveying (unless an experimental component is part of the design, see Erdfelder & Musch, this volume, chap. 15). Buchanan and Smith (1999), Buchanan (2001), Preckel and Thiemann (2003), and Wilhelm and McKnight (2002), among others, have shown that Web-based testing is possible if the particularities of the Internet situation are considered (e.g., computer anxiety may keep certain people from responding to a Web-based questionnaire). Buchanan and Smith found that an Internet-based self-monitoring test not only showed similar psychometric properties to its conventional equivalent but compared favorably as a measure of self-monitoring. Their results support the notion that Web-based personality assessment is possible. Similarly, Buchanan, Johnson, and Goldberg (2005) showed that a modified International Personality Item Pool (IPIP) inventory they evaluated appears to have satisfactory psychometric properties as a brief online measure of the domain constructs of the Five-Factor Model. Across two studies using different recruiting techniques, they observed acceptable levels of internal reliability and significant correlations with relevant criterion variables. However, the issue of psychometric equivalence of paper-and-

pencil versions of questionnaires with their Web-based counterparts is not a simple "all equal." For instance, Buchanan et al. (in press) could only recover two of four factor-analytically derived sub-scales of the Prospective Memory Questionnaire with a sample of N = 763 tested via the Internet. The other two subscales were essentially meaningless. Buchanan and Reips (2001) showed that technical aspects of how the Web-based test is implemented may interact with demography or personality and, consequently, introduce a sampling bias. In their study they showed that the average education level was higher in Web-based assessment if no JavaScript was used, and that Mac users scored significantly higher on Openness than PC users.

Web experiments show a certain categorical distinctiveness from experiments conducted in the laboratory or in the field (Reips, 1995, 2000). However, the underlying logical criteria are the same as those in the other experimental methods. Hence, the definition of "experiment" used here requires manipulation of the independent variable(s), repeatability, and random assignment to conditions. Likewise, a quasiWeb experiment would involve nonrandom assignment of subjects to conditions (see Campbell & Stanley, 1963; Kirk, 1995).

Web experiments offer a chance to validate findings that were acquired using laboratory experiments and field experiments. The number of participants is notoriously small in many traditional studies because researchers set the Type I error probability to a conventional level (and therefore the power of these studies is low; Erdfelder, Faul, & Buchner, 1996). One of the greatest advantages in Web research is the ease with which large numbers of participants can be reached. The Web Experimental Psychology Lab, for instance, is visited by about 4,000 people per month (Reips, 2001). On the Internet the participants may leave at any time, and the experimental situation is usually free of the social pressure often inherent in experiments conducted for course credit with students. Because Web experiments are often visible on the Internet and remain there as a documentation of the research method and material, overall transparency of the research process is increased.

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