Eszter Hargittai's Research




& Invited Talks



Seminars & Courses

Work Cited


A detailed Curriculum Vitae is also available on my site.

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Research Interests My broad areas of interest are the sociology of culture, communications, social networks, economic sociology, globalization and stratification. My current projects focus on the Internet, more specifically, the social and policy implications of information technologies. I am also interested in the use of social network methods in the empirical study of globalization, with particular emphasis on integrating developments in international communications into a broader vision of globalization.


In my dissertation, I looked at inequalities in people's ability to efficiently use the Web.
The two central research questions were:
1. What explains differences in people's online skills?
2. How does the way content is organized and distributed online influence how people use the Web?
The major empirical contribution of the study is a detailed look at how a random sample (N=100) of Web users locates content online. I collected data using in-person observation and interviews.
The dissertation:

  • Extends our understanding of the "digital divide" to include differences among people who use the Internet
  • Develops a method to collect data on how people locate content online
  • Develops a protocol for coding the level of people's Web use skills
  • Develops a protocol for coding people's online actions
  • Uses data on people's search strategies in conjunction with basic demographic data, information about social support networks, and details about the conditions of people's Web use and Web use patterns to explain inequalities in users' ability to find information on the Web
  • Looks at how the organization of online content production and distribution influences how people locate content on the Web

    Dissertation Committee: Paul DiMaggio (Chair), Paul Starr, Miguel Centeno, Craig Calhoun (SSRC/NYU), W. Russell Neuman (White House/U.Michigan), Ron Rice (Rutgers)

    I defended on June 19, 2003. I am now working on articles and a book manuscript from this material. I have already written up some of it in book chapter and article format. See papers below.

  • Publications

  • Classifying and Coding Online Actions
    2004. Social Science Computer Review. 22(2):210-227. Summer.

    Research on how the Internet is diffusing across the population has broadened from questions about who uses the medium to what people do during their time online. With this change in focus comes a need for more detailed data on people's online actions. In this paper, I provide a method for coding and classifying users' online information-seeking behavior. I present an exhaustive list of ways in which a user may arrive at a Web page. The proposed methodology includes enough nuanced information to distinguish among different search actions and links. In its entirety, the coding scheme makes it possible to understand many details about the users' sequence of actions simply by looking at the spreadsheet containing the information proposed in this paper. I also demonstrate the utility of this coding scheme with findings from a study on the online information-seeking behavior of 100 randomly selected Internet users to exemplify the utility of this coding and classification scheme.

  • Do you "google"? Understanding search engine use beyond the hype
    2004. First Monday. 9(3) March.

    Much anecdotal evidence suggests that Google is the most popular search engine. However, such claims are rarely backed up by data. The reasons for this are manifold, including the difficulty in measuring search engine popularity and the multiple ways in which the concept can be understood. Here, I discuss the sources of confusion related to search engine popularity. It is problematic to make unfounded assumptions about general users’ search engine choices because by doing so we exclude a large number of people from our discussions about systems development and our understanding of how the average user finds information online.

  • Digital Inequality: From Unequal Access to Differentiated Use:
    with Paul DiMaggio, Coral Celeste and Steven Shafer
    2004. In Social Inequality. Edited by Kathryn Neckerman.
    New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2004. pp.355-400.

    This paper reviews what we know about inequality in access to and use of new digital technologies. Until recently, most research has focused on inequality in access (the "digital divide"), measured in a variety of ways. We agree that inequality of access is important, because it is likely to reinforce inequality in opportunities for economic mobility and social participation. At the same time we argue that a more thorough understanding of digital inequality requires placing Internet access in a broader theoretical context, and asking a wider range of questions about the impact of information technologies and informational goods on social inequality. In particular, five key issues around which we structure this paper.
    (1) The digital divide. Who has access to the Internet, who does not have access, and how has this changed?
    (2) Is access to and use of the Internet more or less unequal than access to and use of other forms of information technology
    (3) Inequality among persons with access to the Internet.
    (4) Does access to and use of the Internet affect people's life chances
    (5) How might the changing technology, regulatory environment and industrial organization of the Internet render obsolete the findings reported hear?

  • The Changing Online Landscape: From Free-for-All to Commercial Gatekeeping
    2004. Community Practice in the Network Society: Local Actions/Global Interaction. Edited by Peter Day and Doug Schuler. New York: Routledge. pp.66-76.

    Much of the literature on Internet use looks at the behavior of users in isolation from institutional factors that also affect how people use the medium. This chapter looks at how decisions at the organizational level influence what people do online and more specifically, how they find their way to information on the Web. Big point-of-entry sites make strategic business decisions about how to organize and present content to users. The results of search engines, the layout of portal sites, the way people are directed from one site to another may all influence what type of content people find and view online. Since big portal sites are driven by a need to make a profit, their decisions on what content to feature are not necessarily based on the quality and relevance of the Web sites they present to users. Companies spend great financial resources on gaining prominent positions on portals and in the results listings of search engines. Thus, exposure seems to be increasingly connected to financial means. What are the implications of this for not-for-profit Web sites? Non-profits have fewer resources to spend on promoting their online presence. After discussing the ways in which financial considerations affect much of what content is easily accessible online, the paper suggests ways in which non-profits can also gain exposure to relevant audiences without large expenditures.

  • The Digital Divide and What To Do About It
    2003. The New Economy Handbook. Edited by Derek C. Jones. Academic Press.

    In a society where knowledge-intensive activities are an increasingly important component of the economy, the distribution of knowledge across the population is increasingly linked to stratification. Much attention among both academic researchers and in policy circles has been paid to what segments of the population have access to the Internet or are Internet users. Although the medium has seen high rates of diffusion, its spread has been unequal both within and across nations. In this chapter, I look at (a) individual-level inequality in Internet access and use in the United States, (b) cross-national variation in connectedness, and (c) inequality from the side of content producers in gaining audiences for their material online.

  • Serving Citizens' Needs: Minimizing Hurdles to Accessing Government Information Online
    2003. IT & Society. 1(2) Winter.

    With the rapid spread of the Internet across society, government institutions are taking advantage of using digital technology to distribute materials to citizens. Is merely having a Web site enough or are there certain usability considerations to which site creators must adhere in order to assure efficient access to online materials? Here, I report on a project that looked at people's ability to locate various types of content online. In particular, I focus on people's ability to find tax forms on the Web. Findings suggest that people look for content in a myriad of ways and there is considerable variance in how long people take to complete this online task. Users are often confused by the ways in which content is presented to them. In this paper, I discuss two common sources of confusion in users' online experiences with respect to locating tax forms online: 1. URL confusion; and 2. page design layout. In addition to describing these problem areas, I also suggest ways in which these two sources of frustration could easily be curtailed yielding less exasperating and more productive user experiences.

  • Informed Web Surfing: The Social Context of User Sophistication
    2003. The Internet and American Life Edited by Philip Howard and Steve Jones. Sage Publications.
    >>Please send me a note at papers @ if you would like a pre-print e-copy of this paper.<<

    There is a growing body of literature on how people use the Web and in particular on what types of content people view online. Such work takes for granted that people have ready access to all that the Web has to offer. Such an approach assumes that the billions of Web pages that are technically available online are realistically within the reach of users. However, little work has considered how people's online use patterns may be limited by the scope of their ability to locate various types of content on the Web. This project fills a gap in the literature by looking at people's online skills. A random sample of Internet users performed search tasks yielding information on their online abilities. Findings suggest that people search for content in a myriad of ways and there is large variance in whether people are able to find various types of content on the Web and how long they take to do so. Analyses show that the presence of children in the household significantly lowers people's ability to efficiently find information on the Web either because parents spend less time developing skills or they rely on their children's know-how for help. This paper explores the reasons for this relationship and also considers how other social relationships influence people's online behavior.

  • Second-Level Digital Divide: Differences in People's Online Skills
    2002. First Monday. 7(4)

    Much of the existing literature on the digital divide - the differences between the "haves" and "have nots" regarding access to the Internet - limits its scope to a binary classification of technology use by only considering whether someone does or does not use the Internet. To remedy this shortcoming, in this paper I look at the differences in people's online skills. In order to measure online ability, I assigned search tasks to a random sample of Internet users from a suburban county in the United States. My findings suggest that people search for content in a myriad of ways and there is considerable difference in whether individuals are able to find various types of content on the Web and a large variance in how long it takes to complete online tasks. Age is negatively associated with one's level of Internet skill, experience with the technology is positively related to online skill, and differences in gender do little to explain the variance in the ability of different people to find content online.

  • Beyond Logs and Surveys: In-Depth Measures of People's Web Use Skills
    2002. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 53(14):1239-1244.

         Finding information on the Web can be a much more complex search process than previously experienced on many pre-Web information retrieval systems given that finding content online does not have to happen via a search algorithm typed into a search field. Rather, the Web allows for a myriad of search strategies. Although there are numerous studies of Web search techniques, these studies often limit their focus to just one part of the search process and are not based on the behavior of the general user population nor do they include information about the users. This paper describes a methodology that relies on a mix of survey instruments and in-person observations yielding the type of rich data set that is necessary in order to understand in depth the differences in people's information retrieval behavior online.

  • From the "Digital Divide" to "Digital Inequality": Studying Internet Use As Penetration Increases
    (with Paul DiMaggio)
    2001. Published as Working Paper #19, Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University.
    As Internet penetration increases, students of inequality of access to new information technologies should shift their attention from the "digital divide" - inequality between "haves" and "have-nots" differentiated by dichotomous measures of access to or use of new technologies - to digital inequality, by which we refer not just to differences in access, but also to inequality among persons with formal access to the Internet. After reviewing data on Internet penetration, the paper presents five dimensions of digital inequality - in equipment, autonomy of use, skill, social support, and the purposes for which the technology is employed.

  • The Social Implications of the Internet
    2001. (with Paul DiMaggio, Russell Neuman and John Robinson)
    Annual Review of Sociology. 27. 307-336.
    Send me a note at if you cannot get to that site and I'll send you a copy.

         This piece reviews research that reflects on the Internet's potential contributions to social change, focussing on five domains: inequality (the "digital divide"); community and social capital; political participation; organizations and other economic institutions; and cultural institutions.

  • Symmetry and the Internet
    2001. in Symmetry 2000 Eds. István Hargittai & Torvard C. Laurent. London: Portland Press Ltd.

         This paper applies the symmetry concept to the social scientific study of the Internet with particular focus on the medium's global spread. In extending the symmetry concept to the social sciences, the paper mostly concentrates on the importance of replication, repetition and asymmetry.

  • Mapping Globalization

    2001. Editor (with Miguel Angel Centeno) of special issue of the American Behavioral Scientist (44:10) dedicated to the analysis of international networks.

  • Defining a Global Geography
    (with Miguel Angel Centeno)
    2001. American Behavioral Scientist 44(10)

          Globalization involves a variety of links expanding and tightening a web of political, economic and cultural inter-connections. Individual data indicate that we are undergoing a process of compression of international time and space and an intensification of international relations. Yet, individual data sources tell us little more than that. This article offers an alternative approach to studying globalization by highlighting the possible contributions of network methods to the field. We argue that using relational data helps in uncovering the intertwined nature of the emerging global order.

    A shorter version of this paper was reprinted in the Australian Online Opinion

  • Standing Before the Portals: Non-Profit Content in the Age of Commercial Gatekeepers
    2000. info 2(6) (December)
    >>Please send me a note if you'd like an e-copy of this paper<<

          This paper explores what the domination of commercial interests online means for the visibility of non-profit content on the Web. In addition to discussing how simply being on the Web does not automatically lead to user visits, the paper makes specific recommendations to site owners on ways of achieving greater popularity.

  • Open Portals or Closed Gates? Channeling Content on the World Wide Web
    2000. Poetics 27(4): 233-254.

          This paper looks at what the tension between information abundance and attention scarcity implies for the diversity of information accessible to users of the World Wide Web. Due to limited user attention, there is a role for gatekeepers in the online content market. Sites that catalog Web content and primarily present themselves as content categorization services are argued to be the gatekeepers in the new information age. Identifying the mechanisms by which they organize content is essential to understanding how user attention is allocated to information available on the Web. Theories about media content diversity are delineated to suggest what we may expect with respect to content diversity online. Methods for future empirical investigation are suggested. Finally, the policy implications of the argument are presented.

    This paper was first published as Working Paper #10, Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Princeton University.

  • Radio's Lessons for the Internet (pdf)
    2000. Communications of the ACM. 43:1 (January)

          This paper compares the early years of the radio and the Internet to show how communication media tend toward regulation both with respect to use authorization and content/information dissemination.

  • Weaving the Western Web: Explaining Differences in Internet Connectivity Among OECD Countries (pdf, pre-print version)
    1999. Telecommunications Policy. 23(10/11), pp.701-718.
    TP special issue on Mapping Information Societies

          Despite the Internet's increasing importance, there is little social scientific work that addresses its diffusion. Our knowledge is especially limited with respect to the conditions that encourage its spread across nations. This paper takes a first step in explaining the differences in Internet connectivity among OECD countries. After examining the impact of economic wealth, income inequality, human capital, institutional legal environment, and existing technological infrastructures, the empirical analyses show that economic wealth and telecommunications policy are the most salient predictors of a nation's Internet connectivity.

    This paper won the Candace Rogers Award for Outstanding Graduate Student Paper of the Eastern Sociological Society, 2001.

    It also won the Best Graduate Student Paper Prize of the ASA Section on Sociology and Computers, 2001

    It was also awarded Second Place in the Graduate Student Paper Competition of the Telecommunications Policy Research Conference, The 28th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy, 2000

  • Phone Calls and Fax Machines: The Limits to Globalization (pdf)
    (with Hugh Louch and Miguel Angel Centeno>
    1999. The Washington Quarterly. 22:2 83-100

          This paper uses network analysis to explore what changes in international telecommunications reveal about the process of globalization.

    This paper was previously published as Migration and Development Working Paper #98-07, Princeton University.

  • Expanding the Pipeline, CRAW Database Aids Academic Recruiters
    (with Joan Feigenbaum and Joseph O'Rourke)
    1994. Computing Research News. September

  • Presentations/
    Invited Talks
    Please see my resume for an updated list.

    Other Projects

    [Be sure to check out the Publications list above for projects that have made it into print.]

  • Miguel Centeno and I started a center here at Princeton called the International Networks Archive. The purpose of the Archive is to assemble data sets relevant to empirical research on mapping globalization in a central location and to standardize them so the various indicators can be combined. See INA's homepage for more information on the project, the list of Associates, some papers, and plans for its future.

  • In the summer of 1998, I created an interactive webpage for Miguel Centeno's Fall '98 undergraduate class: SOC309/LAT309 - Sociology of Latin America: Mexico and Cuba. The newest edition to online syllabi is the one for Miguel's War course.
  • A copy of my project "The Pros and Cons of Implementing the Internet in the Classroom - Making Sense of the Hype" is available online.

  • Please see my resume for more information on what I have worked on up until now.

  • Special Seminars I Have Attended
    Courses I have Taken at Princeton


    • Symmetry2000
      Stockholm, Sweden, 13-16, 2000
      I will be giving an invited talk on Symmetry and the Internet at this international symposium sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundations.

    • Computers, Networks and the Prospects for European and World Security
      Rovereto (Trento), Italy, 7-17 August, 1999
      This ten-day seminar is sponsored by the International School on Disarmament and Research on Conflicts (ISODARCO)

    • Workshop: Cities in the Information Age
      New York City, June 15, 1999
      This workshop was sponsored by the Urban Research Initiative of the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University.


    Spring '99

    • Research Seminar in Empirical Investigation with Marta Tienda - see OECD paper above
    • Introduction to Methods of Network Analysis with Peter Marsden visiting from Harvard
    • Selected Topics in Social Processes: Sociology of Culture with Paul DiMaggio

      I also sat in on two undergraduate courses:

    • Social Relations in the Economy with Viviana Zelizer (this is a good base and recap for my Generals in Economic Sociology)
    • American Journalism and Freedom of the Press with Paul Starr (I'm sitting in on this 'cause Paul's a great prof and the topic is fascinating and ultra-relevant these days with regards to the Internet)

    Fall '98

    • Research Seminar in Empirical Investigation with Marta Tienda
    • Selected Topics in Social Institutions: Economic Sociology with Viviana Zelizer

    • Workshops:
    Spring '98

    Fall '97

    Precepting/Teaching Experience
    This list is outdated.
    See here for updates.

      "The Social Aspects of Information Technologies," Guest Lecturer, Computers In Our World (Computer Science) Princeton University (Prof. Brian Kernighan), 2000

      "The Diffusion of Communication Technologies," Guest Lecturer, The Wireless Revolution: Telecommunications for the 21st Century (Electrical Engineering) Princeton University (Prof. Vincent Poor), 2000

      "Personal Identity in Computer-Mediated Environments," Guest Lecturer, The Social Basis of Individual Behavior (Sociology), Princeton University (Prof. Abigail Saguy), 2000

      Teaching Assistant, New Technologies in Teaching and Research, Summer Graduate Seminar, Princeton University, 1999

      Preceptor for Communications, Culture, and Society (Sociology), Princeton University (Prof. Paul Starr), 1998

      "Free Speech and the Internet," Guest Lecturer, The Internet (Computer Science) Smith College (Prof. Joseph O'Rourke), 1998

      Teaching Assistant, Computer Literacy (Computer Science), Smith College (Prof. Joseph O'Rourke), 1993/4

      Laboratory Assistant, Evaluating Information (Sociology), Smith College (Prof. Nancy Whittier), 1993/4

    Work Cited Elsewhere
    Presented just for the fun of it

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    Last updated: July, 2002

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