Keynote Speaker

2020 Keynote Speaker

Dr. Nancy Baym

Headshot by Kelly Davidson Studio

Senior Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research New England, Research Affiliate, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, MIT

Nancy Baym (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 1994) is a Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New England, where she conducts basic research into how people understand and act with new communication technologies in their relationships. A pioneer in the field of internet research, Baym wrote some of the first articles about online community in the early 1990s. With Jean Burgess, she is the author of Twitter: A Biography (forthcoming 2020, NYU). Other books include Playing to the Crowd: Musicians, Audiences, and the Intimate Work of Connection (2018, NYU), Personal Connections in the Digital Age (2010, Second Edition 2014, Polity), Internet Inquiry: Conversations About Method (co-edited with Annette Markham, 2010, Sage), and Tune In, Log On: Soaps, Fandom and Online Community (2000, Sage). She was a co-founder of the Association of Internet Researchers and served as its second president. Her recognitions include the Frederick Williams Prize for Contributions to the Study of Communication and Technology awarded by the International Communication Association, the naming of the Nancy Baym Book Award by the Association of Internet Researchers, and an Honorary Doctorate from the Faculty of Information Technology at the University of Gothenburg.

Talk Title: Behind the Data: Reflections on Three Decades of Studying the Internet


In 1991, Nancy Baym first decided to use online data to study how people created identity, relationships, and communities in the new environment of the Internet. She saved all posts to a USENET group for a month and found herself with a pile of printouts so tall she barely knew how to begin their analysis. In the years since, she’s gone from Ph.D. student to Professor of Communication Studies to Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft, using a variety of (usually qualitative) methodological approaches in her effort to provide frameworks for understanding how people understand and use digital media and with what consequences. In this talk, she’ll consider the intertwined histories of her career path, the rise of the internet and big data, and the strategies she’s taken to get at what those data can’t reveal.