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Epidemiologic Research and Web 2.0—the User-driven Web

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Epidemiologic Research and Web 2.0—the User-driven Web



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Editors’ note:This series addresses topics that affect epidemiologists across a range of specialties. Commentaries are first invited as talks at symposia organized by the Editors. This paper was originally presented at the 2010 Society for Epidemiologic Research Annual Meeting in Seattle, WA.
Epidemiologic Research and Web 2.0—the Userdriven Web Brian K. Lee he basic information technology for epidemiologic surveillance was once (and often T still is) “shoeleather”—a term that harkens back to the days of John Snow and his predecessors, when data collection was limited by how far an epidemiologist could walk. Since then, the technological tools for data collection have evolved. The gradual adoption of the telephone in the late 19th and early 20th centuries facilitated the use of phones for surveillance purposes. By the 1950s, public health officials were using telephone inter 1,2 views to conduct outbreak investigationsand, in doing so, helped to usher in a new era in survey methodology. Likewise, the advent of the computer age profoundly altered the 3 landscape of populationhealth research. In the last 30 years, electronic medical records, 4 5 health insurance claims data,and populationbased registershave allowed investigators to conduct research on large samples, and usage of computer data repositories has become accepted practice. More recently, epidemiologists have taken advantage of the Internet as a commu nications medium to facilitate research. The world is increasingly “wired”: over 1.8 billion persons worldwide use the Internet, and population percentages of Internet users are high 6 for many developed regions.Accordingly, many aspects of research, including recruit 7 89 ment, datacollection, andeven certain interventionshave been implemented through the Internet. But the value of the Internet for epidemiologic research is not simply as a faster method of reaching potential participants or conducting a survey, or as a replacement for the telephone when people are increasingly reluctant to respond to solicitations. User driven Internet content—particularly the content produced under the Web 2.0 platform— offers research opportunities for epidemiology that have only begun to be explored.
WEB 2.0 The Internet is a global network of smaller computer networks and the World Wide Web (Web, for short) is the browseraccessible content that exists on the Internet. The Web was introduced in 1991 and, for many years, information transfer was generally 1way. Users were limited to passive viewing and receipt of Web site content with little interaction among users. But technological advances in broadband access, Internet connected digital devices (such as mobile phones, smart phones, and personal computers), and software applications helped foster a fundamental shift in Internet usage toward the production of userdriven content. Popularized in 2004, the term Web 2.0 refers to the active generation of dynamically updated content made possible by social interaction and participation in online commu
From the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, PA. Correspondence: Brian K. Lee, 1505 Race St Mail Stop 1033, Philadelphia, PA 19102. Email: bklee@drexel.edu. Editors’ note:Related articles appear on pages 764 and 769. Copyright © 2010 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ISSN: 10443983/10/21060760 DOI: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181f5a75f
760| www.epidem.com
Epidemiology21, Number 6, November 2010• Volume