Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

How Donations to SPN Are Spent

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At Social Psychology Network, every dollar contributed goes directly into the web services we offer. For details on SPN's expenses, how donations are spent, and reasons for contributing, simply click on a question of interest:


Q: How much does it cost to run Social Psychology Network?

A: The annual cost of running SPN and its partner web sites is approximately $160,000: roughly $85,000 in salary and employment benefits for the Director of Technology (David Jensenius), $65,000 for the Social Network Web Developer (Steven Farthing), $8,000 for a part-time Senior Web Editor (Jennifer Spiller), and $2,000 for hardware, software, and other expenses.


Q: How much is the National Science Foundation contributing?

A: NSF contributes an annual average of $84,388 toward the direct costs of running SPN. It also pays $55,612 in annual indirect overhead to Wesleyan University, which uses this money in part to provide release time for Scott Plous to serve as SPN Executive Director.


Q: How do SPN salaries compare with the market average?

A: They are well below the market average. For example, the annual salary of SPN's Director of Technology is less than 60% of the $114,383 median salary in Connecticut for an information technology manager with over 10 years of experience (source: salary.com). Likewise, the annual salary of SPN's Social Network Web Developer is less than 65% of the $84,020 median salary in Connecticut for web application developers (source: salary.com). Even SPN's highly trained student assistants work for the relatively modest sum of $8-9 per hour. Without exception, SPN employees contribute their time, talent, and hard work because they hope to be of service to others, not because the financial incentives are large.


Q: Is the SPN Executive Director financially compensated for his work?

A: The SPN Executive Director, Scott Plous, receives no payment from online donations to Social Psychology Network. Professor Plous does receive two months of summer salary per year from the National Science Foundation, which works out to less than $5 per hour on an annualized basis.


Q: Why does SPN need to hire a full-time Director of Technology?

A: Many large university psychology departments find it necessary to hire a full-time computer administrator, so it should not be surprising that SPN -- which serves thousands of psychology faculty and students worldwide -- needs a full-time administrator. Even the Association for Psychological Science, whose web site receives less than 25% of SPN's traffic and has far fewer interactive features, requires professional staff members to maintain it.

Here are just a few SPN features that require customized programming: SPN Profile System, Advanced Search, Psychology Headlines, Student Discussion Forum, Professional Discussion Forum, Job Forum, Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, Implicit Association Test, SESP Member Search, Prejudice Expert Search, Social Justice Organization Search, Slide Tour of Prejudice, Prejudice Baseline Survey, UnderstandingPrejudice.org Instructor's Area, Slavery and the U.S. Presidents, Native IQ Test, Tobacco IQ Test, Joe Chemo Smoke-o-Scope, Joe Chemo E-Cards, and Research Randomizer.

In addition, a full-time administrator is needed to maintain and periodically upgrade the network's hardware and software, eliminate security threats when they arise, and carry out a variety of other server-side tasks. To do this effectively, the SPN Director of Technology must have extensive knowledge of web servers, email servers, encryption, database servers, search engines, web traffic analysis, and programming in languages such as Perl, PHP, SQL, DOM, JAVA, and Shell Scripting. The SPN Director of Technology is also on call 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and must respond quickly to service interruptions, hacking attempts, tape back-up failures, and so forth. To safeguard the network, this means that the Director of Technology must remain up to date on all security aspects of Unix servers running FreeBSD and Linux (the operating systems that SPN uses), as well as the programs that run on it, such as MySQL, PHP, Perl, Apache, BIND, and Sendmail. Further, the SPN Director of Technology works each day to create new resources and applications, and responds to myriad faculty and student requests for assistance.


Q: Shouldn't the cost of running a web site decline over time?

A: For small web sites with simple pages, the operating expenses often decline after the design has been completed and main content drafted. In the case of web portals, however, just the opposite occurs -- the operating expenses usually increase over time.

The reasons for this difference are at least three-fold. First, the development of a design represents only a small fraction of the work needed to create and maintain a large, interactive web site. Second, unlike traditional paper-based publications, web pages often require ongoing maintenance and updates, with each new page or interactive feature adding to the cumulative cost carried forward over time. Third, to the extent that the web site grows in size and popularity, it also increases in the associated costs of responding to email inquiries and requests for help. In the case of SPN, for example, the volume of email alone takes more than 10 hours per week to answer, and the network maintenance includes thousands of web pages and more than 20,000 unique links.


Q: What does Social Psychology Network do to keep costs down?

A: SPN works hard to deliver top value for the dollar. To keep its costs as low as possible, nearly all SPN server and programming software is freeware that relies on open-source code rather than commercial products. SPN uses Apache for its web server, MySQL for its databases, the FreeBSD operating system for all secure server connections, CVS for system back-ups, Sendmail for its email server, and free RSS news feeds for its Psychology Headlines feature. None of these resources require purchase, licensing fees, or technical support contracts.

Similarly, all advanced programming is done in Perl and PHP, both of which are open-source programming languages that are license-free and function smoothly on any server. Because Perl and PHP are widely used and well documented, they also keep SPN's costs down by speeding up development time and making it easy for others to understand and work with SPN's code when necessary. In the future, SPN will continue using free open-source solutions to reduce costs and increase efficiency whenever possible.

In terms of hardware, SPN lowers its costs by using retired computers as test beds and back-up systems for programming changes, software upgrades, and modifications to its server configurations. In addition, by maintaining its own hardware, SPN avoids monthly fees, service contracts, and bandwidth limitations that other web sites often face.

Finally, SPN has centralized and standardized its html code, scripts, and programming, and has developed an extensive set of administrative web interfaces to help manage its content and databases. This centralization saves money by permitting one change to instantly appear on all web pages, and by automating actions that would otherwise require extensive manual labor. For instance, SPN now automatically performs a weekly check on the accuracy of all its 20,000+ web links, thereby saving hundreds of hours in annual labor. Through these measures and many others, SPN strives to offer high value resources in the most cost-effective way possible.


Q: How does SPN advance the field and promote psychology?

A: Since its founding in 1996, SPN has become one of scientific psychology's most central web sites. In fact, SPN and its partner sites rank #1 worldwide in Google searches for "psychology studies" and other common search terms (excluding Google's own pages, Wikipedia, definitions, news, and paid results).

Google.com Search Results for SPN and Select Partner Sites (July 25, 2013)

Web SiteSearched TermRank in Results
Social Psychology Networkpsychology studies1 out of 181,000,000
Social Psychology Networkpsychology organizations1 out of 54,000,000
Social Psychology Networkpsychology distance learning1 out of 14,400,000
Social Psychology Networksocial psychology1 out of 150,000,000
Social Psychology Networkcultural psychology2 out of 28,100,000
Social Psychology Networkpeace psychology3 out of 40,300,000
Social Psychology Networkpsychology conferences2 out of 73,800,000
Social Psychology Networkpsychology4 out of 155,000,000
Social Psychology Networkpsychology network1, 2, and 3 out of 113,000,000
Social Psychology Networkpsychology textbooks2 out of 20,200,000
Social Psychology Networkpsychology journals2 out of 33,400,000
Research Randomizerrandom assignment3 out of 8,910,000
UnderstandingPrejudice.orgprejudice1 out of 37,300,000

Here are some specific ways that SPN and its partner sites help advance the field:

Research. SPN provides a global infrastructure for researchers and professional societies to communicate with one another via interactive forums and a Listserv Message Center. The Network also includes profiles of more than 2,060 researchers from 51 countries, a Job Forum, and links to more than 200 professional and student web-based studies. In addition, the Research Randomizer partner site has been used more than one million times to create number sets for random sampling and random assignment.

Teaching. On an average day, the UnderstandingPrejudice.org Teacher's Corner and SPN's other teaching-related pages receive more than 1,000 visits. The Network also has an Online Psychology Career Center that receives hundreds of visits per day, a Student Discussion Forum with more than 3,000 postings to date, a partner site on the Jigsaw Classroom cooperative learning technique, and a web site devoted to Action Teaching.

Diversity. SPN and its partner sites offer several resources intended to increase diversity in psychology, including a searchable network of over 500 volunteer mentors who provide career advice to students from underrepresented groups. Another web-based initiative, the SPSP Diversity Fund, has distributed over $100,000 in competitive awards to nearly 200 eligible graduate students.

Public outreach. To help disseminate the results of psychological science, SPN maintains a searchable directory of more than 850 self-designated "Media Contacts" who are willing to talk with reporters about their research and areas of expertise. SPN and its partner sites also offer free information on many topics of public interest. For example, at the height of news coverage on Abu Ghraib, public interest led SPN and the Stanford Prison Experiment web site to receive more than 250,000 page views per day.

In each of these ways and many more, SPN seeks to advance the field and publicly promote psychological science.



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©1996-2014, S. Plous