Richards, Bill

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Richards, Bill

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  • Richards, William Donald, Jr.

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17 December 1948 - 23 August 2007


William Donald Richards, Jr. (1948-2007) was a professor in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University from 1976 until his untimely death in 2007. His work focused on the development and implementation of computer programs to research and analyze communication and information networks, social networks, and networks in large, complex organizations. His research, writing and NEGOPY software – the primary software program he developed to analyze networks – were recognized and utilized throughout the world. At the time of his passing, NEGOPY was in use at over 100 universities and research centres worldwide.

Richards was born on December 17, 1948 in Detroit, Michigan to William and June Richards. He was the eldest of five children. He attended the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, and went on to earn his BA in Communication from Michigan State University (MSU) in 1971. It was at MSU that he became interested in and wrote his first network analysis program, NETWOW. The experience prompted him to pursue graduate studies in Communication Research at Stanford University in California, where he earned an MA in 1973 and PhD in 1976. During his time at Stanford, NETWOW evolved into NEGOPY (said to be a blend of Negative Entropy, meaning information and structure) in collaboration with then-MSU Communication PhD student James A. Danowski. Another MSU PhD student, George A. Barnett, then taught Richards network analysis.

While at Stanford, Richards continued to develop NEGOPY, which initially ran only on CDC computers. For this reason, he would often run data through the software, analyzing and summarizing it on behalf of researchers worldwide. Soon thereafter, Richards began the task of re-writing the NEGOPY program to operate on IBMs. As a result, he was able to more readily disseminate the program to researchers, scholars, students, and organizations nationally and internationally for their research and use.

In August of 1976, Richards accepted a position as an Assistant Professor with SFU’s Department of Communication. He went on to become an Associate Professor with the Department in the fall of 1988, and then ultimately full Professor. He also had two semesters off-campus, the first as a Visiting Researcher in the Social Networks Program at the School of Social Science, University of California at Irvine in 1980, and the second as Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at State University of New York at Buffalo in 1989.

During his teaching career at SFU, Richards introduced and taught a number of new courses addressing communication and information networks, as well as network analysis theory and research. He was also a founding member of SFU’s Laboratory for Computer and Communication Research, established in 1982 as a collaboration between the Department of Communication and the School of Computing Science to promote inquiry into the problems of computing and communication research. Richards also served in various supporting roles for his department, including as undergraduate advisor and chair.

Throughout his career, Richards’ work and NEGOPY software resulted in numerous fruitful collaborations, grant-funded research projects, case studies, and communications with colleagues and organizations in both the public and private sectors. He continued to develop NEGOPY as changes arose in the field of social network analysis, creating newer versions of and manuals for the software, and developing network utilities to make the data easier to work with. In the 1980s Richards created FATCAT, a network analysis program designed for categorical analysis of multivariate multiplex communication network data. This was followed by MultiNet, an extended replacement for FATCAT, in collaboration with Andrew J. Seary, an SFU researcher-programmer. Seary was also Richards' partner in "The Vancouver Network Analysis Team," which specialized in social network analysis software.

Richards was an active member of INSNA, the International Network for Social Network Analysis, a global research organization. At the time of his death, he was co-editor and publisher of INSNA’s journal, “Connections,” and had been INSNA President for four years. He had also been the organization's webmaster since 2002, managing conference registration and membership renewals. In 2000, Richards organized and convened INSNA's twentieth annual International Sunbelt Social Network Conference, as well as the "Vancouver Symposium on Networks, Needles, Drugs, Risk and Infectious Disease."

Richards’ impact on the field of communication was significant and far-reaching. Beyond his dedication to his work and colleagues, Richards was also an avid gardener and photographer.

Richards died suddenly at his home in Vancouver, BC on August 23, 2007.


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Prepared by Rita Mogyorosi (July 2014).




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