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Call for Applications: CCI Digital Methods Summer School, 15-19 Feb. 2016 (#cciss16)

Thu, 27/08/2015 - 09:00

We are now inviting applications for the 2016 CCI Digital Methods Summer School. The deadline for application is Monday 21 Sep. 2016.

Hosted by the QUT Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC), the 2016 event will focus on digital methods for sociocultural research. It is designed for university researchers at all stages of their careers, from doctoral students, postdoctoral and mid-career academics to established scholars.

The week-long intensive program will focus on new quantitative, qualitative and data-driven digital methods and their research applications in the humanities and social sciences, with a particular focus on media, communication and cultural studies and their applications in the creative industries.

Participants will work with leading researchers, engage in hands-on workshop activities and will have the opportunity to present and get feedback on their own work.

The Summer School will offer a range of introductory hands-on workshops in topics such as:

  • Digital ethnography
  • Issue mapping
  • Social media data analytics
  • Software and mobile app studies
  • Analysing visual social media
  • Geo-spatial mapping
  • Data visualisation
  • Agent-based modelling
  • Web scraping

The program will be conceptually grounded in the problems of public communication and privacy, digital media production and consumption, and the ethical issues associated with big data and digital methods in the context of digital media environments. There will be talks on these topics in addition to the workshops.

The first announcement of speakers and facilitators includes Associate Professor Kath Albury (University of New South Wales), Professor Axel Bruns (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Professor Jean Burgess (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Distinguished Professor Stuart Cunningham (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Professor Terry Flew (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Associate Professor Folker Hanusch (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Professor Eszter Hargittai (Northwestern University), Dr Tim Highfield (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Professor Larissa Hjorth (RMIT University), Dr Tama Leaver (Curtin University), Professor Ben Light (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Professor Brian McNair (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Dr Peta Mitchell (QUT Digital Media Research Centre), Professor Julian Thomas (Swinburne Institute for Social Research) and Associate Professor Patrik Wikström (QUT Digital Media Research Centre).

Please visit the #cciss16 Website for further information and application details.

QUT Digital Media Research Centre PhD Scholarships for 2016 Entry

Mon, 24/08/2015 - 09:00

The Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), where we are based, is now calling for expressions of interest from prospective postgraduate research students as part of the University’s annual Scholarship Round.

The DMRC conducts world-leading research that helps society understand and adapt to the changing digital media environment. It is the leading Australian centre for the fields of media and communication – areas in which QUT has achieved the highest possible rankings in ERA, the national research quality assessment exercise. We are actively engaged with the Asian region across all our research programs; and we have a strong commitment to research training for academic and industry researchers alike.

Applicants with excellent academic track records (equal to an Australian Bachelor Degree with First Class Honours) or equivalent research experience may be eligible for competitive PhD scholarships to undertake study with us. Successful applicants will work on topics that align closely with one or more of our four research programs. The DMRC is also offering a number of additional top-ups to these scholarships for highly ranked students.

Closing date: 30th September 2015 (earlier enquiries essential)

Further information on our research programs, PhD topics for 2016, and how to apply is here:  http://tinyurl.com/dmrcphd

ATNIX: Australian Twitter News Index, June/July 2015

Thu, 20/08/2015 - 09:30

I must begin this Australian Twitter News Index update with an apology – we’ve had to skip May due to unforeseen server maintenance, and this has also affected part of our data-gathering for June. Consequently, this post covers the period of both June and July 2015, with future updates returning to a more regular monthly pattern again.

It is also worth noting that the Australian media landscape continues to be in flux: in addition to Daily Mail Australia, Guardian Australia, and Buzzfeed Australia last year, we’ve now also seen the launch of Huffington Post Australia (about which I’ve had more to say here), as well as the rebranding of nineMSN as 9 News. Because our approach to tracking the sharing of links to these sites depends on URLs for these Australian publications that are distinct from those of their overseas parents, we are at this stage unable to track Daily Mail, Guardian, or Buzzfeed in Australia. The local spin-off of Huffington Post, on the other hand, is using a distinct .com.au domain, and will be included in next month’s ATNIX.

In spite of these continuing changes to the Australian mediasphere, overall patterns of sharing links to the Australian news and opinion sites that we track through ATNIX have remained remarkably stable. While we are unable to observe directly how many links to sites like Guardian Australia or Daily Mail Australia are being shared, then, the indirect observation is that this is not a zero-sum game: one more Guardian link shared does not necessarily mean one less ABC News or Sydney Morning Herald link shared as a consequence, for instance.

While the long-established two-tier distribution of attention on Twitter – with ABC News and Sydney Morning Herald as clear leaders well ahead of all other sites – is stable, then, a notable feature of these two months’ activity patterns is a marked slump in sharing links (particularly to the ABC) during the first week of July. This is almost certainly related to the winter school holidays, during which attention to the news inevitably flags. The various states’ and territories’ holiday timeframes overlapped for the period of 4-12 July, therefore affecting the national broadcaster most during this time; New South Wales’s holidays covered 26 June to 13 July, and consequently this constitutes a slightly slower phase for the SMH.

Immediately after this holiday slump, however, we are seeing the most pronounced peaks in sharing activity during this two-month period, with the ABC particularly involved. Link sharing during the period of 13-17 July is dominated by an interview with controversial former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis on Late Night Live (shared in more than 2,100 tweets), and a comprehensive interactive piece on the latest images from NASA’s Pluto probe New Horizons (over 1,300). From past experience, it seems quite likely that the popularity of these stories would also have been boosted by overseas Twitter users – in the Varoufakis case for example by Greek and other European users.

Significant spikes are also visible for news.com.au, where on 17 July its ‘exclusive’ coverage of new footage from the immediate aftermath of the MH17 downing received some 1,800 links in tweets, and on 26-27 July a story about teen band Five Seconds of Summer was shared a whopping 5,100 times, almost certainly also by users outside of Australia.

By comparison, it is surprising that articles about the festering political crisis which dominated public debate during the second half of July – parliamentary Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s ‘choppergate’ scandal – do not appear amongst the most highly shared links. Perhaps this is explained by the common but somewhat counterintuitive pattern, which we have observed before, that widely covered issues in the media receive relatively little additional amplification through audience tweets: Twitter users seem to assume, perhaps correctly, that such major stories require no further boost in visibility.

On the other hand, the very ubiquity of this story may also have led to the sharing of many individual articles, rather than a focus on any one piece in particular. On 20 July, for example, an ABC News report about Prime Minister Tony Abbott putting the Speaker ‘on probation’ manages only some 200 tweets, and an opinion piece by Paula Matthewson about the scandal is shared another 280 times.

Counting up shared links to the many further articles about the issue across the Australian media would no doubt reveal ‘choppergate’ as a major controversy on Twitter, as much as in wider political discourse – but in the form of rolling coverage, with no one single update emerging as central. A simple count shows that there were more than 50,000 tweets during July that linked to one of the news and opinion sites we cover in ATNIX and contained the name ‘Bishop’, for example; almost 35,000 that contained ‘Bronwyn’; and 10,000 that contained the word ‘Speaker’ – but none of the individual articles shared in these stories managed 1,000 or more tweets in their own right.

Interestingly, the patterns in overall visits to Australian news and opinion sites as captured by Experian Hitwise do not particularly indicate any impact from the holidays, indicating perhaps that the general population does continue to keep an eye on the news even during the break, but switches off from the more active form of engagement with the news that tweeting and retweeting links to these news stories requires. As expected, we are also seeing no significant increases in Australian-based access to ABC News content during the time of the Twitter spikes around the Varoufakis and New Horizons stories, supporting the thesis that these spikes are largely driven by international users.

However, there is a pronounced spike in visits to sites such as news.com.au, Sydney Morning Herald, ABC News, and The Age on 20 July, declining gradually over the following days. This may indicate the heightened overall news interest triggered by the ‘choppergate’ affair and the PM’s response to it, even if that interest did not result in specific individual stories emerging as widely shared articles in ATNIX.

Elsewhere, the Experian Hitwise data continue to point to a persistent disconnect between The New Daily’s overall readership (netting some 2.5 million visits over these two months) and its Twitter presence. The New Daily receives more than three times as many visits as Crikey, for example, but only about one third of the number of tweets linking to its content. This unusual discrepancy suggests that the site has somehow managed to attract a particularly non-tweeting audience for its content.

Standard background information: ATNIX is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude the non-news sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). Data on Australian Internet users’ news browsing patterns are provided courtesy of Experian Marketing Services Australia. This research is supported by the ARC Future Fellowship project “Understanding Intermedia Information Flows in the Australian Online Public Sphere”.

What If Google Bought Twitter? A Conversation and Some Further Thoughts

Mon, 10/08/2015 - 09:00

Twitter has been in the news recently, for all the wrong reasons. Business media report that Twitter shareholders are disappointed with the company’s latest results; and this follows recent turmoil in the company’s leadership which saw the departure of controversial CEO Dick Costolo and the (temporary) return of co-founder Jack Dorsey until a permanent replacement is found.

All this has served to feed rumours that Google, having recently called time on its own underperforming social network Google+, might be interested in acquiring Twitter. From one perspective, this would clearly make sense – social media are now a key driver of Web traffic and a potentially important advertising market, and Google will not want to remain disconnected from this space for long. On the other hand, though, given its chequered history with the now barely remembered Google Buzz as well as major effort Google+, Twitter users (and the third-party companies that serve this userbase) may well be concerned about what a Google acquisition of the platform may mean for them.

I had the opportunity to explore these questions in some detail in an extended interview with ABC Radio’s Tim Cox last week. In a wide-ranging discussion, we reviewed the issues troubling Google+ and Twitter, and the difficulties facing any player seeking to establish a new social media platform alongside global market leader Facebook. Here’s the audio:

Let us take this conversation further: what if Google did buy Twitter? From my point of view, this could turn out a positive move, if Google treats the platform appropriately (as it did, arguably, with past acquisitions such as Blogger, YouTube, and Google Maps). It’s become very obvious over the past months that Twitter’s stock market listing has been a curse at least as much as a blessing: while it’s raised substantial new capital, of course, it’s also exposed the company to the expectations of shareholders who seem to fundamentally misunderstand what Twitter is or can be.

As a platform, Twitter is not and will never be a competitor to Facebook, whatever its shareholders seem to think. Both might be classed under the overall rubric of “social media”, but any direct comparisons constitute a category error: the appeal of a strong-ties, small-world networks platform like Facebook, where we tend to network predominantly with family and friends, is necessarily fundamentally different from that of a weak-ties, large-world space like Twitter, where we can follow – and attempt to strike up conversations with – celebrities, politicians, and other users outside of our immediate networks.

That’s a very different kind of social network, with its own unique uses, and it is futile to hope that Twitter will eventually attract the same number of users, or the same user activity patterns, as Facebook. Worse still, to try to reshape Twitter in Facebook’s image by force will almost inevitably kill off the platform.

If Google understands this, and treats Twitter appropriately (which probably includes accepting it as a loss leader for the time being), this could well turn the platform’s fortunes around. Twitter’s recognised strengths are as a flat, public, and open network that excels especially in live contexts; Twitter is the place where most recent breaking news stories first broke, and a space where users gather as a temporary public and community to collectively participate in shared experiences from the World Cup to Eurovision. Beyond any marketing hype, it genuinely serves as the pulse of the planet in a great many contexts.

This live insight into what news stories and other information are currently hot (and thus should be served as search results, too) may well be valuable enough for Google to fork out a few billion, even if there still doesn’t seem to be a workable model for generating significant direct advertising revenue from the platform.

But whoever takes on Twitter, one of the first things the new CEO will need to do is to fundamentally rebuild Twitter’s relationship with those on whom, historically, its successes have most depended: the flotilla of third-party developers and researchers that surrounds the Twitter mothership. As Jean Burgess and I have documented in our contribution to the forthcoming collection Digital Methods for Social Science, those developers – and the early adopters and lead users whom they have served – have made the platform what it is: they developed powerful Twitter clients and tools, and laid the groundwork for the social media analytics approaches that have become crucial for making sense of trends on Twitter and elsewhere.

Sadly, though, especially under Dick Costolo Twitter’s relationship with these crucial allies in the promotion of Twitter as a platform and a community soured significantly: abrupt and radical changes to the terms of service of the Twitter API (which govern what data companies and their tools could gain access to) in pursuit of more revenue undermined this crucial third-party ecosystem and stymied further innovation. And if anything, the handful of exceptions from this new, more restrictive régime – such as the Twitter Data Grants for researchers, which supported a total of only six out of 1,300 proposed projects – caused further offence rather than restoring goodwill.

Absent any major new investments, a Twitter relying mainly on the support of its shareholders seems unlikely to change tack in this way – it will continue to chase revenue by attempting to commercialise its data, and in the process also continue to alienate the crucial third-party developer community. This is a path of diminishing returns: the data are valuable only as long as there are popular and meaningful applications for Twitter as a platform, but those applications have historically been created by the third-party developers and the power users they support.

Freed from the short-term, unrealistic demands of the stock market through an acquisition by Google (or another cashed-up investor), on the other hand, Twitter could dial back its desperate efforts to commercialise its APIs and the data they provide, and return to its original, more permissive data access régime in order to nurture and support new efforts at research and development. Such a shift in policy could well be the shot in the arm Twitter needs to ensure its longer-term survival – but it depends on the intervention of a new benefactor. Is Google ready to play – or is it still too disheartened from its past attempts to enter the social media market?