Defining Themes for Twitter Data Gathering

The next presentation in this Digital Methods panel is by Christoph Neuberger and Sanja Kapidzic, whose focus is on the question of how to define themes and topics in online communication. Using single keywords to define topics is too simplistic, and there often is an implication that we know what a topic is when we see it - but what exactly is a topic?

Sometimes, specific labels do emerge for given topics, which makes tracking them easier, but these labels themselves may evolve. In live topics it becomes necessary to track these themes and continue to update the markers of themes which are seen as relevant. Themes may be defined variously by broad news beats, by thematic areas, by single themes, or at the most specific level by specific events; these levels of specificity also overlap considerably, however.

How Julia Gillard's Misogyny Speech Went Viral

The next panel at the Digital Methods conference begins with a panel by Theresa Sauter and me, on the viral distribution of links to the video of Julia Gillard's "misogyny" speech in 2012 as it was posted in full on the ABC News site. Unfortunately the audio recording didn't work out, so below are the slides only - do make sure you click on the links to see the video and the animations of the emerging retweet network.

The Challenges of Understanding Content Dissemination on Facebook

The final speakers in this Digital Methods plenary are Axel Maireder and Katrin Jungnickel, whose interest is in the uncertainties of the Facebook timeline. Facebook has continued to tinker with how the timeline is selected and presented for several years now, and this affects the flow of communication on the platform; what, then, are the factors which determine that flow?

This study combined content analysis and user surveys, but both these approaches have their drawbacks - it is impossible from the outside to track the content of users' timelines, for example, but surveys of users also suffer from self-reporting biases. In the end, the researchers asked users to copy the links they received through their timelines into an online survey, and to discuss the content of the URLs and the Facebook friends they received them from. Issues with privacy as well as the tedious nature of this approach also affect the results, however. Some 550 users participated in the study.

Generating Representative Samples from Search Engine Results?

The next plenary speaker at Digital Methods is Martin Emmer, whose focus is on sampling methods in digital contexts. Online media are now important public fora, and conventional media are increasingly using digital channels to transmit their content as well; this also leads to a shift in media usage, of course, and some of that shift is also driven by generational change.

If we need to examine the digital space to understand current debates in the public sphere, then, how do we generate representative samples of online content and activities? With traditional mass media, it was possible to draw on comprehensive lists of media providers, with a small handful of alternative media; in the digital environment, channels and platforms have multiplied massively, and it is no longer trivial to select a small number of sites and spaces which represent all online activity.

The Impact of Social Sharing on Google Search Results

The next session at Digital Methods is a plenary panel which begins with Christina Schumann, whose focus is on Google and other search engines as technological actors on the Internet. Search engines are especially important as they now serve as a kind of gatekeeper on the Net - but the criteria they use for ranking and structuring information are often far from transparent.

The basic approach of search engines is to crawl or otherwise gather Internet data which are then indexed and processed into a database; this database is queried as a search query is entered into the search engine. Factors in returning search results include on-page information (content, programming, and design of Web pages) as well as off-page metadata (especially the link networks surrounding each page, relative to the theme of the query).

The Opportunities and Challenges of 'Big Data' Research

At the end of an extended trip to a range of conferences and symposia I've made my way to Vienna, where I'm attending the DGPuK Digital Methods conference at the University of Vienna. The conference is in German, but I'll try to blog the presentations in English nonetheless - wish me luck... We begin with keynote by Jürgen Pfeffer, addressing - not surprisingly - the question of 'big data' in communications research.

Jürgen begins by asking what's different about 'big data' research. In our field, we're using 'big data' on communication and interaction to work towards a real-time analysis of large-scale, dynamic sociocultural systems, necessarily especially through computational approaches - this draws on the data available from major social networks and other participative sites, but it aims not to research "the Internet", but society by examining communication patterns on the Internet (and elsewhere).

Now Out: Twitter and Society

I am delighted to report the culmination of a very intensive, highly collaborative project: our new book Twitter and Society, edited by Katrin Weller, Jean Burgess, Merja Mahrt, Cornelius Puschmann, and me, was launched at the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Denver a few days ago and is now available from Amazon and the Peter Lang Website. I’m very pleased that we managed to get the first copies of the book printed in time for the conference, to be able to hand them to the many of our contributors who were present at AoIR 2013.

The book is a 450-page anthology of the very best of current Twitter research, providing a comprehensive overview of research methods, concepts, challenges, and applications. It features some 31 chapters, a foreword by the University of Amsterdam’s Richard Rogers – and we’re particularly proud to have been able to use the painting Die Zwitschermaschine (The Twittering Machine) by Paul Klee as the book cover. Many, many thanks to our 45 contributors for their fabulous contributions. A full list of chapters is below – and here’s a group photo from the launch at AoIR 2013. You can also follow further updates about the book at @twitsocbook!

Revisiting Produsage

After the “Compromised Data” symposium in Toronto I’ve made my way over to Europe, where my first stop is a PhD symposium in Copenhagen where I’ve been invited to present an update on my work on produsage. Here, I’ve revisited the fundamental concept of produsage and made the link to my current work on the uses of social media, especially in a journalistic context. Slides and audio below:

The Problematic Rise of Read Receipts in Social Media

The final presenter at "Compromised Data" is Kamilla Pietrzyk, whose interest is in the user experience of social media platforms which provide read receipts - as in Facebook chat, iMessage, or Snapchat. Very little research has been done about this so far, but there is growing unease about this functionality, which notifies the sender of a message that the message was opened and (presumably) read.

Email offers this functionality as well, but here the read receipt is a per-case opt-in facility; recipients can choose not to send read receipts as they read the email. Underlying this, though, there are also message delivery notifications in email, which confirm that the email was delivered to the recipient's mailserver, although this does not guarantee that the recipient themself will have read the message.

Online Backchannels to Television Broadcasts in Spain

The next "Compromised Data" is Mariluz Sánchez, who is taking a socio-semiotic approach to the intersection between television and the Internet. This transforms the concept of interactivity, revolutionising reception and enabling the development of transmedia storytelling where viewers develop relationships with the content through various platforms.

Various resources are available to viewers online, promoting consumption and building loyalty towards the programming. Industry is now providing direct access to audiences, and viewers' ability to provide direct feedback can be seen as a form so social empowerment. Mariluz analysed these resources by examining the resources listed on the first five pages of Google search results for specific TV shows, excluding BitTorrent and other download resources.


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