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Busy-ness as Usual

This blog has been somewhat slow again since the last round of conferences, and I'm hoping to do more in the future to change this. In the first place, I'm planning to post more regular updates again as I publish new articles and book chapters (watch out for a round-up of recent work soon, most of which already appear in my list of publications). There are also a number of new research projects which have started this year – and while more detailed updates about the day-to-day work of some of these will appear on Mapping Online Publics and the Website of the QUT Social Media Research Group, I'm planning to flag the most important outcomes from these projects here as well. And as always, updates are also available on Twitter through my own account @snurb_dot_info as well as @socialmediaQUT.

New Projects

Most importantly, I've just commenced my ARC Future Fellowship – a major four-year project which builds on my social media work and connects it with a number of other important data sources which shed light on the way Australian Internet users are engaging with news and current affairs. We'll continue to draw on large Twitter data (as well as, eventually, data from other social networks) which show the patterns of day-to-day activity around current events, and we'll correlate these patterns with data from Experian Hitwise, which track (anonymously and at very large scale) how Australian users search and browse the Web. Further, I'm also going to be able to incorporate some internal server data from Fairfax Digital (including its flagship mastheads Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) to investigate in more depth what articles users read and engage with on these sites.

All up, this should enable me to trace the flows of attention right through the information cycle – from searching and browsing through to reading and sharing, and (in part as a result of such sharing via social media) back again to searching and browsing. It will be interesting to explore this in the context of key events and crises, as well as of longer-term issues and themes in Australian news and politics. The overall aim of the project, then, is to think through what the patterns of attention and activity we'll be able to observe can tell us about the current shape of the Australian online public sphere, and to use this to contribute to a post-Habermasian theory of the public sphere.

And I'm delighted that my former PhD student Tim Highfield has returned to QUT as the Postdoctoral Research Fellow associated with this project. Tim has already done excellent work in researching intermedia information flows, and will make a very significant contribution to this project. In addition, there will also be two PhD students associated with the study – the first, Felix Münch, will commence in mid-2014, and I'm looking to fill the second place some time in 2015 (preferably with an Australian candidate). Interested?

A second major initiative which started to year is our ARC LIEF project TrISMA, with partners at QUT, Curtin, Deakin, and Swinburne Universities, and the National Library of Australia, which will build the infrastructure to track public social media activities in Australia at large scale and in close to real time. This two-year project, which I lead, is a crucial step beyond the ad hoc tools and methods development which has characterised most social media research to date – we're looking to finally develop some shared, standardised infrastructure which researchers across the four universities can draw on in their work, and which will then also allow for more collaborative and comparative work across these teams.

This builds again on the methodological development work which we at QUT have already done, but extends and expands it substantially, especially also by moving well beyond Twitter as our key platform so far. But even as far as Twitter itself is concerned, my aim is eventually to track all public activities in the Australian Twittersphere, in order to have a much more comprehensive perspective on what users are discussing from day to day – beyond the usual hashtags from #auspol to #qldfloods or the limited populations of politicians' and journalists' accounts which we've investigated in the past. A kind of "Australian firehose" of tweets opens pathways towards a much broader range of research opportunities than we've been able to pursue to date, especially as far as everyday uses of Twitter are concerned.

A number of other projects still continue, of course – this includes our research into the uses of social media in crisis communication, various projects that investigate the role of Twitter during the recent Australian, German, and Norwegian elections, and new work on the use of social media as a backchannel to television. More on many of these soon, too!