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AoIR 2009

Association of Internet Researchers conference, Milwaukee, 7-10 Oct. 2009

The Impact of Design Features on the Social Network Formations on Twitter and Plurk

The final speaker of this final session at AoIR 2009 is Raquel Recuero, who shifts our focus to Brazil and its adoption of Twitter and Plurk (another micromessaging tool, but one which has a horizontal rather than vertical logic and enables replies within the message - Google Wave-style, it seems). How is the appropriation of these different social network sites influenced by the conversations that these platforms enable; how do the conversations reveal different types of social networks?

Raquel's study examined the conversational structures in these sites using social network analysis, but also engaged in content analysis and ethnographic research. Of the two sites, Plurk makes it easier to track continuing conversations, but there is less multimodality; there are often more participants to conversations and more recurrent participants (at an average of nine), conversations are more coherent and synchronous, and extend over more conversational turns (at an average of 15). On Twitter, the process is more disruptive - it is difficult to keep track of conversations, and they are less synchronous; conversations have an average of only two turns, and indeed there are fewer conversations in the first place, with fewer participants (at an average of two).

Fighting Gender Stereotypes in the Polish Blogosphere

The next speaker at AoIR 2009 is Katarzyna Chmielewska, whose focus is on Polish-language blogs, especially by Polish women. In 2006, an advertising agency created a controversial public service advertisement in Poland that was featuring a hospital delivery room with a birthing scene during which a vacuum cleaner is born, to suggest that too often consumer lifestyles are preferred to having children; this was highly controversial in Poland and was seen as emblematic of the then ruling coalition's ultra-conservative 'family values'.

Gender and Race Differences in Email Use for Family Purposes?

The next speaker at AoIR 2009 is Briana Fox, whose interest is in how gender and race shape family email networks. Are there perceivable differences in how families email amongst themselves that can be explained through such factors, and in the perception of such networks by families from different backgrounds? There is a perception that email in general serves to distance families, that there are no good social relationships which can be conducted through it, or that by contrast the multiple media now available for communication strengthen family ties. Further, gender-based studies show that women email more and rekindle old friendships and relationships; they are also more responsible in general for managing family relationships. Finally, there is very little information on the impact of race on online communication patterns, beyond observations of a general digital divide (at least still in the early 2000s) which makes white users more likely to be online.

Twitter as a Technology of Immediacy

The first speaker in this final session at AoIR 2009 is Taina Bucher. She argues for an understanding of Twitter as a technology of immediacy - in this case, of immediacy in time, enabling users to cease the time and take action. Our being in time is characterised by the scarcity of time in the 24h society; Twitter reacts to that by encouraging short messages and resourceful communication that give shape to concise messaging.

What does such a communication tool indicate about the society of which it is a part? It claims to be a service that enables users to share and discover what is happening anywhere in the world; this is a technology of immediacy for mediating the momentary and immediate. This can be explored in the context of the status update box: a box for writing, for filling in and creating moments.

Political Discourse from Truth to Truthiness

The final keynote of AoIR 2009 is by Megan Boler, editor of Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times. She begins by noting the shared sense of aporia at the conference. What do we do as we face the rapidly changing environments of social media - do we feel let down by the Internet, do we daily have to renegotiate the changing visage of the Internet? Megan is particularly interested in exploring this in the context of war, and especially the war on terror - so much especially of the material produced from critical perspectives is dismissed as noise here, so how do we make what we feel is important audible and visible? (To illustrate this, Megan shows a video compiling the repetitive use of certain keywords - September 11, Saddam Hussein, war on terror, terrorism - by US leaders.)

Artificial Artificial Artificial Intelligence in Amazon's Mechanical Turk

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2009 is David Bello, whose focus is on Amazon's Mechanical Turk system. This is a form of crowdsourcing, which itself combines the outsourcing of labour to an external provider with community-provided open source labour; crowdsourcing thus exhibits an open quality where users are not employed or hired, but simply choose to perform the tasks that they are interested in. In crowdsourcing, the requesting body solicits the general public to join the labouring community.

In the Amazon case, the company provides the platform which mediates the labour process; using this platform, a requesting body can provide tasks which are then performed by the labouring community. Community members are remunerated according to their provision of HITs (human intelligence tasks), which address problems that cannot be done by computers (semantic and cultural understanding, or sensory translation).

How Google Legitimises Its Symbolic Power

The next speaker at AoIR 2009 is Kylie Jarrett, who moves on to problematising Google and its 'don't be evil' motto. There is a sense of disquiet about the absolute symbolic power enjoyed by the company at this point, but there are also many defensive responses as so many people are very attached to it. What is the source of this belief in Google?

Symbolic power needs to be legitimated, and Google attempts this by outlining its core principles on its site: focus on the user and all else will follow, do one thing really well, fast is better than slow, democracy on the Web works, people don't need to be at their desk to need an answer, it's possible to make money without being evil, there's always more information out there, great isn't good enough, etc.

Critiquing the eBay Live! Conventions

The next speaker at AoIR 2009 is Michele White, who shifts our interest to eBay and its eBay Live! convention culture. This is an interesting translation of the asynchronous online trading model to a face-to-face venue for expressions of community, and through them comsumers are incorporated into and work for the community and brand. These people are consumer-fans who invest time and money into building an identity for the brand - this is for the most part no critical reinterpretation of eBay's brand message, but rather an enthusiastic dissemination.

Towards Blackberry Capitalism?

The next session at AoIR 2009 starts with Andrew Herman, who introduces the idea of 'Blackberry capitalism'. He notes the shift towards wireless Internet use in recent years; most US Internet users now access the Net wirelessly, for example, and trends are similar in many other countries. There is no distinction in much of the data between wireless and mobile uses, however; mobile Internet use entails some very different practices from mere wifi access. Mobile communication has similarly changed away from mere mobile telephony, of course; the possibilities of mobile communication have extended well beyond talking and texting, but don't simply converge with wireless Internet usage practices.

A New Tool for Mapping Communities of Blog Commenters

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2009 is Anatoliy Gruzd, whose focus is on the communities of blog readers, and how such communities of people discussing shared issues across different blogs may be discovered automatically - that is, how the social networks connecting them may be identified. This is important not least because of the massive growth in online information - we need to develop better tools to extract salient material from this overload of content, and to do so, knowing the social context is paramount.


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