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AoIR 2011

Association of Internet Researchers conference, Seattle, 10-13 Oct. 2011

Analysing Language in Arabic Tweets about the Arab Spring

The final paper at AoIR 2011 is presented in absentia of the original authors, who were led by Muhammad Abdul-Mageed, and focusses on the use of Twitter during the continuing Arab Spring uprisings. It examines the linguistic features of the forms of Arabic used in these tweets, as well as the topics and sentiments expressed. The authors examined some 2000 tweets sampled at random from some 233,000 tweets gatered between November 2009 and February 2011. Tweets were coded for topic across a range of thematic categories, for language (standard vs. non-standard Arabic), and sentiment (objective, subjective; positive, negative, neutral, mixed).

Hashtagging on Twitter as a Performance of the Self

The penultimate speaker at AoIR 2011 is the awesome Zizi Papacharissi, whose interest is in self-performance on Twitter. Performance, she says, is public dreaming: everyday life is a theatre, and online, too, we are performing a networked self. We do this towards a blend of imagined as well as actual audiences, evoking a type of public dreaming.

Performance theory tells us that individuals live by performance – every little gesture is a little performative, and performances are inherently self-reflexive. We have a repertoire of performative actions, and play out an ‘as if’ element in our behaviours.

Thinking through Twitter

The next speaker at AoIR 2011 is Joss Hands, whose interest is in collective action in social media. How do we think, decide and act collectively in the age of social media as such, and how does this take place on Twitter in particular? Are social media expanding our capacity for a new kind of device consciousness?

A simple way of putting this is ‘does Twitter think?’ – the framing of the problem is rooted in the concept of the multitude as a social body, linked through communication technology; how does this social body come to collective decisions, not through top-down decision-making chains, but as a swarm that acts in concert like neurons in the brain? The suggestion is that it is the entire network which acts here, producing a dynamic of singularity and commonality.

Twitter as a Tool for Pro-Am Journalistic Practices

Wow – we’ve already reached the final session on the final day of AoIR 2011; time has passed very quickly. I’m in a session on Twitter, and Gabriela Zago makes a start. Her focus is on the possibilities of Pro-Am news media work on Twitter, focussing especially on the newspapers The Guardian and El País.

New tools and Web services appear online all the time; these tools are appropriated in different ways by different social actors. One possibility is appropriation for news-related uses, pursuing Pro-Am collaboration opportunities. Such Pro-Am models combine professional journalists and amateur news users and produsers. Twitter is currently being appropriated in this way – this is a form of extending news media for multiplatform news delivery as well as for other purposes.

Recognising the Blind Spots in Technology Innovation

The final keynote at AoIR 2011 is by Richard Harper, who is the recipient of AoIR’s inaugural book award. He begins with a personal story: some twenty years ago, Richard was researching knowledge work across distances; the task was to engineer technologies which could connect dispersed workers in collaborative spaces. To trial this, individual offices within the same company were treated as distant places, connected through shared, collaborative editing technologies (along the lines of what we now know as PiratePad or Google Docs). At the time, simple conventions for coordinating activities were also necessary, in order to avoid edit conflicts.

Such technologies seemed incredibly boring at the time, though – as simple steps towards something more interesting. The shared whiteboards developed by the project were used, but for unintended purposes: for chitchat, even for romance – a kind of tribalism at work.

Methods for Tracking Viral Video Dissemination across the U.S. Blogosphere

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2011 is Shawn Walker, whose interest is in the viral diffusion of information. He focusses here on the viral diffusion of videos during the last U.S. presidential election. Such diffusion addresses the dynamics of viral information flows online; videos sometimes managed to generate some millions of views in a very short time. Shawn’s project compared the diffusion of a number of videos across the blogosphere over the course of a year and a half.

How is this done methodologically? How can relevant data be gathered and analysed? Shawn generated data for some 125 videos across 10,000 blogs; this involves substantial data scraping and capturing, as well as (hand-)coding and analysing data. Extracting data on videos from YouTube is far from easy, and it’s impossible to predict which videos will go viral; instead, the project used a tool called Viral Video Chart to determine the top viral election videos, as well as exploring YouTube manually to identify different versions and mashups of the same video. Shawn also used paid access to viewing data provided by TubeMogul – which was not always comprehensive or entirely accurate, however.

Citizen Journalism in Brazil

The next speaker at AoIR 2011 is Raquel Oliveira, whose focus is on citizen journalism. The very definition of that term remains disputed, of course, and discussions over what citizen journalists are able to contribute continue apace. Citizen journalism is a phenomenon rather than a fully defined concept. Individuals use journalistic – and especially online – tools to make contributions which are of journalist interest to other. A related question is whether the Net is able to advance democracy by making possible practices such as citizen journalism.

What such practices do is to change traditional news production models, shifting the balance of power further towards news users. Raquel’s work examines the use of two citizen journalism communities which do this – Viva Favela and Índios Online: the former of these was greated in July 2001 and focusses on issues of interest to poor communities; the latter started in 2004 as a project coordinated by an NGO, and is now run autonomously by native Indio communities.

The Reykjavík Mayoral Election as Political Carnival

The next speaker at AoIR 2011 is Bjarki Valtysson, whose focus is on an Icelandic comedian who established the Best Party to contest the mayoral elections in Reykjavík, and won. After the 2008 financial crash in Iceland, there was a widespread mistrust of the political establishment, enabling comedians to successfully make the argument that Icelanders might as well elect clowns to political positions – and the party received 35% of the vote by doing so.

The Best Party successfully used cross-media platforms for promoting its subversive, carnivalesque election campaign, and thereby to perform democracy. It promoted values of positivity, honesty, trust, love, and equality, but in a sarcastic way – honesty is planned to be achieved by lying openly, for example. The now elected mayor’s Facebook page has some 35,000 likes – that’s around 10% of the entire population of Iceland.

Twitter and the Rescue of the Chilean Miners

The next panel at AoIR 2011 starts with the excellent Luca Rossi, whose focus is on the Twitter coverage of the Chilean mining accident and the subsequent rescue of the miners. Luca begins, though, by pointing to the underlying theory of media events – from the royal wedding (as a kind of 2.0 version, now with added social media, of the Charles & Diana a few decades ago wedding) to crisis and disaster events.

Twitter coverage of the mine rescue in Chile was coordinated through the #rescatemineros hashtag. The miners were trapped underground for some three months, following the 5 August 2010 mine collapse; the event transformed from a crisis event to a more organised media event as it gradually unfolded. How did Twitter cover this; how did messages propagate through the network; and how did Twitter interleave with the wider mediasphere?

Challenges of Universal Broadband Access in the U.S.

The next speaker in this session at AoIR 2011 is Susan Kretchmer, whose focus is on the continuing digital divide. The U.S. ranks surprisingly lowly on broadband Internet adoption; some 14 million Americans do not have access to broadband, and 100 million could have access but don’t use it because they can’t afford it or don’t realise the advantages. Rates are especially low amongst the most disadvantaged groups.

This is being addressed through the development of a National Broadband Plan by the FCC, under instructions by the Obama administration. This envisages the U.S. as a 21st century information society, realising the social and economic benefits of broadband access. This builds on the language of a social contract for the development of greater access. Susan argues that this project must serve the public interest, and needs a clear nuanced understanding of the shifting demographics of diversity, and the ability to harness the lessons of past attempts and failures to achieve universal access.


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