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'Big Data'

Postdoc Position Available: Public Sphere Theory and Social Media Analytics

In addition to the PhD position I advertised last week, I am now also offering a two-year, full-time postdoc position on the same project at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia (international applicants are very welcome). If you’re interested and qualified for the position, please submit a detailed application through the QUT jobs Website, responding to the selection criteria. Full details for the job can be found there, and below I’m including the key details from the job description:

Position Purpose

This appointment supports an ARC Future Fellowship research project investigating intermedia information flows in the Australian online public sphere. The emergence of new media forms has led to a profound transformation of the Australian media environment: mainstream, niche, and social media intersect in many ways, online and offline. Increased access to large-scale data on public communication online enables an observation of how the nation responds to the news of the day, how themes and topics unfold, and how interest publics develop and decline over time. This project uses such observations to trace how information flows across media spaces, and to develop a new model of the online public sphere. It makes significant contributions to innovation in research methods in the digital humanities, and provides an important basis for policies aimed at closing digital and social divides. Research on the project commenced in April 2014.

The Postdoctoral Research Fellow will contribute to project management and undertake specific research tasks and will also be involved in the supervision of one of the PhD students associated with the project. The position will be based at QUT in Brisbane, and will support the timely analysis of public communication activities which relate to current debates. The presence of this full-time staff member will ensure the project’s agility in responding to unfolding events, and substantially enhance its ability to engage in and impact on public debate over the lifetime of the Future Fellowship.

Call for PhD Applications: Social Media and Public Communication

We’re now looking for the second PhD student associated with my current ARC Future Fellowship project. The PhD student will receive an annual stipend of A$25,849 over the three years of the PhD project. If you’re interested in and qualified for the PhD project, please contact me by 1 May 2015, directly at a.bruns@qut.edu.au with your CV, names of two referees, and a detailed statement addressing the Eligibility Requirements below. We’ll select the candidate on this basis, and will then ask you to formally apply for the PhD place through the QUT Website.

Full details are below – please pay particularly close attention to the Eligibility Requirements.

The Project

We are seeking a highly motivated candidate to participate in an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship project which draws on several ‘big data’ sources on Australian online public communication.

This PhD project provides an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the flow of information across the Australian online public sphere at large scale and in close to real time, within a world-class research environment. With an ERA ranking of 5 (well above world standing), Creative Industries at QUT is the leading institution for Media and Communication research in Australia, and ARC Future Fellow Professor Axel Bruns is an international research leader in the area of Internet studies.

Crowdsourced Images in the Boston Marathon Attack

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Anssi Männistö, who shifts our focus to the Boston Marathon bomb attack. Mobile social media played an important role in covering this attact: tweets and mobile media were no longer just sources of information, but also tools to very facts and photos and to identify potential suspects, through image recognition software and other facilities.

In Boston, journalists rapidly discovered the first reports and images of the attack from Twitter, and soon came to use them in their own coverage. Such material was then used in official investigations, unofficial hunts for the culprits, and in the media coverage. These each drew on a massive amount of mobile photos; on the real-time publishing of such content in social media; and on crowdsourcing of activities through social media.

Visualisations for Doing Good with Data

Ok, so I've boycotted the stupidly early 8.30 a.m. paper session at ECREA 2014. My day starts, consequently, with a paper by Helen Kennedy and Rosemary Hill, whose focus is on data visualisation. Data-driven decision-making remains out of reach for those who cannot work with the data directly, and data visualisation may help here.

There are now visualisation agencies such as Periscopic which specialise in data visualisation for social good. The idea here is to mobilise data graphically, to make data useful to a greater audience. Such visualisations include the work of The Guardian's Data Blog, for example, and may tackle serious as well as lighter themes.

But in order to make sense of such data-driven visualisation processes, we need to know more about the moment when a person encounters such visualisations. There is widespread discussion about how to optimise visualisations, but very little research into users themselves; much of this remains a debate by experts for experts.

Framing the Big Data Debate

The final speaker in this session at ECREA 2014 is Christian Pentzold, whose focus is on the discussions around the 2013 affair about the use of protesters' mobile phone data by police in Saxony. There is a discursive social construction of the term 'big data', and different frames of big data have emerged so far.

Transmedia discourse is combining a number of different conceptualisations, and this enables a number of different analytical perspectives and approaches; the speed of the dynamic reconfiguration of these different modes also affects how analysis may proceed.

Civilising the Discourse about Big Data

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Frederic Guerrero-Solé, whose focus is on big data on Twitter. Few people know at this point what 'big data' actually means; what discourse about big data are we constructing here? So is big data just a marketing concept? The uses of big data in social networks have largely shaped our understanding of the big data concept; is there therefore a common discourse about big data at least in a social network such as Twitter?

Frederic's project gathered some 400,000 tweets mentioning the term big data or the hashtag #bigdata, and explored the influence of users contained in that dataset; economic and technological newspapers and magazines emerged as the leading users from this, alongside leading hardware and software companies, and terms such as analytics or analysis were most common – the key theme now appears to be about how big data may help companies predict their markets. At the same time, a discussion of privacy issues and threats also emerged, but at a much lower level of volume.

The Emergence of Data Activism

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Stefania Milan, who begins by noting the social media response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, using Ushahidi Maps as a key tool for mapping the local situation. This is a positive example of how civil society can put big data to good use: what forms of massive data collection are possible here, and how can they be used for good?

There has been an industrial revolution of data, but citizens face a paradox, as moral codes are not yet aligned with social practices. Big data may mean big control, but also more opportunities; we need data activism to mobilise a critical stance towards massive data collection, emerging perhaps from hacker movements but also involving ordinary users, and enabled but also constrained by software capabilities.

The Construction of Audiences through Big Data Analytics

The first ECREA 2014 panel session is one that we have a paper in as well, but we start with Göran Bolin, whose interest is in the construction of audiences through big data-driven research. There is now a large discussion of what constitutes big data, of course, but Göran is bypassing this, focussing instead on the uses of such data to envisage media users.

Much such data are drawn from social media, but it seems that the social is getting further estranged through this; big data means an intensification of statistical and quantitative approaches, and to some extent constitutes a shift in the nature of scholarly enquiry, focussing on mapping networked accumulations. Such accumulations stem from the metrics produced by social media platforms, for example (such as like and friend counts); and interesting experiments are being conducted by taking away such metrics and thinking through how this changes the experience of such spaces.

Exploring the Global Demographics of Twitter (AoIR 2014)

Association of Internet Researchers conference 2014

Exploring the Global Demographics of Twitter

Axel Bruns, Darryl Woodford, and Troy Sadkowsky

In spite of the substantial international success of Twitter as a social media platform, reliable information about its userbase is surprisingly difficult to come by. Other than the 232 million “monthly active users” reported in the company’s disclosures to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of its listing on the stock exchange, and some high-level breakdowns of account numbers across a number of key markets, most other assumptions about the Twitter userbase remain guesswork or are based on surveys with comparatively limited sample sizes. This paper takes a different approach to exploring the demographics of the platform: by undertaking a long-term crawl process across the entire Twitter user ID numberspace, we have gathered the publicly available details on every Twitter user account created between the platform’s emergence in 2006 and the conclusion of our crawl in 2013. By identifying the key patterns within this database of some 872 million accounts existing during our collection period, we are able to provide a much more comprehensive overview of Twitter’s footprint across the globe, its patterns of growth, and of typical user careers as listeners, followers, hubs and communicators than has been possible in any previous study.

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