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'Big Data'

The Push towards Niche Geosocial Data

The final speaker on this first day of "Compromised Data" is Sidneyeve Matrix, who shifts our focus towards geosocial information as generated by smartphones and other mobile devices. Only 12% of US users as surveyed by the Pew Centre posted Foursquare check-ins in 2013, for example, down from 18% in 2011 - but this may mask a greater take-up of other location-based services, not least the Frequent Locations functionality in iOS7.

There is a continuing trend towards the consumerisation of geodata. Geosocial cultural arrangements are explored through the use of mobile communication patterns, but such analysis is notoriously difficult - not because of a lack of data, but because of the difficulties in assigning meaning to the geolocated information which is available from a variety of platforms.

Towards a More User-Centric Perspective in Utilising 'Big Data'

The next speaker at "Compromised Data" this afternoon is Asta Zelenkauskaite, who notes the increasing interweaving of social and mainstream media; based on the properties of 'big data' it therefore becomes important to explore how users engage with mass media and cross-media contexts. How relevant are 'big data' to the mass communication field?

Traditional media outlets have been mainly focussing on a quasi-passive engagement with media content, while social media now offer a two-way interaction by providing back channel functionality. Mass media content, user-generated content, and user interactions' digital imprints are coming together to shape this cross-media environment.

'Big Data' and Government Decision-Making

The next speaker at "Compromised Data" is Joanna Redden, whose interest is in government uses of 'big data', especially in Canada. There's a great deal of hype surrounding 'big data' in government at the moment, which needs to be explored from a critical perspective; the data rush has been compared to the gold rush, with similarly utopian claims - here especially around the ability for 'big data' to support decision-making and democratic engagement, and the contribution 'big data'-enabled industries can make to the GDP.

But how are 'big data' actually being used in government contexts? New tools and techniques for the analysis of 'big data' are of course being used in government, but how these affect policy decisions remains unclear. Social media analysis is similarly being used for public policy and service delivery; sentiment analysis is used for some decisions around law enforcement and service delivery, but adoption to date is slow.

Engagement through Social Media: What Do We Mean?

The final presentation in this "Compromised Data" session is by Mary Francoli and Dan Paré, who focus on the question of engagement and mobilisation in a time of rapidly evolving social media use. One initial observation is that these terms lack definitional clarity - there are some very high-level definitions (e.g. building on UN definitions), but these remain vague; political and civic engagement are conflated, and specific forms of engagement are not necessarily defined in detail.

Simply voting is a form of engagement, for example, but is clearly different from other, more complex forms of political engagement. The literature increasingly links these types of activity with social media (and with the Net more broadly) - and the extent to such such forms of engagement occur, and how they interrelate with forms of offline political engagement, need to be studied in greater detail.

Towards Mixed Methods for Analysing Multimodal Communication

The next session at "Compromised Data" starts with Frauke Zeller, who begins by noting the multimodality of communication, including through social media: many texts are using more than one semiotic mode, combining text, images, audio and video. How can the existing methods for studying multimodality be transferred to online environments, and to research building on 'big data', however?

Some such work begins with exploring the networks between users, and between texts, but this is not enough - how do we move from the macro to the meso and micro levels of communication? How do we move to the manifest to more latent content, especially where non-textual content is involved?

Reaching for the Higher-Hanging Fruit in Twitter Research

The next paper at the "Compromised Data" symposium is by Jean Burgess and me, and explores the more difficult forms of 'big data' research we're rarely conducting at present because the political economy of data access is weighted against specific approaches - in the specific context of Twitter research. I'll upload the slides and audio for it as soon as possible - for now, consider this a placeholder! Slides and audio below:

Developing Alternative Approaches to Sampling Social Media Data

The next speaker at "Compromised Data" today is Carolin Gerlitz, who begins by suggesting that social media data are both standardised and vague at the same time. She notes the German Twitter community which is focussed around favouriting on Twitter: the Favstar sphere sees favourites as a sign of importance and validation, and taking away favourites is therefore a serious affront.

This is an example of how the communicative affordances of social media platforms are being utilised by their users; these standardised activities mark the grammar of action on such platforms, and are specific to the particular platforms. Twitter's grammar has been comparatively stable, while Facebook has modified its available actions on a continuous basis, which destabilised the meaning of such activities.

Understanding Social Media APIs as Quasi-Objects

From the always fabulous Association of Internet Researchers conference I've made it to the research colloquium "Compromised Data", organised by Greg Elmer and Ganaele Langlois in Toronto. We're starting with a presentation from Taina Bucher, on the enactive power of APIs. Beyond merely helping to collect data, APIs have a number of other functions. We must not get too seduced by the opportunities for data access and visualisation which they provide, but take APIs seriously as a mechanism for making meaning from data that privileges certain approaches over others.

This means a kind of "digital humanities" in reverse is required to understand these tools and their implications - a software studies perspective on APIs, from an expanded notion of software as a neighbourhood of relations that enables software to be studied in the same way as other cultural objects.

Some Recent and Upcoming Work

When this site goes quiet, it’s usually because work is exceptionally busy. My apologies for the long silence since the launch of our major collection A Companion to New Media Dynamics – a range of projects, variously relating to the uses of social media in crisis communication, of Twitter in a number of national elections, of social media as a second-screen backchannel to televised events, and of ‘big data’ in researching online issue publics, have kept me occupied for the past eight months or so.

Now, I’m about to head off to Denver for the annual Association of Internet Researchers conference and on to a number of other events, and you can expect the usual bout of live blogging from these conferences – but before I do so, here’s a quick update of some of the major publications and papers I’ve completed during the past few months. For some more frequent updates on the work of my colleagues and me, you can also follow our updates at Mapping Online Publics and the site of the QUT Social Media Research Group, of course. On the SMRG site, we’ve also posted a list of the presentations we’ll be making at AoIR and beyond – hope to see you there!


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