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Communication Technology and Economic Growth

The next AoIR 2011 session starts with Alex Farivar, whose interest is in mobile phone diffusion; such diffusion has also been an important driver of economic development and democratisation in a number of countries, it has been claimed. Alex’s project examined some 122 countries for the years 1946 through to 2009, studying economic growth patterns and examining (in more recent years) the role of Internet and mobile diffusion. Similarities in economic positioning, geographic context, and other factors were also considered.

Does mobile and Internet diffusion predict economic growth; does socioeconomic instability or democratic instability hinder such growth? Variables here included world system positioning (core, semi-peripheral, peripheral), income, democratic development, mobile and Internet diffusion, sociopolitical instability, urbanisation, population, and time and region.

Creating and Marketing Transmedia Stories

The first keynote at AoIR 2011 is by Mike Monello (who was also the producer of the Blair Witch Project). He begins by noting the importance of team collaboration, and says that Blair Witch emerged as a completely organic process involving its principal creators. The filmmakers wanted the dialogue to be completely improvised, and so created a deep mythology for the Blair Witch story; some of the (very realistic) clips recorded for the film were then broadcast on TV, and audiences were encouraged to go to the online community Split Screen to discuss whether what they’d seen was real.

The massive success of this online discussion then led to the setting-up of the Blair Witch Project Website, which contained the underlying mythology – fans speculated on the message boards and developed theories of what was going on, and the filmmakers themselves almost accidentally became involved in the story as filmmakers, therefore. While there was nothing on the site to identify the story as fiction, there was never any intention to mislead – and the site linked to information about the production process, too.

Databases and Witnessing: The Case of Harvey Matusow

The next session at AoIR 2011 starts with Caroline Bassett. Her focus is on Harvey Matusow and the Anti-Computing League (in the 1950s), as an example of political activism. How were groups turned on or off from nascent media technologies; how did they come to see potential uses of such technology?

The Anti-Computing League emerged at a time when personal computers didn’t yet exist; computers weren’t yet viewed as media, and counterculture was driven by Oz Magazine which presented print with television aesthetics. The ACL in England had some 5000 members in the late 1960s (roughly matching the number of computers in the country at the time), and envisaged a war against computing and data processing (e.g. by poking extra holes in their punchcards); it had a certain surrealist element, and aimed to disrupt computers.

Igniting Internet Research

After a brief visit to Taipei (more on that on Mapping Online Publics soon), I’ve now made it to Seattle for the 2011 Association of Internet Researchers conference. We start with the Ignite session of very short and fast papers:

Nick Proferes, whose talk is in Dr. Seuss style, examines the origins of research ethics; he studied the content of the AoIR mailing-list to examine qualitative trends in conversations on ethics (and considered the ethics of doing so as well, of course); email traffic peaked around 2006/2007, and ethics, IRBs, and permissions were amongst the key terms, especially in the context of email and Facebook, and increasingly Twitter; questions of public and private were especially knotty. Most discussions on the AoIR list began with students asking for guidance from the community, and analogies with the analogue world still prevail.

Alex Leavitt talks about a failed research attempt: his interest is in digital subcultures, and he examined Encyclopedia Dramatica (which he describes as a satirical ‘devil’s dictionary’). How does it reflect Internet subculture? Alex’s project scraped the ED wiki, but the assumption in such work is that sites always stay where they are – ED, however, suddenly disappeared when its administrator deleted it in order to start the Oh Internet site; Alex, however, still had the archive of scraped texts (albeit without edit history), and worked with the community to restore the content – the changed his role, of course. How, generally, should researchers deal with ephemerality, then, and with the more or less explicit wishes of original authors for their content to have a limited lifespan…

Futures for Journalism

If it’s Thursday, it must be Wales: I’ve made it to the Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff, which starts with a keynote by Emily Bell. She begins by noting that discussions about the future of journalism only started in the UK with the Murdoch papers’ move to Wapping, and it has been mainly about the role of technology in the transformation of journalism; before then, there was a strong commitment to continue doing journalism as it had always been done.

Today, journalism is becoming less defined by the business models that support it, and more by the activities which it consists of – types of journalistic activity are now scattered widely across many domains. Journalism is a craft, and arguing over who might or might not be a journalism today is futile. If Julian Assange or Rebekah Brooks say they’re journalists, or a random citizen taking first-hand footage does so, who is to say they aren’t? We may gather random forms of activity, and ask whether they are journalistic, but there’s little point in doing so any more.

Making Sense of Online Media during French Presidential Elections

The next speakers at ECPR 2011 are Jean-Marc Francony and Françoise Papa, who take an information science approach. They begin by noting that their research encountered a number of major methodological difficulties – challenging problems to learn from for further research.

The Web has become more important for the communication of politics in France. TV and traditional mass media still remained the first channels of communication for political parties, and as a tool for politicians to present themselves, and Websites of political parties mainly pursued a top-down communication model in the 2007 presidential campaign, but this is slowly changing. The Web is now established as an additional channel for information; can this new media context change political communication?

Members of the European Parliament Online

The next session at ECPR 2011 is the one our paper is in, too – but we start with Darren Lilleker, whose focus is on the online communication strategies of Members of the European Parliament. One idea of this study was to examine the role which their various domestic political and media systems played in determining their communication strategies – but there was no obvious correlation at all. (Part of this might be due to the fact that all MEPs receive equal resourcing.)

So, the question becomes: what audiences are these MEPs targetting, and how? Darren and his team pursued this by examining the elements variously targetting general users, journalists, issue activists, and partisan supporters. They found that there is a sense of sophistication in using Web-based information sites; a quarter of MEPs have blogs embedded into their sites, for example, and a fair few allow comments as well (but they don’t tend to get many). Overall, the sites present a very professional picture, with very limited personal information.

Uses of the Internet in Political Campaigning in Italy

The final speaker in this ECPR 2011 session is Giovanna Mascheroni (or is it Alice Mattoni?), whose interest is in online politics in Italian regional elections during 2010. Her team developed a code book for assessing online party presence and performance during these elections, which is now also being applied to local and European elections. This included Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube as well as general online presence.

To what extent does the use of social media in Italian elections bear any traits of a convergence culture, with political debate taking on elements of transmedia storytelling involving different political actors? To what extent did candidates appropriate the interactive potential of social media?

Social Media Use by Candidates in Australian Federal Elections

The next ECPR 2011 speaker is Rachel Gibson, who focusses on online campaigning in the 2010 Australian federal election. Has the type of Web campaigning that candidates engage in changed over time, and who is using social media for their campaigning activities? And does it matter – in other words, does it convert to support?

Part of this is related to the normalisation vs. equalisation debate – does online campaigning level the playing field between larger and smaller parties, or do the larger, richer parties also spend more funds on online campaigning (and more effectively so)? Is this different again with the move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0? And how effective are these different modes of campaigning in generating support for a party?

U.S. Political Candidates on Facebook

The next session at ECPR 2011 starts with Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, whose interest is in the performance of politicians on Facebook. There have been a few spectacular successes, of course (most obviously, Barack Obama), and social media have now become a key tool in political campaigning, but it remains unclear how widespread such successes really are. Most politicians who use social media are largely ignored, in fact.

Rasmus’s study tracked candidates in the 112 most competitive electoral districts in the U.S. House and Senate races (who might be assumed to have the most resources at their disposal, given the strong competition); however, most of them found only a relatively small audience. Engagement with candidates is concentrated on a small number of politicians; while most people (and most politicians) are online, only a few are actually successful with their online activities. These people may not be ahead of the curve as much as on top of the curve, Rasmus suggests. We should look for the implications of using online media through different lenses, therefore: by examining the institutional and indirect effects of social media in politics.


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