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Outcomes of Writing Retreat Number 2: Returning to the Ethics Form

I’m writing this blog post during the final 30 minutes of my second writers’ retreat. It has been great to be able to return to the retreat so soon after the last one in November. This time Kieran was able to join me (who is 2 weeks into his PhD, after spending the first 3 months of his enrolment completing him MSc research), which was good as it meant we didn’t ‘miss out’ on the weekend but also managed to get a lot done individually – more so if we had a working weekend at home.

My first retreat resulted in me writing over 13500 words as part of my PhD that I hadn’t touched since I began my year out. It was a pretty emotional experience for me as I was never sure if I would be able to return to it, let along to contribute to it. Over the course of 2 and a half days, I managed to turn my little piles of half written notes and false-start chapters into a format and structure in Scrivener that looked like something that could resemble a PhD, sketch out a plan for restarting and begin to make notes on my methodology. It really did feel (like one other retreater called it… an enema of the brain) and after I felt I could at least make a start at finding a route to restart, followed by completion.

This time I had a number of smaller things that I do. A couple of abstracts, one related to a work project about Digital Commonwealth, another the opportunity to submit an abstract to the Leisure Studies conference where I am on the organising committee for. For that, I wanted to begin to use my PhD research again, rather that presenting on something new. I needed to update my work so it was suitable for that audience in 2014, not recycling presentations from the last time I properly worked on my PhD.

So, I thought it might be a good opportunity to begin that dreaded ethics form that I had been avoiding since long after I returned from Vancouver. Rowena gives us 5 mins at the start of the retreat to set short (by the end of the night), medium (by the end of Saturday) and long term (by the end of the retreat) writing goals using free writing, paying attention to how many words we can write in 5 minutes (325 words if you are wondering), then we discuss these goals with our neighbour. I mentioned that it would be good to start preparing an ethics form by the end of the retreat.

The reality is that I completed a full, complete draft of an ethics form. All 8072 words of it – before lunch time today. That includes a letter of invitation, participant information sheet, consent form and a set of interview questions. I have eligibility criteria for my interviewees, I have a procedure for how I will go about doing it, I even have the theoretical underpinning and managed to contextualise and find a way of supporting my ethnographic data that I collected during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games nearly 4 years ago. It is all there. At least in draft form. But the only way I can describe it is that I now possess the practical steps that I need in order to collect the right data and use a grounded theory (I only found out that I could do that in the pub on Thursday!) to develop an understanding of what actually happening during Vancouver 2010 with regards to blogging, citizen journalism and independent media.

I also have a new title for my PhD, the last time I posted after the retreat, I wasn’t too sure about the focus – did I want to use London 2012 data, did I want to focus more on digital storytelling? – so now I have decided to look at the following, ahem:

Hacking a Digital Legacy: Uncovering the Digital Storytellers of Vancouver’s “Social Media” Olympics

I’ve managed to elaborate on this more during the process of preparing an ethics form and the necessary materials that are required to approach an ethics committee in order to carry out the research. I’m still not registered back on the PhD officially, so I am unsure what the best way to take it forward can be at this stage. All I can hope at the moment is to use my ethics forms as a opportunity to focus the next steps of thesis, collect the relevant data and work towards getting it written it up.

So, retreat number 2 down, with 3 minutes to go – including this blog post & 3 documents I needed to finish for work on Friday, that’s my total number of words for the weekend now sitting at 10401 during 11 hours of dedicated writing that is possible during the retreat. This has definitely pushed me on in terms of hitting my writing goals for the end of the month &  when I’m pretty busy at work as 2014 kicks in properly.

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Twitter Archiving Revisited: Preparing for the demise of Twapperkeeper

Twapperkeeper: Goodbye Tweet Archives?

On the week of a supervision meeting that discussed my methods chapter write up and that returns me to my PhD thesis after 6 weeks away from it working on other things, it was drawn to my attention by several people that those twapperkeeper archives (that we couldn’t export and download anymore but could still access) were to be wiped ahead of its Hootsuite integration in Jan 2012. All those tweets, all that research that never was, compulsively collecting every mention of the #worldcup like I was actually going to bother sifting through them all at a later date.

I hadn’t thought about twapperkeeper for a long time, I think I had just became lethargic with worrying about the tools that slip through our fingers as Twitter’s monitization model begins to kick in. It makes the job of thinking about research methods and social media harder, because it is much more than a one-sized all tool-kit that can be wheeled out in training seminars as easy as a focus group or survey how-to. We should be paying attention to this, as I’ve ranted about on many occasion, all this data can tell us a lot about the world, a lot more than we could ever imagine or ever get time to write about on our own – especially when we’ve got such numpties in charge.

For instance, my good friend Farida Vis worked on the Guardian’s recent academic collaboration on #readingtheriots where her research team were donated 2.5 million tweets from Twitter to help with the analysis behind social media and the August riots in the UK. It didn’t surprise me slightest that social media didn’t provoke the riots, much to the government’s dismay – after wanting to shut down social networks if something was to happen again. Twitter data held all the answers and supported the more ‘traditional’ research employed. And highlighted just one example of how idiotic the government and the mainstream media are when it comes to jumping to (shit) conclusions.

This was a high profile research project, with many people and institutions involved – so the benefits for twitter to donate the tweets is pretty obvious. Plus, I’m sure we are going to see this more often as and when the library of congress decide to allow access to those many years of tweets they are accumulating records on. As Brian Kelly notes it is unclear when that might be and how much access will be allowed to the average researcher – the demise of twapperkeeper, and the final nail in the coffin of access to long-term solution for collecting your own data from twitter, has sparked me to do something about those archives that I was in danger of losing.

Control, Access and ‘Fullness’ of Data Collection

Twapperkeeper wasn’t perfect, but it was doing a job and performing in a role that, unless you were handling that level of data daily, you were happy to accept as a device for backing up data you might want to use in the future. I write predominantly as somebody who is working on a critical ethnography – where much of my PhD data has came from a mixed array of sources (mostly archived in google docs as a research diary) and partly relying on data scrapped from the web to support some of the discussion I’ve had with individuals and groups ‘on-the-ground.’ Even though I do a lot of technical stuff as part of my ‘day job(s)’ I’ve been keen to keep a lot of that determinism out of my thesis – I’ve sat through some bloody awful presentations in the past 3-4 years that screams about technology as if it is going to save the freaking planet, and I’ve witnessed people present research data about communities of people that could do with a researcher to shout on, rather than rake in publications, on their behalf. The context for me being interested in this level of quantitative data collection is mainly to back up my findings, not to be findings.

Therefore, I could do without feeling as if the tweets that I do collect have been through some level of filtration to remove anything that a governing institution might not want me to see. Paranoid, perhaps – but who’s to know what is going to happen during the London games? Stranger things have happened. Secondly, I’ve got a ton of downloaded stuff from twapperkeeper – stuff, it totally is. I downloaded it during Vancouver 2010 Olympics – upwards of 500,000 tweets. I don’t know if I will ever use them because I still haven’t got to the stage where I am ready to get my head around them – I need to be able to control them and I need to be able to visualise the data in a way that isn’t going to give me a headache and have a tantrum. I have limited amounts of patience for quantitative social science research – I can see its value, but it also makes me stroppy doing it. I need to be able to ‘control’ my data in a way that I feel comfortable with (messing around with stuff til I break it) – rather having to relearn a crappy package at a crappy 1 day workshop. Boring, would rather do something else.

Solutions?

Brian has already wrote a great post on solutions for downloading tweets including Tony Hirst’s post on Rescuing Twitter Archives before they Vanish and using Martin Hawksey exporter tool that is build on a google spreadsheet. I’ve already used it to download the archives that I’ve prepared using TwapperKeeper. In the true nature of open web, if you are looking for access to these archives below – then do get in touch. Immediately using Martin’s tool, I found that once tweets were downloaded, I could see them at a glace and already to begin to play around with them- as well as try out tools for visualisation events online. Furthermore, I made the decision to scrap the larger files as they were too large for me to handle unless I was working as part of a team – so it is goodbye to those worldcup tweets I was sitting on- and probably for the best.

This is something that I’m going to have to write about in my PhD thesis – especially as I am looking at mega events, that are bound to create even more tweets that were ever possible previously – more users, more presumption about twitter being used at them. I’m also focussing on smaller case studies that have produced between 100-15000 tweets during the timeframes I was looking at. Something much more manageable and in line with the rest of my research plan.

#Hashtag #ANDFest www.andfestival.org.uk jennifermjones 2310 10-04-10 Downloaded.
#Hashtag #cmw2010 Leicester Citizen’s Eye Community Media Week jennifermjones 149 11-05-10 Downloaded.
#Hashtag #dcms2012 Department of Culture, Media and Sport tag for the London Olympics jennifermjones 487 10-07-10 Downloaded.
#Hashtag #glasgow2014 Commonwealth Games jennifermjones 3183 10-07-10 Downloaded.
#Hashtag #london2012 tweets from the london 2012 games jennifermjones 174517 08-14-10 Too big – but reset using twitteranalyticsv2
#Hashtag #mademesmile Vodafone fail jennifermjones 81662 Too big. Not to be archived. 12-12-10
#Hashtag #mdp10 BCU measuring digital participation seminar jennifermjones 406 07-16-10 Downloaded.
#Hashtag #meccsa2011 MeCCSA conference tag jennifermjones 152 07-21-10 Not downloaded.
#Hashtag #media2012 #media2012 is the blueprint for Olympic Media centres in the UK for the London Games – follow @andymiah for more details jennifermjones 3002 07-17-10 Downloaded and Reset.
#Hashtag #weareBrum Post-riot clean up jennifermjones 1922 08-09-11 Downloaded.
#Hashtag #worldcup world cup jennifermjones 11932535 06-06-10 Not Downloaded – too large.

Conclusions:

Although I’m pleased that they’ll be some more solutions on the way to downloading and archiving tweets, I can’t help  but think that the process in this area, at this moment in time, is incredibly important for me in the context of completing my PhD. I’m sure that even a year from now, we’ll be wondering what the big deal was, especially as companies emerge to deal with analytics on a mainstream scale (see Bonnie Stewart’s excellent post on the critique of influence measurement tools such as Klout and Peer Index) and their lack of transparent methodology. We need to see out workings behind the web, and although I’m not a programmer and focussing on qualitative analysis, I appreciate that I can at least try and make sense of these processes. I see so many contexts where these tools could be used successfully within existing and future research projects across disciplines and institutions, we just need to be aware that this can and should be done and be able to be communicated as part of those processes.

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Social Media for Research: Open Resource and Reflection for #MASocialMedia

I would like to share the session that I had prepared for a guest workshop that I was to deliver to this year’s MA in Social Media. Something, judging on last year’s session – and the 6 other sessions that I’ve delivered over the last 3-4 weeks, I was looking forward to trying out and exploring using social media as a research context. As it never got past the initial discussion “what is research?”  I can safely say that it didn’t work well for this particular cohort’s expectations.

What I can do, instead, is offer up the entire workshop as a resource and hope that perhaps others might find it more useful. Below are slides, links to resources and readings and some reflection about teaching social media for research, can it be delivered as a simple one to many lecture?  the didactic opposite to what is explicitly implied about social media (participatory, conversational, interactive – all those sorts of words.)

Social Media for Research: Workshop Plan

Level: Masters/PhD

Overview

  1. Explore social media’s role when compiling a research methodology from an academic and commercial perspective. Examine the characteristics that differentiate it from ‘traditional’ research method (unpick the notion of ‘traditional’ in this context.)
  2. Examine the relationship between the technical uses of social media and social media as a research practice. Understand the need for a critical awareness of the platforms used through case studies of existing methodologies.
  3. Application of social media for research through case study [Olympic Games], examining the explicit and implicit roles that social media can have within a research project. Short workshop activity where students can apply a list of criteria to their own research projects, emphasizing the mixed method approach required.

Materials

  • Projector
  • Whiteboard paper and pens (if available)

Procedures

  • Discussion: What are the differences between social media research methods and ‘traditional’ research methods (to establish what they understand about research & notions of traditional)
  • List research methods that class are familiar with and agree on a couple to use as examples.
  • Discussion: Technical vs Practice (to establish what they do already technically and to separate out the reliance on tools so that they can be critically aware of platforms and respect the need to focus on research practices) Apply the use of the social media tool to the research method used.
  • Part 2: Discussion: What is social media practice? [How does social media change or affirm research scholarship?]
  • Toolkit: Show show examples, but not exhaustive and change all the time. Use twapperkeeper as a case study. Critical awareness of ephermal nature of freemium platforms.
  • Differences between listening, data collection, archiving and visualizing.
  • Case study: Olympics Case Study, take them through the contextual steps and how a mixed method approach has been used to organize data against an ethnographic background. [Slides - from a research presentation at Launch of #media2012 network] [List of resources discussed within the presentation here.]
  • Activity: Plan a research activity relating to their own research interest, emphasis on mixed method approach and the need to consider ‘traditional’ methods throughout.
  • Conclusions: Discuss student projects.
Slides:

Social Media Research

Reflection and Context

I’m always on that quest to find the ‘perfect’ way to teach this subject area, firstly because, in some cases, it is the new kid of the block, it is revolutionising the way that we consider research methods but it is often tacked on at the end when it is implemented within a research methods module or discussion relating to research practices. Similarly, it is often not considered in the context of other (existing) research methods – for instance, seminal texts on how to conducting face to face interviews or focus groups are challenged and updated through the use of skype or google+ hangouts – bringing their own conventions to the space; ethnographical research becomes multi-layered as you decide whether to you wish to be embedded on the ground, at a distance, through geographical data, through virtual spaces, network analysis or any of the above; or data is collected through questionnaires being transformed by the increased access to specific groups by demographic (using social networking sites), that often used to only occur through dedicated (and expensive) marketing research companies in the past. Truly, the notion that a methodological toolkit is analogue and restricted to sets of rules that were prepared in their own time, has been and can be challenged.

But in the same breathe, in order to understand the power and the potential of using social media for research is also the ability to understand and appreciate the years of scholarship and academic rigour that has came before and can go into preparing methods and implementing a research project. Standing on the shoulder of giants to borrow a term you won’t hear me say often. By ignoring this stage, and what has came before, instead of social media providing tools that can enhance your research practice, there is a chance that the technology will distract and often blind you in the process.

For example, It is all very well that devices such as Klout and PeerIndex exist to provide a measurement in order to compare particular user accounts on twitter, but if you don’t appreciate the rigour or critique of such ‘social algorithms’ – the measure of ‘influence’ (whatever that means, and if it can be) then critical scholarship is missing. As researchers, we should not only be prepared to carry out work to find , display and communicate results, we should also be prepared to ask questions about what exists already. This, for me, is what (should) differentiate social media for academic research from other instances, and why you take on an advanced course that asks you to explore and think critically about this space.

Of course, the search for the ‘perfect’ model for delivery is always destined to result in failure, there is no such thing as perfection. Just like there is no such thing as right and wrong when it comes to teaching a concept subjectively – where each individual in the room is going to produce a piece of work that will reflect their own perceptions, their own practice, social context and position. Again, the research methods model can act as a tool kit to work from, but it all done to the direction that the researcher choses to take, what they expose themselves to and if it is possible to recognise their position in the process.

For me, I’m always quite embedded in my research, where I’m not only a participant, I also take an active role in steering the results. You can see this through the tension through my position as a working journalist in Vancouver, the tension between being an activist vs academic, my coordinator role in #media2012 and the awareness of power and politics in all circumstances. It’s not the ‘traditional’ way of doing it, but it can be done and It is up to me to defend that in my writing and in my practice.

You can, instead, be removed from the process – you can observe from afar, collecting data online and never meet the participants and groups that you might end up researching. Many data experts can produce wonderful charts and network graphs that can visualise and display incidents that have occurred previous and being relayed online. They can show weak and close ties in the network to distinguish social groups, relationships and predict behaviour patterns. Again, if this process can be defended as a method, it is fair game and you can pass your assignment.

Importantly, there is no “right” answer in this. It should be encouraged to try new things, to experiment and to attempt to set new standards in using social media within a scholarly context. Aspire to do that. However, it should also be noted that much of this work is not “new” – it is a cycle, with newer tools perhaps replacing/updating what has came before. It is worth being critically aware of web platforms, that they will not provide the perfect solution to a problem, they will perform a task that can help you at that moment – that’s why learning software is not always the best way to do something. Being able to find, select and apply social media (or any tool, even if it is a pen and a flip-chart) to a research practice is the best advice that I can give that this stage. Good luck.

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Research Practices 2.0: Reflections on #RP2NOTT

Back in the summer, I was approached by Andy Coverdale to be interviewed and to help out on a project around social media for PhD students. The first part of the task was to be interviewed about how I use social media as part of my research practice, to be used as part of a web resource hosted by the University of Nottingham Graduate School. This was launched this week, ahead of an event in accompany the site.

The event, “Research Practices 2.0” was organized for PhD students and facilitated by PhD students – where alongside Andy, I was approached to join the exciting team of Kat Gupta, Warren Pearce, Claire Mann, Mark Carrigan and Emily Buchnea (who put together the interviews on the website.)

The event was made up on a range of PhD students from across the East Midlands (although there were some from Sheffield, Manchester and London) and divided across backgrounds (from fashion to biosciences) – with the format being designed to provoke and challenge the preconceptions of social media practice.

Of course, I’ve done a few of these events and training workshops before. I’m now approaching my second year of working with my own research and innovation office to provide ‘training’ in web 2.0 technologies to other PhDs, as well as offering ad-hock guest lectures to specific disciplines – such as screen acting, media studies and business studies. For me, being part of an ‘organizing committee’ rather than going it alone, was a good space to reflect on my own practices whilst also learning a lot from others.

I was charged with providing support in two seminar spaces. The first, an introduction to social media in research practice, was designed (after 2 hours discussion the week previously) with practice and individuality at the heart, deliberately moving away from fetishation of tools and technological commodities. That is, we would rather see what PhD student *do* – where they inhabit online and how they can match these spaces and behaviors together to see new things.

By doing this, both Mark (who I was working with in my session) and I were surprised by what actually came up. We are both familiar with the negative/challenging response that sometimes occur when trying to talk about social media in a space where you have no idea about the backgrounds, experience and expectations of the participants. Because often we are forced to focus on the tools.. “oh can you show the class how to use that twitter thing?” “can you give me some reasons why I should blog?” “I can’t image ever wanting to record podcasts about things.” This was different.

Through discussing what a PhD student actually does – and are expected to do, or think that they are expected to do, we got onto the issue of power, the reclamation of power and the restrictive nature of peer-reviewed journals through the formation of cliques and already established networks that have built around the publication of academic research. In the dawn of the post-Browne post-REF post-PhD world, it doesn’t take a roomful of budding Drs to see that the job market is bleak (the world is bleak), that the games that we play are engrained and the culture of ‘every person for themselves’ submission & fear are paramount for gaining and maintaining that golden career (that might not even exist to begin with!) – social media is more than a fancy buzzword that can be used a wedge to stuff existing concepts into newer shiny publications, it was a lifeline – potentially a device that can be and is being used to empower (for pockets of time certainly), to challenge and to bridge gaps – and blur lines of the linear path that we are expected to march down without question.

It was the discussion that I needed and helped me link up the different factors in my life. The praxi, the technical and the theoretical.

Methodology approaches 2.0

This conversation is ongoing – and was arrived at when we realised that people didn’t want methods when they were asked in advance, but found themselves at that point after the open plenary took us in that direction.

The thing that I always find hard when I’ve been asked to prepare something around social media methodology is the prescriptive nature of ‘methodology’. That is, we are asked (and we are asked when we teach) to treat certain methods as a ‘toolkit’ that we can select from when required. Need an audience reaction? Surveys. Need to search for bias in media? Content analysis. Etc. So when it comes to the discussion around using social media as a form of data collection & methodological approach, the sheer essence of fluid collaboration  and fluid identity online conflicts with the prescriptive nature of preparing and delivering workshops about a right/wrong way to do something expertly. Just look at anything that organizes itself around being ‘open’ – data, knowledge, source, access. To prescribe it is to fold it back into the system to be tacked on at the end of a conference, training manual & tick box exercise.

But there are grey shades in between which exist on the energy, motivation and the skills of the people who are involved at any one time. It cannot be prescribed, but it can be inspired. Through talking to others about shared issues, about helping each other out by sharing experiences and, in some cases, just f*&king doing it (which is always an issue if you are writing a grant application & working with ‘low cost’ tools..) things get done and solutions (even just for a brief pocket of time) are found. The amount of things we read, pass on and digest – that end up being more useful for others than ourselves directly conflicts with the notion we should only be watching our own back, our own institution, our own sector if we are to protect our own skin.

Social Media and Identity

Originally, I had prepared a abstract that looked like this:

“Much of social media education focuses on the need to embrace new technologies and to become competent with an array of online tools for practice. For some, the technical issue is not a problem – instead – it is the personal aspect of sharing information about yourself. Much of web 2.0 technology relies on an element of authenticity, immediacy of connection and the networking of individuals. Often, it is thought that to get the best out of the internet, you need to engage with technology on a personal and often, intimate, level. What does mean in an academic context, when often the conflict between professional and social, public and private comes into play. This interactive session will explore the challenges and opportunities that having an online identity can have. We will identify reasons to participate and issues of performing in public.”

And from that, I prepared a set of slides (like a nervous, over prepared academic tick). The fear of not knowing your audience, the fear that somebody else in the audience would make you look and feel stupid for not knowing their area through the medium of questions. Which was daft really – because it was meant to be informal – and I was working with people who responded the same way to these things as I do. But I still felt the need to prepare a wee talk, where I dropped my knowledge into the heads of other people – without engagement or room for discussion/critique.

After the morning, I decided to change it all during lunch. Instead, I got 6 screen captures from my own social media use. I brought out the good old ‘line up’ tool from my PGCert training (I knew it would come in useful when unprepared)  – and got participants to push all the tables back. Space was a big things at the event – it is difficult to critique and discuss when you are sitting like you are in primary school. All facing the ‘teacher’, waiting for knowledge to be delivered.

So it was simple. I showed the slideshow below – and asked people to move to one side (good) or the other (bad- like a sliding scale) if they felt that the activity was appropriate academic behaviour online. I took them through sharing slides, blog posts about events, dumping ideas, sharing a work-in-progress thesis online and a tweet which degraded the REF. All this metadata removed, all with timestamps & other signifiers missing.

The discussion, for me, was amazing. Especially as nobody clocked onto the fact that the things they were seeing all belonged to me. Which made the big reveal all the funnier, after a heated discussion about the dangers of using twitter and mixing professional/private life. I just couldn’t have done that without using myself as the target, it was too cruel to do otherwise – like in a space we have a moral superiority to judge behaviors out of context.

And this spontaneous exercise really made me think about the materials that I use in the sessions that I’ve delivered in the past – and how I’ve found myself getting into the loop of only showing best practice, good examples, metrics and levels of ‘success’ – when I get reflective that I realize the internet and the people I meet through these relationships and friends of friends are much more important than restricting myself to pretend I’m something more than I’m not. So.. if I’m going to tackle the issue of identity again (which I am on Friday for the PhD students at UWS) I’m going to rip up my rule book and start again.

The Research Practices 2.0 website has a wealth of resources on tools and practice, discussion and reflection and definitely worth visiting if you are thinking about running social media sessions in the future.

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Social Media for @UniWestScotland PhD Students: Overview of Workshop (21st April, 2011)

This 3 hour workshop broadly explored the role of new media within academia from writing, research and dissemination perspective. It tracked the ongoing history of social online technologies, unpick the common myths associated with web 2.0 platforms and discuss the cycle of activity required in order to create and maintain an academic profile online. This workshop provided an opportunity to brainstorm strategies surrounding the use of social media for promoting independent and group work. This was recommended for all levels and is a trans-disciplinary activity (and is not exhaustive)

The workshops was split into three sections, lasting 45 minutes each:

Part 1: Building a postgraduate Social Media Toolkit:

The first session explored the different ways in which emerging platforms online can be used to support and challenge the ways in which we might think about our postgraduate experience. It focused on techniques and tools which could be used to change the ways we might think about our daily writing, reading and research practice. It offered examples of tools which have been used by other PhD students in the last 18 months to improve thesis management, literature search/ databases and social support networks to discuss specific (and not-so specific) questions and issues that may emerge during the PhD process. The tools offered are not exhaustive, with the focus being on self-discovery and adapting online spaces for personal and professional requirements.

The platforms discussed:

Scrivener: A non-linear writing program for managing long documents (such as scripts, manuscripts and dissertations) by allowing for each section to be broken down, organized and tagged by specific sections. It has a number of functions which allow for easy organization, note taking and research databases. It has a large support network online which offers free tutorials around the different functions and ways in which scrivener can be used.

750words.com: A private writing platform to encourage daily writing practice. Those who use it are asked to complete a daily, 3 page writing exercise in any subject or form they wish – with the only function being that it private and it keeps tracks of writing ‘streaks.’ It can be used to promote a regular writing discipline, especially when working on large documents such as a thesis or a manuscript.

Blogging: Using a blog to keep a public record of your work and the things that may occupy your mind. It used examples such as wordpress, blogger, posterous and tumblr (all with varying degrees of difficulties and facilities – but essential do the same thing) I prepared a workshop for PhD students in November on using posterous (with a how to..)

Cite-u-like:  Cite-u-like is a social bookmarking website for academic researchers where users can upload reading lists and share what they are looking at with a community of people with similar areas. It can also be used as a starting point to find out what others are reading and to find a quick overview of papers which are ‘similar to’ other papers.

Delicious/Pinboard: More general bookmarking sites, but can be used to share interesting links – but also search for links and topics based on keywords. Both are organized around the sharing of user data and similar databases (rather than keeping data strictly on one, private machine.)

Mendeley: Mendeley is one of a number of new breeds of reference database management systems which can be used to, not only save and work on research papers (can annotate them and add notes to .pdfs) but also can have an online, sync-able profile which can be assessed on multiple machines (allowing for suggestions – much like itunes – can be formed based on similar readings) It is both a space to use on the desktop as an offline management tool, with an optional ‘social’ aspect to it.

Twitter: Even if you do not have a twitter account, you can use http://search.twitter.com (and other tools) to listen and engagement with particular topic areas from afar.

#phdchat: An example of a topic that you might wish to engage with if you have never used twitter before. It is a hashtag community (where when you click #phdchat, you are redirected to a list of people who are currently using that tag at the moment.) You can use software such as tweetdeck (installed on a computer or phone) or hootsuite (browser based or installed on a mobile device) to monitor particular hashtags so they you can follow people that might be talking about similar things that you are interested in following.

Part 2: Social media for research methods

The second session addressed social media in the context of research methods. It looked at existing research methods and offered examples towards how social media can be used to support or enhance particular methodologies. It looked at concepts such as open data, measurement tools, ethnographic tools, focus groups and interviews. The purpose, again, was to emphasis the use of these tools as a supplementary force, something that does not need to be taken as a one sized fit all approach and recognizing where you might use it as a primary research tool. It is about using the web in a smart, but critical way.

All platforms are detailed in the slides.

Part 3: Amplified Events for PhD Students

This was an adapted version of the Amplified events workshop that I ran in Paisley in February, focusing on how to enhance presentations at academic conferences and building  research presence- which goes beyond simply attending conferences and writing papers but working with the support communities they are within in order to ‘promote’ and disseminate knowledge. It is a move away from the institutionally organized research community into a space which is much more organic in its uses and its needs. It explored this from the perspective of a participant, speaker and an event organizer.

More details of amplified events are here.

 

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Exploring the themes of twitter archives (resource-making, databases and documentation.)

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Backing up tweets: Reopening the dilemma.

The forthcoming closure on the 20th of March of TwapperKeeper’s ability to export and download tweets from Twitter API has sparked me to think about potential alternatives for storing twitter data for later use (as a humanities researcher AND as somebody who experiments with twitter in the classroom). It is well documented online (but not so much treated as common knowledge) that Twitter only stores and allows for the ability of search on tweets for around 5 days (or 3200 tweets) depending on what happens first. Therefore, the reliance of twitter as a dataset or resource is often misrepresented due to the myth (often touted by the media) that the internet never forgets. The problem is that it does, not so much around the individual occurrences of data (that may be stored until the end of time in one way or another) but more around the ability to provide contextual data. For instance, we use hash-tags in tweets and blog posts in order to contextualise information in a sharable and searchable way, but if we can’t therefore search for that data even a week afterwards, the purpose of the hashtag becomes little more than an ephemeral gesture. 

Clearly in some areas, it is a desire to be able to save and search data at a later date. For instance, if you are running an event which decides to use a shared hashtag in order to allow for a back channel, you probably want to be able to save those tweets for a later date (perhaps for research data, perhaps for feedback, perhaps for more informal reflection) This goes for topic specific areas which are managed by the participants (as in there is a collective decision to adopt a hashtag/language in order to express and organise shared interests). On the flip side, you could be looking at phenomena in which you don’t participate (or don’t participate enough to make a decision) and/or is an organic topic/meme which has appeared before structures could be set in place. And example of this could include the work of Truthya research project at Indiana University which can identify in real-time popular discussions on a macro-scale. 

The mega-event (World Cup, Olympics, Royal Wedding etc) fall into this – they are going to be popular topics – regardless of social media platform, they are designed to provoke commentary, spectacle and almost act as a crutch for online discussion (and according to twapperkeeper records, hashtagged content around recent events such as World Cup in South Africa reaches upwards of 6 million tweets) Here we are dealing with a different needs as apposed to making sure useful information is saved, shared and organised as a resource, it is being able to make sense of self-generated data-sets that we’ve never encountered on this level before. 

In terms of collecting data, twapperkeeper covered all bases -at least, if you were proactive enough you could assure that for at least a brief period of time (between 2009-2011) your tweets were being stored *somewhere* (even if you weren’t totally au fait with the processes that were behind the archive) In terms of a small scale research project (or a PhD thesis) twapperkeeper was a reliable tool to help quickly generate data around particular topics (and helped harness the powerful nature of twitter’s ‘real-time’ search facilities beyond the initial occurrence of the tweets themselves.) Also, at least for me, I could encourage people who I knew might be embarking on a project which involved twitter hashtags to at least consider proactively backing up their data somewhere so that they could return to the whole ‘dataset’ when the project had been completed (especially if it runs longer than 7 days)  

Where we stand now is coming up with a set of ‘best practice’ ideas and tools for overcoming some of the gaps that twapperkeeper is leaving behind. Although there is potential to explore alternatives to database capture (TK is offering yourtwapperkeeper up for grabs to host on your own server), there is actually a lot more to it than simply collecting a whole bunch of tweets. There are a number of things which are happening here and there are infinite number of ways in which those collecting the data might want to use it. Similarly, if I’m in a position where I am to help point colleagues in the right direction in terms of collating tweets, it would make more sense to pick on something a lot simpler than generating vast databases. The ability to embedded a dynamic (but archivable) tweet stream within a blogging platform like wordpress or posterous would be more useful in some instances.

Therefore, I think a discussion needs to be had over the particular themes that are encountered around this particular dilemma. I’ve detailed some of the areas that I would be interested in exploring further:

Search & Display (as a resource)  

My UWS colleague Stuart Hepburn blogged recently about the use of twitter as a teaching aid on his contemporary screen writing degree. He is using the hashtag #TWFTV as a agreed binder for discussions around the “Team Writing for Television” module. Stuart has detailed in depth how he uses twitter and what he has found successful about using a hashtag outside of classroom activity (certainly more active that the VLE in this case) – but something that is not considered (because it’s not really where ‘learning’ is happening) is where the twitter data is being kept and stored. One option could be to simply copy and paste the tweets into a word document (a self serving task – for reflection, feedback, ‘paper’ trail) and they are being kept *somewhere* – but ideally, it would be great to have a embedded widget that pulled in all the tweets (like search.twitter.com), is saved & stored, can be searched and context is retained. 

This would also be useful if we were to use the hashtag #uwslts (UWS learning and teaching strategy) to aggregate discussions and useful links. Not just for the benefits of hardened twitter users, but also perhaps a technique to encourage colleagues to add their thoughts to the discussion in a similar way (whilst introducing twitter in a useful way – rather than taking it on cold, much like Stuart’s class.)

Nevertheless, there needs to be something in place to make tweets generated in this way useful and adaptable as a resource. There is a geniune interest in taking on social media in education at UWS, but without adequent resources around particular platforms, we might as well be projecting our discussions into thin air. 

Archive (as a database)

This is probably the most obvious reason for collecting massive quatities of data – coding content, turning it into a spreadsheet and banging it through a visualisation tool.

There is already alot of discussion around this themes and I think it will probably be the area (open data etc) which will blossom just fine. I have to admit, I’m keen but not an expert in data management. Often many of the solutions to the ongoing data archival problem of twitter involve slightly more coding and practice than simply navigating the 4th party programs that exist of the back of twapperkeeper. Ideally I would like to learn, I am keen to learn, but I’ve also got a list of other things I need to get my head around. So in terms of databases, this is an area that I will look on avidly to those who are working on such tools. (I’ve also got friends who can do this better than I can – that I can bribe with beer and pizza ;-))

Document (as a agreed event tag)

Documenting events (the aftermath) do not need to be as dynamic as a resource would need to be – think about it, the event has happened – an archive to prove it happened is enough. It’s even better if that archive includes video footage, user comments, audio, pictures, slides and documents and tweets from the backchannel – it provides an in-depth record of that event occuring. Nevertheless, if there was a particular tool that pulled together all this data in a way in which the event could be explored in its own time, after the time in which it occured. Thus, a how-to and/or best practice guide to collating data for future searches would be appropriate to tackle this theme. In the past I’ve used a wiki to collate information (including all tweets from that event) which is actually more useful than a raw database of tweets which compliment other activities that exist online. 

This is only ‘brief’ (ha!) reflection on what might come, but I am interested in what others think about this area – what are your needs from twitter and how can that be backed up (if you think it should be backed up at all?)

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