It has been a while since I blogged about a conference *after* I’ve attended (recently I seem to just announce where I’m going to travel to), but the „Düsseldorf Workshop on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Twitter Analysis“ – better known by its catchy hashtag #diata11 – seems to be a good occasion to revive this practice…
First of all: The organizers have done a great job in putting together a diverse and international program which not only promised, but delivered many inspiring talks and discussions. So thanks to Katrin Weller, Cornelius Puschmann and all your colleagues!
Some more thoughts on two questions which kept me thinking, because they popped up in various presentations over the two days. The first one: If we agree that Twitter (and other Social Media) is affording new public spheres with unique structures that differ from mass-mediated public spheres – do we then also need a new concept to describe the communicative mode in which people enter, form, contribute to and (re-)produce these networked spheres?
To put it in other words: If mass-mediated publics are formed etc. in and by the communicative mode of „publishing“, and if interpersonal communication is formed etc. in and by the communicative mode of „conversation“, what is the equivalent for the networked public sphere of „mass-self communication“ ((As Castells put it, thanks Michael for the reminder.))? „Twittering“ (or blogging, ‚facebooking‘, …) right now factually serve as concepts for that, but they are not very well developed yet (or are they?) as a communicative mode ((Which, as an analytical concept, would include aspects and dimensions such as perception of audience, mediating technologies, dominance of certain speech acts over others, shared routines and expectations of „legitimate“ or „right“ behaviour, ….)) .
The second question is more of a comment :-) It has to do with the kind of research that was dominant at the workshop: More or less large-scale studies which used data accessed through the Twitter API, analysing manifestations of communication (=content of tweets, hashtags, …) over certain time periods. To put it somewhat sarcastically: The research is following the data Twitter makes availabe to researchers, but not necessarily the questions that are relevant, important or more interesting.
This should not be understood as finger-pointing; I have absolutely no problem with exploring data, looking for patterns without starting from elaborate hypotheses or theoretical models, experimenting with methods (thus advancing, of course, knowledge), etc. But just having read the paper „Six provocations for big data“ by danah boyd & Kate Crawford, I agree with many of their observations and caveats about the particular kind of research that comes with big data (and they specifically refer, but not restrict themselves to Twitter research), in particular:
- The problem of the „black box Twitter“ in general and the API’s selectivity in particular which make it hard to assess the generalizability of the data;
- The ethical questions connected to privacy, informed consent and the re-contextualization of communication by research.
Since I had to leave before the final discussion, I apologize if these questions have been reflected and discussed there; if not, I’d love to have space for thoughts and reflections at a #DIATA12 or #DIATA13.. :-
In the meantime, I hope I’ll also find time to correct, refine and advance my own ideas on the emerging regime of audience measurement on Twitter; if you’re interested in the presentation, just have a look below.