Social Media in Live Events publication

December 10, 2012

Screen shot 2012-12-06 at 16.25.46I wrote a few times already about the SMiLE project led by Lisa Harris and Nicole Beale that I am part of. The team presented at the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) conference a few months ago and the paper of that presentation is now included in the online proceedings. You can access the full version on the PLE website or through my bibliography. The paper presents some early findings on our social media strategy applied to the CAA conference 2012 in Southampton.

More cool stuff is to come from the SMiLE team, and we have some great innovative network analysis things in the pipeline, so stay tuned 🙂

Harris, L., Earl, G., Beale, N., Phethean, C., & Brughmans, T. 2012. Building Personal Learning Networks through Event- Based Social Media : a Case Study of the SMiLE Project The Growth of the “ Backchannel ”. In PLE Conference Proceedings, Personal Learning Environment Conference 2012,

In this paper we report on early findings of our SMiLE project which is evaluating how effective various online social networking channels can be in supporting how people network and learn from a major ‘live’ conference. The event took place at the University of Southampton in March 2012. We consider the dynamics of the relation- ship between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ communities in the development of personal learning networks, for example how social networking impacts upon participants’ interaction and engagement before, during and after the event as the community of practice de- velops. Assessing the impact of social networking activity on ‘real world’ outcomes has historically been a difficult task, but we argue that recent developments in social network visualisation and analysis now enable valuable insights to be generated for the benefit of both event organisers and attendees seeking to build their subject knowledge and extend their networks.
We begin with a brief review of networking theory and the emerging role of the
online backchannel at ‘live’ events, before describing the approach we took to the col- lection and analysis of social media data from the CAA Conference. We then discuss the implications of our findings for people looking to build learning networks through the increasingly blurred boundaries of ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ networks. We conclude by highlighting some lessons learned and possible directions for future research. Our findings also have relevance to the PLE conference itself – which this year has the added dynamic of two face to face locations for the conference operating at the same time to pose new multi-channel communication and learning challenges for partici- pants.

SMiLE: excellence with impact

July 30, 2012

Our SMiLE (Social Media for Live Events) project is on an advertising high! On 25 July a SMiLE article appeared on the Research Councils UK website, under the Digital Economy theme. In fact, SMiLE emerged from the Southampton Digital Economy University Strategic Research Group, a group co-directed by Dr. Lisa Harris, coordinator of the SMiLE project. This post also reveals a teaser image of my network analysis of the SMiLE data, more about that later 🙂

SMiLE: But who is going to read 12,000 tweets?!

July 9, 2012

A second blogpost about the SMiLE project I am involved in appeared recently on the London School of Economics website. I wrote about the project’s aims before as Nicole Beale and Lisa Harris explained it on the LSE website earlier. This second blog post introduces a first glimpse at the results including a short discussion of Twitter network visualization and analysis. Exciting!

In fact, this second blog post reveals some of the really cool work the project members have been up to. MSc students here in Southampton have been busy using the collected social media data in creative ways for their projects. The project is also working with the Oxford e-research centre on a guide for best practice for using social media at conferences. But that’s not all! We are also working on depositing the entire social media archive with the Archaeology Data Service in York, and publishing some of the results in Internet Archaeology.

The rest of the blog post goes on to discuss some of the issues surrounding all this. How does one go about depositing an electronic social media archive? Lisa and Nicole looked into some of the comments of the conference delegates, provided in feedback forms, to get a more qualified picture of the issue and how to proceed. The blog also discusses the issue of developing an interface through which this dataset can be explored. Mark Borkum and I are looking at using network analysis tools for this. More on the network side of things will be revealed in later posts.

Have a look at the original article, definitely worth a read!

“leaderless revolutions” in modern Egypt and … the past??

February 15, 2011

I just read this fascinating blog post by Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor in sociology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore county. She states that through the democratic nature of the recent revolution in Egypt a hierarchy emerged. A fundamentally leaderless situation gave rise to popular leadership. According to the author this can be explained by the “rich get richer” effect, and she illustrates this with how People on Twitter using the hashtag ‘Jan25’ shows a scale-free power law. Apparently, those people tweeting about the revolution that have alot of followers will end up getting ever more followers. They have become the (digital) leaders of a headless revolutionary event. I find it interesting how this hierarchy and its immediate effects must have been the result of a critical mass of influence reaching a turning point, leading to revolutionary events.

Obviously Twitter is only one medium through which ideas can be spread, and in no way does the “rich get richer” effect explain WHY the revolution happened. What were the individual motivations that led to this large-scale event? What the scale-free model does imply, however, is that the event could not have taken place without these individuals and their actions, their decisions to follow increasingly popular charismatic (albeit digital) figures.

Could this perspective help us understand past revolutions?

Obviously ideas spread much slower in the past than in the present. But that does not mean that revolutions happened any slower or less spontaneous. How could we explore past revolutions through the material remains that we examine as archaeologists? I would be very interested in seeing how changes in material culture attest of a scale-free pattern. A perfect example is Bentley and Shennan’s work on Linear Bandkeramik in Germany. They showed that the patterns on these vessel evolved according to a scale-free power law, where popular motifs were expected to become ever more popular and more influential in future motif design. What fascinates me about this kind of research is that it does not incorporate any measure of originality in innovation. Motifs or ideas might not have been all that revolutionary, for example, but for some reason they became popular and widely adopted. Through them revolutions emerged, more as a result of their relation to other things/people/ideas than their inherent qualities. Still, the question of why this scale-free structure emerges and shapes revolutions remains unanswered. And what about truly revolutionary ideas? Does their adoption show a scale-free structure? And if not, is that really the reason why they did not catch on?

Facebooking the past (draft)

February 2, 2011

I recently finished a first draft of the paper I presented at TAG in Bristol last December. It discusses the assumptions and issues surrounding the use of Social Network Analysis for Archaeology. I like to believe that the paper is very readable. It starts with a short fiction about Cicero who used Facebook and Twitter from his iPhone 4 to become consul of Rome … in 63BC. This story becomes relevant in the latter part of the paper, however, where I stress the importance of realising that when we think through a networks perspective we assume that networks must have existed in the past.

I would love any kind of feedback on this working paper! You can download it from the bibliography page (first one in the list).


Facebook currently has over 500 million active users, only six years after its launch in 2004. The social networking website’s viral spread and its direct influence on the everyday lives of its users troubles some and intrigues others. It derives its strength in popularity and influence through its ability to provide a digital medium for social relationships.

This paper is not about Facebook at all. Rather, through this analogy the strength of relationships between people becomes apparent most dramatically. Undoubtedly social relationships were as crucial to stimulating human actions in the past as they are in the present. In fact, much of what we do as archaeologists aims at understanding such relationships. But how are they reflected in the material record? And do social network analysis techniques aimed at understanding such relationships help archaeologists understand past social relationships?

This paper explores the assumptions and issues involved in applying a social network perspective in archaeology. It argues that the nature of archaeological data makes its application in archaeology fundamentally different from that in social and behavioural sciences. As a first step to solving the identified issues it will suggest an integrated approach using ego-networks, popular whole-network models, multiple networks and affiliation networks, in an analytical process that goes from method to phenomena and back again.