Twitters and research paths

Happy New Year, folks!

Right, lets resume my posting about previous research. I have only 5 more projects to write about, (well, that had papers emanating from them, I’ll do book chapters after that) and I’m going to do it in reverse chronological order.

Sometimes when you get a new research assistant, its good to give them a really defined task to get their teeth into, and to also see how they work – can they write? can they do self directed research? What are their strengths, and what’s the most useful support can you give them? We hit the jackpot when we employed Claire Ross, to work on the Linksphere project, which was a joint project with Reading University to create a unified system that would provide a single virtual interface for searching across all the repositories and collections at Reading. We were asked to give advice about use and users of museum online catalogues and museum related social media, and the platform they were developing at Reading. Whilst the folks at Reading were starting to program up the interface to be tested, we set Claire a task: analyse the twitter feeds from the various DH conferences held in 2009 (this was at the end of 2009) and see what we can say about the use of twitter. At the time, there were relatively few methodological investigations into how twitter was being used, and what we came up with was really interesting:

Ross, C and Terras, M and Warwick, C and Welsh, A (2011) Enabled backchannel: conference Twitter use by digital humanists. J DOC , 67 (2) 214 – 237. PDF

The Linksphere project itself proved to be problematic – the linking of different collections isnt as easy as it sounds, and the programming team will hopefully be publishing more about the difficulties that they faced in cross-collection searching, etc. Nevermind, though – we had Claire for a year, and after this study she did some excellent work with the British Museum, looking at use of their Collection Online, and also set up the QRator project, at the Grant Museum, which is looking at how people can add their own Interpretation to museum objects, as well as the research necessary on the Linksphere interface. Claire is now still with us doing PhD research – more about that soon.

The twitter paper got a lot of interest at the time (it was up in pre-publish much sooner than the print version) as it was one of the first to look at the methods for studying tweet streams, although there are now hundreds of papers out there that have looked at the methodologies since, and developed and refined them in ways we couldn’t do all the way back in 2009. It does seem like an awfully long way away, even though its less than 3 years ago. And is interesting to see that when you do get a great research assistant to work with, that you can have spin offs and publications from the process that were not originally in the research plan. The joy of the research path: turny, twisty, unexpected.

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