May 142014

Today I am at the University of Edinburgh Digital Humanities and Social SciencesDigital Scholarship Day of Ideas 2014 which is taking place at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, High Street Yards, Edinburgh. This year’s event takes, as it’s specialist focus, “data”. These notes have been taken live so my usual disclaimers apply and comments, questions and corrections are, as ever, very much welcomed.

Introduction: Prof Dorothy Miell, Head of College of Humanities and Social Science

I’m really pleased to welcome everybody here today. This is our third Digital Scholarship Day of Ideas and they are an opportunity to bring in interesting outside speakers, but also for all of us interested in this area to come together, to network and build relationships, and to take work forward. Again today we have a mixture of international and local speakers, and this year we are keeping us all in one room so we can all hear from those speakers. I am really glad to see such a popular take up for the day, and mixing from across the college and Information Services.

Digital HSS, which organised this event, is work that Sian Bayne leads and there are a series of events throughout the year in that strand, as well as these events.

Today we are going to be talking about the idea of data, particularly what data means for scholars in the humanities, how can we understand the term Big Data that we hear in the Social Sciences, and how can we use these concepts in our own work.

Sian Bayne, Associate Dean (digital scholars) is introducing our first speaker. Annette describes herself as an “itinerant researcher”. Annette’s work focuses on internet and qualitative research methods, and the ethical aspects of internet research. I think she has a real talent for great paper titles. One of my favourites is “Undermining Data” – which today’s talk is partially based on – but I also loved that she had a paper entitled “Fieldwork in Social Media: What would Manonovsky do?”. Anyway, I am delighted to welcome Professor Annette Markham.

Can we get beyond ‘data’? Questioning the dominance of a core term in scientific inquiry – Prof Annette MarkhamDepartment of Informatics, Umeå University, Sweden; Department of Aesthetics & Communication, Aarhus University, Denmark; School of Communication, Loyola University, Chicago (session chair: Dr Sian Bayne)

As Sian mentioned I have spent a lot of time… I was a professor for ten years before I quit in 2007 and pushed myself across other disciplines, to push forward some philosophical work on methods. For the last 5 years or so I’ve been thinking about innovative and creative ways to think of methods to resonate better with the complex and complexity of modern life. I work with STS – Science and Technology – scholars in Denmark, Informatics scholars, Machine learning Scolars in Boston, Language scholars in Helsinki… So a real range across the disciplines.

The work today is around methods work I’ve done with colleagues over the last few years, much is captured in a special issue of First Monday: Vol 18, No 10: Making Data – Big Data and Beyond Special Issue. And this I’m doing from a post humanist, STS, non positivist sort of perspective, thinking about the way in which data can be used to to indicate that we share an understanding when actually, we are understanding the same information in very different ways. For some data can be an easy term, consistent with your world view… a word that you understand in your own method of inquiry. Data and data sets might be familiar parts of your work. We all come from somewhere, we all do research… what I say may not be new, or may be totally new… it may resonate… or not at all… but I want this to be a provocation, to make you question and think about data and our methods.

So, why me, well mainly I guess because I know about methods… so this entire talk is part of a bigger project where I look at method, at forms of inquiry… but looking at method directly isn’t quite right, but looking at it from the side, from the corner of your eye… And to look at method is to look at the conditions in which we undertake inquiry in the 21st century. For many of us inquiry is shaped by funding, and funding priviledges that which produces evidence, which can be archived. For many qualitative researchers this is unthinkable… a coffee stain on field notes might have meaning for you as an ethnographer but how can that have meaning for anyone else? How can that be archivable or sharable or minebale.

And I think we also have to think about what it is that we do when we do inquiry, when we do research… to get rid of some of the baggage of inquiry – like collecting data, analysing and then writing up as there are many forms of inquiry that don’t fit that linear approach. Another way to think of this is to think of frames, of how we frame our research. As an American Scholar trained in the Chicago School of Sociology is that I cannot help but cite Erving Goffman. They both tell us to focus on something, and to ignore other things… So if I show you a picture of a frame here…. If I say Mona Lisa you might think of that painting. If I tell you to look outside of the frame you might envision the wall, or the gallery, or what sits outside that frame. And if you change the frame it changes what you see, what you focus on… so if I show you a frame diagram of a sphere and say that is a frame, a frame for research what do you see? (some comment they see the globe, they see 3D techniques, they see movement). The frame tells us to think about certain phenomenon…. to also not think about others… if I say Mona Lisa now… we think of very different things… Similarly an atomic structure type image works as a very different type of frame – no inside or outside but all interconnected node… But it’s almost impossible to easily frame, again, Mona Lisa…

So, another frame – a not-quite-closed drawn circle – and this is to say that frames don’t tell you a lot about what they do… and Goffman and others say that frames work best when they are almost invisible…. like maps (except say the McArthur Corrective Map). So, by repositioning a map, or by standing in an elevator the wrong way and talking to people – as Harold Garfield had his students do – we have a frame that helps us look differently at what we do. “Data” can make us think we look at the same map, when we are not… Data may not be understood as a shortcut term of a metanym, it could be taken rather as preexisting aspects of the phenomenon – have been filtered and created through a process, and organised in some way. Not the meaning I want for my work but not good or bad…

So I want to come back to “How are our research sensibilities being framed?”. In order to understand inquiry we have to understand three other things. (1) How do we frame culture and experience in the 21st Century; (2) How do we frame objects and processes of inquiry; (3) How do we frame “what counts” as proper and legitimate inquiry?

For me (1), as someone focused on internet studies, I think about how our research context has shifted, and how has our global society shifted, since the internet. It’s networked for instance. But also interesting to note how this frame has shifted considerably since the early days of the internet… So taking an image from the Atlas of CyberSpace – an image suggesting the internet as a tunnel. But city scapes were also common ways to understand the world. MIT suggested different ways to understand a computer interface. This is about what happened, the interests in the early days of the internet in the 90s. That playfulness and radical ideas change as commerce becomes a standard part of the internet. Skipping forward to Facebook for instance… interfaces are easy to understand, friendly, almost all social media looks the same, almost all websites look the same… and Google is a real model for this as their interface has always been so clean…

But I think the significant issue here about socio-technical research and understanding has been shaped by these internet interfaces we encounter on a daily basis.

For me frame (2) hasn’t changed that much… two slides…. this to me represents any phenomenon or study – a whole series of different networks of nodes connected to the centre. There is no obvious starting point. Not clear what belongs in the centre – a person, an event, a device – and there are all these entanglements charecterising these relationships. And yet our methods were designed for and work best in the traditional anthropological fieldwork conditions… And the process is still very linear in how we understand it – albeit with iterative cycles – but it’s still presented that way. And that matters as it priviledges the neat and tidy inquiry over the messy inquiry, the inquiry without clear conclusions… so how we frame inquiry hasn’t changed much in terms of inquiry methods.

Finally, and briefly, (3) my provocation is: I think we’ve gone backwards… you can go back to the 60s or earlier and look at feminist scholars and their total reunderstanding of scientific method, and situated research. But as budgets tighten, as research is funded under more conservative conditions this stuff that isn’t well understood isn’t as popular… so we’ve seen a return to evidence based methods, to clear conclusions, to scientific process. Particularly in media coverage of research. It’s still a dominent theme…

So… What is data?

I don’t want to be glib here. The word “data” is awefully easy to toss around. It is. In every day life this term is a metanym for lots of stuff, highly specific but unspecified stuff. It is arguably quite a powerfully rhetorical term. As Daniel Rosenburg says the use of the term data has really shifted over the last few hundred years. It appeared in the 1760s or so. Many of those associated with the word only had it appear in translations posthumously. It is derived from Latin and, in the 1760s, it was about conditions that exist before arguement. Then as something that exists before analysis. And in that context data has no theoretical baggage. It cannot be questions. It always exists… has an incontrovertible it-ness. A “fact” can be proven false. But false data is still “data”. Over time and usage “data” has come to represent the entirity of what the researcher seeks and needs in pursuit of the goal of inquiry. To consider the word in my non-positivist stance, I see data as “what is data within the more general idea of inquiry”. In the mid 1980s I was taught not to use that word, we collect materials, we collect artefacts as ethnographers… and we construct… data… see even I used it there, so hard not to. It has been operationalised as discreet and uncontrovertible.

Big data has brought critical responses out, they are timely and subtle responses… and boyd and Crawford (2011) came up with six provocations for big data. And Nancy Baym (2013) also talks about all social media metrics being a nonrepresentative partial sample. And that there is an inherant ambiguity that arises from decontextualising a moment of clicking from a stream of activity and turning it into a stand alone data point. Bruno LaTour talked about this too, in talking about soil from the Amazon, of removing something form it’s context.

And this idea disturbs me, particularly when understanding social life as representated in technology. Even outside the western world, even if we don’t use technology, as Sonia Livingstone notes, we are all implicated in technology in our everyday life. So, I want to show you a very common metaphor for everyday life in the 21st century – a Samsung Galaxy SII ad. I love this ad – it’s low hanging fruit for rhetorical critique! It flattens everything – your hopes and dreams offered at equal value to services or products you might buy… and flatterns as equal in not infitesimal bits that swirl around, can be transmitted, transformed, controlled – as long as we purchase that particular phone. An interesting depiction of life as data – and humans and their data as new. It’s not unusual and not a problem as we don’t buy into it as a notion, uncritically.

This ad troubles me more. This is Global Pulse, an NGO, a sub committee of UN, that distributes data on prices in the developing world. It follows the story of a woman affected by price shifts. So this ad… it has a lot of persuasive power and I want to be careful about this arguement that I make to conclude…

I really like what we get from many big data analyses. I have nothing against big data or computational analysis. Some of the work you hear about today is extroadinary, powerful… I won’t make an arguement about data, about data to solve certain problems. I want to talk about what Kate Crawford talks about as “big data fundamentalism”. I wouldn’t go that far… but algorithms can be powerful but not all human experience can be reduced to data points. And not everything can be framed by big data. Data can be hugely valuable but it’s important to trouble what is included and what is missed by big data. That advert implies data can be understood as it happens. Data is always filtered, transformed, framed… from that you draw conclusions. Data operates within the larger framework for inquiry. We have to remember that we have strong and robust models for inquiry that do not focus on data as the core of inquiry. Data might be important – it should be the chorus not the main player on the stage. The focus of non-positivist research is upon collecting the messy stuff….

And I wanted to show a visualisation, created in Gephi, by one of my colleagues who looked at Arab Spring coverage in media and social media in Sweden… In doing this as he shifts the algorithm he is manipulating data, changing how the data appears to us, changing variables to make his case… most of the algorithms of Gephi create neat round visualisations. Alex Galloway critiques this by saying that some forms may not be representable, and this tool does not accommodate that, or encourages us to think that all networks can be visualised in that way. These visualisations and network analyses are about algorithms… So I sort of want to leave it there, to say that data functions very powerfully as a term… and that from a methodoly perspective it creates a very particular frame that warrants concern, particularly when the dominant context tells us that data is the way to do inquiry.


Q: I enjoyed that but I find you more pessimistic than I would be. That last visualization shows how different understandings of that network as possible. It’s easy to create a strawman like this but I’ve been reading papers where videos are included in papers… the audience can all think about different interpretations. We can click on a data point, to see that interview, to see that complex account of that point. There are many more opportunities to create richer entanglements of data… we should emphasize those, emphasize that complexity rather than hide the complexity of how that data is created.

A: Thanks for finishing my talk for me! If we consider the generative aspects of inquiry then we can use the tools to be transparent about the playfulness of interrogation, by offering multiple interpretations… I talk about a process of Borrow / Play / Move / Interrogate / Generate. So I was a bit pessimistic – that Global Pulse ad always depresses me. But I agree!

Q: I was taken by your argument that human experience cannot be reduced to a single data point… what else can it be reduced to… it implies an alternative to data… so what might that be?

A: I think that question is not one that I would ask. To me that is not the most important question. For me it’s about how we might make social change – how might I create interventions, how might I represent someone’s story. I’m not saying that there is an alternative… but that discussion of data in general puts us in that sort of terrain… and what is more interesting or important is to consider why we do research in the first place, why do we want to look for a particular phenomenon… to not let data overwhelm any other arguments.

Q: I think your talk noted that big data focuses on how people are similar and what similarities there are, whilst ethnography tend to be about difference. That makes those data tracking that cover most people particularly depressing. Is that the distinction though?

A: I think I would see it as simplification versus complexity… how do we envision inquiry in ways that try to explode the phenomenon into even a more complex set of entanglements and connections. It may be about differences but doesn’t have to be… its about what emerges from a more generative process… it’s an interesting reading though, I wouldn’t disagree.

Q: I wanted to share a story with you of finishing my PhD, a study of social workers when I was a social worker. I had an interview for a research post at the Scottish Government and one of the panel asked me “and how did you analyze your data” and I had never thought of my interviews and discussions as data… and since then I’ve been in academia in 20 years but actually I’ve had to put that idea, that people are not data, aside to progress my career – holding onto the concept but learning to talk the talk…

A: I can relate to that. You hear that a lot, struggling to find the vocabulary to make your work credible and understandable to other people. With my students I help them see that the vocabulary of science is there, and has been dominant… and to help them use other terms to replace the terms they use in the inquiry, in their method… these terms of mine (Borrow / play / move / interrogate / generate) to get them thinking another way, to make them look at their work in a different way from that dominant method. These become a way that people can talk about the same thing but with less weighty vocabulary, or terms that do not carry that baggage. So that’s one way I try to do that…

Crowd-sourced data coding for the social sciences: Massive non-expert coding of political texts – Prof Ken BenoitProfessor of Quantitative Social Research Methods, London School of Economics and Political Science (session chair: Prof John McInnes)

Professor John McInnes is introducing our next speaker, Professor Ken Benoit. Ken not only talks about big data but has the computational skills to work with it.

I will be showing you something very practical…. I had an idea that I’d do something live… so it could be an Epic Fail!

So I took the UKIP European Election Manifesto… converted to plain text in my text editor. Made every sentence one line… put into spreadsheet… Then I’m using CrowdFlower with some text questions… So I’ll leave that to run…

So back to my talk… the goal is to measure unobservable quantities… we want to understand ideology – the “left-right” policy positions… we have theories of how people vote, that they vote to parties most proximate to their own positions. For political scientists this is a huge issue. We might also want to measure corruption, cultural values, power… but today I’m going to focus on those policy positions.

A lot of political science data is “created” by experts… a lot of it is, frankly, made up. A lot of it is about hand-coded text units – you take a text, you unitise it…. e.g. immigration policy statements… (Comparative Manifesto Project, Policy Agenda Project). Another way is Solicited Expert Opinion (Benoit and Laver, Chapel Hill, etc) – I worked with Laver for years looking at understanding of policies of each party. It’s expensive work, takes an expert an hour to fill out a form… real headache… We have expert-completed checklists (Polity, Comparative Parliamentary Democracy Dataset, Freedom House, etc.). And there are Coded International events (KEDS, Penn State Event Data). And we have inductively scaled quantities (factor analysis such as “Billy Joe Jimbon Factoral analysis).

So what are some of the problems of coding using “experts”. Who are experts anyway? Difficult to find coders who are suitably qualified. It’s hard to find them AND hard to train them… most of the experts coding texts tend to be PhD students who find it a pleasing thing to do whilst avoiding finishing their thesis. There can be knowledge effects since no text is ever anonymous to an expert coder with country knowledge. Human coders are unreliable – their codings of the same text unit will vary wildly. And even single coding is relatively costly and time-consuming. So only one coder codes each text. Even when you pay the experts, they are still doing you a favour!

So I will talk about an alternative solution to this problem, and that problem is about classifying text units. So the idea is to observe a political party’s policy position by content analysis of it’s texts. And party manifestos are most common texts. The idea behind content analysis is breaking text into small units and then using human judgement to apply pre-defined codes. e.g. coding something as right wing policy. And usually that is done for LOTS of sentences by only ONE coder.

Tomorrow I’ll be in Berlin… the biggest (only?) game in town is the Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP). This is a huge project with 3500 party manifestos from 55 countries from 1945-2010 though still going. Human coders are trained and have PhDs. They break manifestos into sentences, human judgement to apply pre-defined codes. Each sentence assigned to one of 56 policy categories. Category percentages of the total text are used to measure policy. And each manifesto is seen by just one coder, and coded by just one coder.

So… what could we do… crowd-sourcing involves outsourcing a task by distributing it to an unspecific group, usually in parts… based idea of this, versus expert coding is that it reduces the expertise of each of the coders, but increase the number of coders. Distribute texts for coding partially and randomly. Increase the number of coders per sentence. Treat different coders as exchangable – and anonimous, and we don’t care if sitting in internet cafe in Estonia in their underwear, or whether they engage on a day off from a bank…

The coding scheme here is to have a more simplified coding scheme. We applied it to 18 of the “big 3” British party manifestos from 1987 to 2010. So a sentence can be coded as Economic, Social or neither… under either of the first two categories there are further options (anti, neutral or pro) from “Very left” to “Very right”, or “Very liberal” to “Very conservative”. And there is a 10 question test to show correct codings, to guide the coder and to keep them on track.

So, to get this started we wanted a comparison we understood. We wanted to compare crowd coding to expert coding. So my colleague and I, and some graduate students, coded a total of 123,000 sentences between us… With between 4 and 6 coders per manifesto and using the same system to be deployed to the crowd. This was  a benchmark for the crowd sourcing end of things. This took ages to do… we did that…. that’s a lot of expert coding… and in practice you wouldn’t get this happening… For the crowdsourced codings we got almost twice as many codings…

We used an IRT type scaling model to estimate position. We didn’t want to just take averages here… we used a multi nomial method here. We treat each sentence as an item, to which the manifesto is responding, and the left or rightness (etc) as a quality they exhibit. Despite that complexity we found that a mean of means approach led to very similar results. We are trying to simplify that multi nomial method… but now the results…

Comparing expert codings to expert surveys on economic and social positions look pretty good.. good correlation for economic particularly a thing that we’d expect – and we see.

We tested to see how best to serve up results… we tried the sentences in order and out of order. Found .98 correlation so order doesn’t matter…

For the crowd sourcing we used Crowdflower, a front end to many crowd-sourcing platforms, not just Mechanical Turk. Uses a quality monitoring system so that you have to maintain an 80% “trust” score to be rejected. Trust maintained through “gold questions” carefully selected and generated by experts…

So, we can go back to the live experiement… it’s 96% complete!

So, looking at results in two dimensions… if Liberal Democrats were actually Liberal would be right of economics and left of social… but actually they are more left on economics. Conservatives on the right socially but getting nearer the left in some cases… but it’s not about the analysis so much as the comparison with the benchmark…

When we look at expert codings versus crowd coders… well the points are all over the place but we see correlations of 0.96 for economic, 0.92 for social dimensions. So in both cases there isn’t total agreement – we have either have a small crowd of experts or a bigger crowd of non experts. Its always an average but just a matter of scale…

So, how many coders do we need? No need for 20 codes for a sentence if it’s clearly not about immigration policy… we did massively over sample, then drew sub sets there for standard error… we saw that estimates from our errors the uncertainty starts to collapse… The rate of collapse for experts is substantially steeper… for aggregate of these two processes you need five times more non-expert coders than experts. But you can run good codings with five coders…

So we did some tests for immigration policy… used 2010 British manifestos, knowing that there were two expert surveys on this dimension (but no CMP measures). Only coded immigration or not, and if immigration is positive or not. Cost about $300. Ran again, same cost, extremely similar results…

Doing this we had 0.96 correlation with Benoit 2010 expert survey. .94 correlation with Chapel Hill Survey. And between the two runs correlation of around 0.94. Would have been higher… the experts differed between the immigration policies of Labour and Conservative… were not obvious positions in the text… but they had positions that experts knew about…

So, who are these people? Who are these crowd coders? They are from all over the world… the top countries were USA, Britain, India and Estonia. One person coded over 10,000 sentences! Crazy person loves coding! The mean trust score rarely drops below 0.8 as you’ll be booted off if it does… You don’t pay or get data from those that fail. Where are these jobs being sourced? We tried Mechanical Turk… we’ve used Crowd Flower… there are huge numbers of these sites – a student looked at about 40 of these sites… but trust scores are great no matter how these people are sourced… Techniques are not all ideal… but they don’t stay in the system if trust score changes. No relationship between coder quality and platform…

Conclusions here. Non experts produce valid results, just need a few more of them. Experts have variance, have noise, so experts are just another version of a crowd with higher expertise (lower variance). Repeat experiments prove that the method is reliable (and replicable). Some places require your work to be replicatable… is data plus script a good way to do that? Here you really can… You can replicate everything here. You can redo in February what you did in December… with the right text you can reproduce the result. Why does this appeal? Well it’s cheap, it’s flexible. Great for PhD students who lack expert access. And you can work independently from big organisations that have their own agenda for a study. You can try an idea, run again, tweak, see what works… Can go back again… And this works for any data production job that is easily distributed into simple tasks… sign up for Mechanical Turk, be a worker, see what it’s like to actually do this… for instance for transcriptions of audio tapes… it’s noisy…. a common job is that they upload 5 second clips and you transcribe that… gives you pretty good human transcription that timestamps weaves back together. Better than computer method…

So, we are 100% finished with our UKIP crowdsourcing experiment… Interestingly 40 negative, 48 positive… needs further analysis…


Q: In terms of checking coders do the right thing – do you check them at the beginning or do you check during the process of codings?

A: Here I cheated a bit… used 126 gold questions from another experiment. You have to give a reason for each question about why it’s there – if the person doesn’t get it right then they get text to explain why that is the case… Very clear unambiguous questions here. But when you deploy a job you can monitor how participants responded or if they contested it… In a previous experiment we had so many contested responses that I actually looked again and removed it…

Q: A very interesting talk… I am a computer scientist and I am interested in whether now you have that huge gold data set you have thought about using machine learning.

A: Yes, we won’t let that go to waste. The crowd data too…

Q: I am impressed but have two questions… you look at every sentence of every manifesto… they are funny things as not every sentence is about the thing you are searching for – how do you deal with that? And a lot of what is in manifestos are sort of dog whistle things – with subtexts that the reader will pick up, how do you deal with that in crowdsourcing?

A: You get contextual sentences around the one you are coding, that helps indicate the relevance of that sentence, it’s context. In terms of the dog whistle question… people think that but manifestos are not designed to be subtle. They actually tend to be very plain, very clear. It’s rare for that subtlety to be present. Want truly outrageous immigration policy look at the BNP manifesto… every single area is about immigration, not subtle at all.

Q: I’m a linguist, I find it very interesting… and a question about tasks appropriate to crowdsourcing. Those that can be broken down into small tasks, and that your participants can relate to their daily life. I am doing work on musical interpretation… I need experts because I can’t see how to do that in language, in a way that is interpretable to non experts…

A: You can’t give something that’s complex… I couldn’t do your task… you can’t assume who your crowd is, we have very little information… we didn’t ask about language but they wouldn’t retain that trust score without some good English language skills. But workers have a trust score across projects so anything they can’t do they avoid as losing that score is too costly… You could simplify the task with some sort of task that can test corect or incorrect interpretation… but we keep the task simple.

Q: A very interesting talk, I have a quick question about how you set the right price for these tasks… how do you do that? People come from different areas and different contexts.

A: Good question. We paid 2 US cents per sentence. We tried at 5 cents and it was done very fast but quality wasn’t better. A job at 1 cent didn’t happen fast at all. So it’s about timings and pricing of other jobs.

Q: Could you say something about the ethics of this kind of method… you are not giving much consideration to the production of these texts, so I wondered if you could talk about the ethics of this work and responsibilities as researchers.

A: Well I didn’t ruin any rainforests, or ruined any summers. These people have signed up for terms and conditions. They are responsible for taxation in their jurisdiction. Our agreement with Crowdflower gives them responsibility. And it’s voluntary. Hopefully no sweatshops for this… I’m receptive to the idea of what ethical concerns could be… but couldn’t see anything inherently wrong about the notion of crowdsourcing that would be a concern. Did run past ethics committee at LSE. Didn’t directly contact people, completing tasks on the internet through third party supplier.

Q: You were showing public domain documents… but for research documents not in the public domain how would security be handled…

A: Generally transcriptions are private… but segments are usually 3 or 5 segments… like reading a document from the shredder basket… the system have that data but workers do not have access to that system

Q: But the system does have that so you need trust in the platform…

A: Yes.

Comment from floor: companies like Crowdflower have convinced companies to give them data – doctors notes etc. they have had to work on making sure they can assure customers about privacy of data… as a researcher when you go in you can consider what is being done in that business market in comparison

Q: Have you compared volunteer coders to paid coders? I am thinking particularly about ethical side of things and motivations, particularly given how in political tasks participants often have their own agendas. Might be interesting to do.

A: Volunteer crowdsourcing? Yes, it would be interesting to compare that…

Reading Data: Experiments in the Generative Humanities – Dr Lisa Otty, Lecturer in English Literature and Digital Humanities, University of Edinburgh (session chair: Dr Tom Mole)

Dr Tom Mole is introducing our next speaker, Dr Lisa Otty whose interests are in the relationship betweeen reading, writing and the technologies of transcription. And she will be talking about her work on Reading Poetry, and the process of what happens when we read a poem.

Now to be  a literature scholar speaking at an event like this I have to acknowledge that data is not a term typically used in our field. When you think about what we are used to reading texts are often books, poems… but a text is not neccassarily a traditional material but may also be another linguistic unit, something more complex. Taking the Open Archival Information Systems (CCSDS 2002) describes data as “a reinterpretable representation of information in a formalized manner suitable for communication, interpretatio, or processing”. Interpretation being crucial there. When we look at texts like books or poems those are “cooked” – edited, curated, finished. Data is too often not seen as that.

Johanna Drucker – in Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display (DHQ 5.1 2011) talks about data as Taken Not Given, Constructed from the Phenomological World. Data passes itself off as a priori conditions, as if same as phenomena observed, collapsing the critical gap between the data collection and observation.

Some of these arguements gel with some of the arguements around close versus distance reading. And I think it can therefore be more productive to see data as a generative process…

Between 2009-2012 I was involved in the research project Poetry Beyond Text (University of Glasgow, and University of Kent). This was a collaborative project so inevitably some of my reflections and insights are also collaborative and I would like to acknowledge my colleagues work here. The project was looking at interpretation of poetry, and particular visual forms of poetry such as artist boks. What these works share is that they are deeply resistent to being shared as just information.

For example Eugen Gomringer’s (1954) “silencio” is an example of how the space is more resonant than the words around it… So how do we interpret these texts? And how do our processes for interpretation effect our understanding. One method, popular in psychology, is eye tracking… a physical way of registering what you are doing. We combined eye-tracking with self-reporting. Eye Tracking takes advantage of the movements of a small area of the retina. So a map of concentration sees those little jumps, those movements around the page. But it’s an odd process to be part of – you wear a head brace with a camera focused on your eye. You get a great deal of data from the process. Where more concentration that usually indicates trickiness or challenge or interest in that section – particularly likely for challenging parts of text. From this data you can generate visualisations from this data. (We are watching a video of eye tracking process for poetry).

Doing this we found a lot of patterns. We saw that people did focus and understand space, but only when that space has significance in the process. In poems where space is more conceptual than nemetic. But interestingly people who recorded high confusion also reported liking them much more… With experiments with post linear poems the cross-linear connections. All people start with a linear reading patterns before visual reading. And that reflects the colour strip test – psychology test that shows that visual information trumps linguistic information… so visual readings and habitual reading processes are hard to overcome. We are programmed to read in a certain way… our habits are only broken by obstacles or glitches in the text we are reading…

Now talking about this project if I talk about findings I am back in that traditional research methods… and that would be misleading. We were a cross disciplinary team and so I am particularly interested in focusing on that process, on how we worked on that. The eye tracking data generates huge amounts of numerical data… we faced real challenges in understanding how to understand, to read this data… a useful reminder of the fact that data’s apparent neutrality has real repurcussions. Its one thing to make data open, another to enable people to work with it.

To my colleagues in psychology didn’t understand our interest in visualisations of numerical eye tracking data, it is an abstraction… and you have to understand the software to understand how that abstraction works. Psychologists like to interpret the data through the numerical data. They see visualisations, graphs etc. as having a rhetorical rather than analytical function. Our team were interested in that rhetorical function. We were humanists running an experiment – the framework was of hypotheses, of labs, of subjects… but the team came from creative practice background so this sense of experiment was also in play. In it’s broadest terms experiments are about seeing something in process and see how they behave, for scientists about testing hypotheses in this way, creative experiements rather different… For humanist analysis of these texts you have to deal with a huge number of variables, very much a contrast to traditional psychology experiements. For creative experiments there is a long tradition of work in surrealism, dadaism, etc. that poetry can unleash and disrupt our traditional reading of texts… they are deliberately breaking our habits. The reader of the literary form is a potentially revolutionasible(?) subject.

In Literary scholarship and humanities the process of reading is social, contextualised process. In psychology reading is a biomedical process, my colleagues in this field collapse the human and machine. In a recent article by Lutz Koepnick asked Can Computers Read? (2014) and discussed the different possible understandings of what reading is for.. our ideological framework of reading means to us… computational reading is less about what computers are, more about how we invest in them and envision them.

One of the things that came out of our project was the connections between poetry and psychology, and the connections to creative experiments.

To finish I want to talk about some examples of experiments around reading and what reading can mean.

The readers project – John Cayley and Daniel Howe (2009 – ) their work explores imaginative critiques of reading. Cayley is a literary scholar and has been working in digital production for some time. The readers project features “programmed autonomous entities”. Each reader moves through a text at different speeds and in different ways. So for each part of the experiment projections are used, and they are often shown with books, a deliberate choice. A number of interfaces are available. But these readers move according to machine reading rather than biomechanical reading. Cayley terms this an exploration of vectors of reading… directions in which reading might take of. It explores and engaged with new creative understandings of reading. This seems to be seen by Cayley in avant garde context. Emphasis on constructed nature of the work.

“because the project’s readers move within and are thus composed by the words within which they move, they also, effectively, write. They generate trxts and the traces of their writings are offered to th eproject’s human readers as such, as writing, as literary art.” (Cayley, The Readers Project website).

As someone engaging with these pieces the experience is of reading with, more than processing or consuming or analysing.

Tower – by Simon Biggs and Mark Shovman (2011), working at Hive, uses knowledge of natural language processing to build visualisations. When the interactor speaks their words spiral around them. And other texts are also present – the project is inspired by the Tower of Babel and builds up and up. Shovman’s previous work at Hive was on geometric structure. Biggs hope is that participants “will be enabled to reflect upon the inter-relations of the things that they are experiencing and their own contingency as part of that set of things.”

Michelle Kendrick talks about hybrids, that hybrid of human and machine interaction, the centrality of human investment in computer reading.

When I talk about this work I am overwhelmed by the rhetorical significance of words like “experiment” and the dominance of scientific research methods – the first interpretation of this work is often wrongly around seeing the work as applying scientific methods to literary interpretation.  But instead this work is about interpretation and exploring methods of understanding and interpretation.


Q: You talked about different disciplines coming together. Do you think there is a need for humanities researchers to understand data and computational methods?

A: I think we would all benefit from a better understanding of data and analysis, particularly as we move more and more into using digital tools. I’m not sure if that needs to be in the curriculum but it’s certainly important.

Q: One of the interesting things about reading is the idea of it being a process of encoding and decoding… but the code shifts continously… and a challenge in experimental reading or interpretation is that literature is always experimental to some extent because the code always changes.

A: I think the idea of reading as always being experimental… I think that experimental writing is about disruption… less about process but more about creating challenge.

Q: I was very struck in what you were presenting there in the Poetry Beyond Text project about the importance of spatiality and space… so I was wondering about explicit spatial understandings – the eye tracking being a form of spatial understanding…

A: We were looking at the way that people had been interpreting those texts in the past, in the ways people had looked at that poetry in the past… they had talked about the structural work of the poets themselves… and we wanted to look beyond that…We wanted to find out people’s responses to some of these processes, and what the relationship was between that experience and those critical views of those texts.

Q: Did you do any work on different kinds of readers – expert readers or people who had studied these works?

A: It was quite a small group but we looked at the same people over time and we did see development over time. We worked mainly with students in literature or art and most hadn’t encountered this type of concrete poetry before but were well experienced with reading.

Q: I wanted to ask you about the ways in which we are trained to read… there are apps showing images of texts very very quickly, are we developing skills to read quickly rather than more fully and understand the text.

A: There was a process of rapid image showing to the eye (RSVP was the acronym) – to allow you to absorb more quickly but in actual fact that was quite uncomfortable. We do see digital texts playing with those notions. I don’t think we will move away from slow reading but we are seeing more of these rapid reading processes and technologies.

Chair: Kinetic Text project works in some of these ways, about focusing eye movement…

A: The text can also manipulate eye movement and therefore your reading and understanding of the text. Very interesting in that respect.

Algorithm Data and Interpretation – Dr Stephen Ramsay, Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska; Fellow at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (session chair: Prof James Loxley)

James Loxley is introducing our next speaker, Dr Stephen Ramsay.

I want to say that my mother is from Ireland, a little place west of here, and she said that if she had ever been to University it would have been to University of Edinburgh which she felt was the best in the world.

Now I was planning to teach a technical talk – I teach computer science in an English faculty. But instead I’m going to talk about data. So I’m going to start with the 1965 blackout of New York. At the time it was about disaster, groping in the dark, a city stranded. But then 9 months later they ran stories on the growth in birth rates, a sharp rise across hospitals across the state. All recording above average numbers of births. Although one report noted that Jewish hospitals did not see an increase. Sociologists talked about the blackout as in some way responsible… three years later a sociologist published a terse statement showing no increase in births after the Great Blackout. This work looked at average gestation period and noting that births would have been higher from June through to August, not just in August… but he found that 1966 was not unusual or remarkable. Black Out Babies were a myth…

You could read this tale as a cautionary one about the misuse of data. But I think this can be read another way… the New York Times piece said something about human nature – people turning to each other when power out is a sad reflection on the place of television in our life, but a hopeful narrative for humanity. And citing birth rates and data and using scientific language adds to that. And the comments about Jewish people shows prejudice. But at the same time that subsequent analysis frames the public as prone to fantasy, as uninformed, with the scholar overcoming this…

The idea of “lies, damn lies, and statistics” encourages us to always look for falsehood hiding behind truth… so we think of what stories we are being told, and what story we want to tell. It’s simple advice that is hard to do. I want to give a different spin on this. I think that data is narrative automatic. the way we use data is instructive – we talk about lists, numbers… Pride and Prejusice does not seem to be a data set unless we convert it. It gains narrative in transformation. The data can be shown to show and mean things – like stories, stories waiting to be told… data doesn’t mean anything by itself, someone has to hear what it is saying…

What does data look like in its pre interpretive state? There is an internet site called “Found” – collecting random items such as notes, cards, love letters, shopping lists. Materials without their context. Abandoned artefacts. All can be found there. But the great glorious treasure of Found is it’s lists…

[small pause here for technical difficulty reasons]

These lists are just abandoned slips of paper… one for instance says:







roach spray



The spareness and absence of context turns these data-like lists turns them, quickly into narrative… not all are funny… one reads:

go out for a walk with someone

speak with someone

watch tv

go out to cemetry to speak to mom

go to my room

Have you ever wanted to give your data a hug? Bram Stoker said in writing Dracula he just wanted to write something scary… his novel is far more interesting without him as the interpretations of others are fascinating and intriguing… Do facts matter in the humanities? In some areas… who painted a picture, when a treaty was signed… these are not contingent truth claims… surely we can say fact is a good word for those things that are not subject to debate. Scholars can debate whether a painting is by Rembrandt or his school, that debate is about establishing a fact. But facts still matter…

If we look at Rembrandt’s Night Watch the lighting of the girl equating to that of the captain is intriguing. If he said it meant nothing we’d probably ignore him… The signing of a treaty may be a fact but why it occured is much more interesting. Humanities are about that category 1 inquiry more than the category 2 fact inquiries. Often this is the critique of the humanities and the digital humanities, Jonathan Gotschil insists that the humanities should embrace scientific approaches and sense of optimism… And sees the sciences as doing a better job of this stuff but that “what makes literature special” should be retained… he doesn’t say what those things are. There are unsettled matters if one takes scientific approaches. Of course Gotschil’s nightmare is to understand data with the same criticality we apply to Bram Stoker, questioning it’s being and meaning… and I suggest we make that nightmare a reality!

[More technical issues… ]

What I wanted to show you was a list of English Novels [being read to us]… It is a list, from Hoover, organises novels in terms of breadth of the vocabulary in that list. I have shown this list to many people over the last few years, including many professors… they see Faulkner and Henry James at the top and approve of that and of Mark Twain…. and young adult novel writers at the bottom… but actually I read you the list in ascending order… Faulkner and James are at the bottom. Kipling and Lewis are at the top. And there it starts… richness is questioned… people want to point out how clearly correct the answer is, despite having given the wrong answer; some explain that the methodology is flawed or misreported… these are category 1 people being annoyed by category 2 reality…

But when we stop using it as a Gotcha it is a more provocative question… each of these titles contains a thousand, a hundred thousand thoughts and connections… it is what we do… as humanists we make those connections… we ask questions of the narrative we have created… part of our problem is a general discomfort with lettinng the computer telling us what is so… but if we stop doing that we might see peculiar mappings of books a cultural objects… it might show us a way to deeper understanding of reading itself… it raises any number of questions about the development of English style… and most of all it raises questions of our discursive paradigms.

That gives us narrative possibilities we could not see. We cannot think of text as 50k word blocks. The computer can ONLY apprehend the text in such terms. To understand the computer as finding facts is to miss the point. It is about creating triggers to ask questions, to look at the text in new ways. This is something I came across working on Virginia Woolf’s The Wave. The structure is so orderly… and without traditional cultural narrative. And they speak in very similar styles, sentence structures, image patterns… some see some difference between gender or solidarity… but overall it is about unity… this is the sort of problem that attracts text analysis scholars like myself. I ran algorithm clustering models looking for similaritudes unseen by scholars. On a lark we posted a simple question… “what are the words that the women in the novel use in common, that none of the men do?” and it turns out that there are 9 such words. Could see that as a narrative – like a Found list – and then we did it with men and found 120 words! Dramatic. So many words… Some critics found that disparity frightening… some think it backs up sexism of western cannon. Others see this as a chance to ask another questions… to try with other authors, novels, characters… if you think this way, perhaps you’ve caught the DH bug, I welcome you. But do we think we’ll find an answer to questions of gender and isolation? Do we want to answer those? The humanities want a world that is more complex, deeper than we thoughts. That process is a conversation…

In 2015 the Text project will release huge volumes of literature. Perseus contains most greek texts… there are huge new resouerces. almost all questions we ask of these corpuses have not been asked before… we can say they will transform the humanities but that may not be true… the limiting factor is whether we choose to remain humanists in the face of such abundance… perhaps we need to be programmers, tool builders, text engineers… many more of us need to invite the new texts – lists, ngrams, maps etc. – into our ongoing conversation. We are here to talk about philosophical issues of data and these issues are critical… but we have to be engaging with these questions…. Digital humanities means databases, mark up, watermelon…!


Q: I am intrigued to think about how we design for the things we don’t know what we need to know…

A: Sure, imagining what we don’t know… you inevitably build your own questions into the tools… ironically an issue for scientific methods. The nice thing about computers is that they are fast, obedient and stupid. They will do anything we ask them to, even our own most stupid ideas, huge serendipity just baked into that! Its a problem but its amazing how the computer does that job for me, surprisingly.

Q: That was a brilliant fascinating talk. Part of the problem with digital humanities for literature right now is that it either tells us what we do know… or it tells us what we don’t know but then we worry that it’s wrong… The description of the richness list was part of that. I really liked your call for an ongoing discussion that includes computer generated data… but I don’t see how we get past the current description. If all literary criticism says something is so, and expects “yes, but…” I can see how computer generated data sits in that… but how can data be a participant in that conversation – beyond ruling something out, or concurring with expectations.

A: Excellent point and lets not downplay at all the first part of your question. I saw Franco Morelli give a talk about titles getting shorter for instance… who’d have thought?! But I think it has a lot to do with how we build our tools… I find it frustrating that we all use R, or tools designed for science or psychology… I want our schools to look more like the art-informed projects Lisa talked about. I think the humanities needs to do more like that, to generate the synergies. Tools that are more ludic.

Q: May be to be about perceived barriers being quite high. An earlier speaker talked about the role of repeatability. Ambiguity reading a poem is repeatible. if barriers to entry low enough for repitition and for others to play, to ask new questions, maybe that brings the data in as part of the conversation…

A: There are tools that let you play with the text more ludically. Voyant for instance. But we come with a lot of cultural baggage as humanists… there is a phenomenon that… no matter what they are talking about they give a literary critical reading of a text but when they show a graph we all think we are scientists… there is so much cultural baggage. We haven’t learned how to be humanistic users of these tools, or to create our own tool.

Q: A question and an observation… There is a school of thought in cognitive psychology that humans are infinitely able to retrofit any narrative to any circumstances whatsoever, and that is very much what was coming through your data… Many humanities departments have become pseudo social sciences departments… but if you don’t have a clear distinction between category 1 and category 2 they can end up doing their own thing…

A: I don’t want the humanities. I resist the social science type study of literature, the study of human record or of the human condition… when we are talking about… in my own work I move between being a literary critic and being an engineer… when it comes to writing software that method definition is wrong, it doesn’t work… when I am a literary critic it is about all those shades of grey, those complexities… but those different states both seem important in pursuit of that end goal… if studying flu outbreaks lets not be ludic… but for Bram Stroker then we should!

Q: In my own field of politics there was a particular set of work which gave statistical data a bad name… and I wonder in your field is the risk of the same is there…

A: In digital literary studies this is sometimes seen as a 25 year project to get literary profs into the digital field.. but I always say that that’s not true, there’ll always be things to be done. There was a book in the 70s that looked at slavery in an entirely quantitative way, it made the arguement no one wanted to hear, that slavery had been extremely lucrative. Economists said that it’s profitable. History fled from statistical methods for years after that… but they do all agree that that was profitable. And there is quantitative work there again/still. If I had to predict I’d say the same thing for digital literary studies does seem likely…

Q: I can’t resist one here… I was following a blog by Kirsch where you say that scholars should code and I wanted to ask about that…

A: OK, well Kirsch lumps me in with the positivists… I’m not quite in the devils party. But I teach programming and software engineering to humanists. Its extremely divisive… My views have softened over the years… for me programming is a magnificant intellectual excercise… knowing about it seems to help understand the world. But also if you want to do research in this area you need some technical skills. If that’s programming… well learn what you need whether thats GIS, 3D Graphics… if you want to build things you might need coding!

Big Data and the Co-Production of Social Scientific Knowledge – Prof Rob Procter, Professor of Social Informatics, University of Warwick (session chair: Prof Robin Williams)

Professor Robin Williams is now introducing Professor Rob Proctor, our next speaker, talking about his work around social informatics.

The eagle eyed amongst you will spot my change of title – but digital is infinitely rewritable! I am working in the overlap of sociology and computational tools and methods. So, the second thing I want to talk about is Sociology in the age of “big data”. I think what this demonstrates is the opportunities for sociology to respond in various different ways to this big data, and tools to interrogate that data. The evolving of tools and methods is a key thing to look at in the area. So that brings me to the Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS) and tools we are developing for understanding social media… and then I want to talk about Sociology beyond the academy – knowledge co-produced of social scientific knowledge. But there are other types of expertise being mobilised at the moment, in looking at the computational turns things are taking. Not always a comfortable thing for social scientists…

So firstly Social Informatics. So what is that? Well to me its the inter-disciplinary study of factors that shape adoption and use of ICTs. And what gets me excited is how these then move into real processes. And for me the emphasis on innovation as public, participatory process of experimentation and learning where meanings of technologies are collaboratively explored and co-produced. In social media you can argue that this is a large scale experiment in social learning… Of course as we witness growing scale of adoption more people experience those processes: how social media works, how they might adopt or use it… to me this is a fascinating area to study. And because it is public and involves social media it is very easy to see what’s going on… to some extent. And generally that data is accessible for social research purposes. It is not quite that simple but you can research without barriers of having to pay for data if you do it in a careful way.

So these developments have led me into social media as a prime area of my research. So firstly some work we did on the impact of Web 2.0 on scholarly communications – work with Robin Williams and James Stewart – many of us will be part of this, many of us tweet our research… but many of us are not clear of what that means, what the implications are. So we did some work, got some interesting demographic research… we also did interviews with people and got ideas of why they were, and why they were not adopting… Some very polarised. And in parallel we looked at how scholarly publishers incorporate social media tools into their work, in order to remain key players… they do lots of experiments and often that is focused on measuring impact and seeing the movement of their work to other audiences. Some try providing blogs on their content. But that is all with mixed success. A comment notes that it is easier to get comments on cricket reports than on research online… So it’s hard to understand and capture impact…

I’ll come back to that and about co-creation of knowledge. But first I want to talk about the riots in England in 2011. This was work in conjunction with the Guardian Newspaper. They had been given 2.5 million tweets directly by Twitter. They wanted to know if social media was particularly vulnerable for sharing false information, did that support calls for shutting down social media at times of crisis? So we looks at a number of different rumours known about and present in the corpus: zoo animals on the loose; london eye on fire; miss selfridge on fire; rioters attack a children’s hospital in Birmingham. I will talk about that latter example. But we wanted to ask about how people use and understand and interpret social media in these circumstances, how they engage with rumous…

So this is about sociology in the age of “big data”. It calls for interpretive methods but we can’t do that at scale easily… so we need computational methods to focus scarce human resources. We could crowdsource some of this but at this scale that would still be a challenge…

So firstly lets look at the work of Savage and Burrows (2007) talked about the “coming crisis of empirical sociology” because the best sociology, as they saw it, was conducted by private companies who have the greatest and most useful data sets which sociologists could not rival nor access. However we might be more confident about the continuing relevance of social sciences… social media provides a lot of born digital data… maybe this should be entitled the “social data deluge”. There is a lot of data available, much of it freely available. Meanwhile lots of policy initiatives to promote open data in government for/by anyone with a legitimate usage for it. Perhaps we can be more confident about the future of academic sociology…

But if you see the purpose this data is put to, its a more mixed picture… so we see analysis of social media for stock market prediction. But here correlation is mistaken for causality. Perhaps more interesting are protest movements – like occupy wallstreet – or use of social media during the Egyptian revolution… It is a tool for political change, a way for citizens to acquire more freedom and change? Is it a movement to organise themselves? Lots of discussion of these contexts. Methodologically its a challenge of quantity, and methods that combine social science understanding with social media tools enabling analysis of large scale data…

So back to that rumour from the riots and that rumour of a children’s hospital being attacked in Birmingham. This requires thorough work with the data, but focused where it counts.

So, what sparked this off was someone tweeting that the police were assembling in large numbers outside the hospital… therefore the hospital must be under threat. A reasonable inference.

So, methodologically we undertook computational methods for analysing tweets in an active area of research: sentiment analysis; topic analysis. We combine a relatively simple tool looking at information flows… and then looking at flow from “opinion leaders” to others (e.g. RTs). Once that information flow analysis has been done we can then take those relative sizes to analyse that data, size as proxy for importance… this structure, we argue, is relatively useful for focusing human effort. And then we used coding frames for conventional qualitative methods of content analysis to understand how Twitter was used – to inductively analyse information flow content to develop a “code frame” of topics; use code frame to categorise inofrmation flows (e.g. agreement, disagreement, etc.); and then we used visualisation around that analysis of information flows…

So here we see that original tweet… you see the rumour mushroom, versions appear… bounding circles reflect information flows… and individuals and their influence… Initially tweets agree/repeat… and we then start to see common sense reasoning: those working or nearby dispute the threat, others point out that the police station is next door to the hospital thus providing alternative understanding. People respond and do not just accept the rumor as true… So rumours do break quickly BUT they are not neccassarily more vulnerable as versions and challenges quickly appear to provide alternative likely truth. That process might be more rapid with authoritative sources – media or police in this case – adding their voice. But false information may persist longer, with potential risk to public safety – see follow on Pheme project.

But I wanted to talk about authoritative sources again. The police and media and how they use social media. The question is what were the police doing on twitter at that time? Well another interesting case here… riots in Manchester led to people creating new accounts to draw attention to public bodies like the police, as an auxillery service to raise awareness of what was going on. Quite an interesting use of social meidia where these see something like this arising.

So what these examples demonstrate is innovation as a co-production… lots of people collectively experimenting, trying out things, learning about what social media can and cannot do. So I think it’s a prime example for sociologists. And we see uses are emergent, people learn as they use… and it continues to change and people reinvent their own uses… And we all do this, we have our own uses and agenda shaping our interactions.

So this work led to development of tools for use by social scientists… COSMOS involved James S, Ewan K, etc. from Edinburgh… It would be an error to assume social media can tell us everything that takes place in the world – this data goes with crime data, demographic data, etc. The aim of COSMOS is to forge interdisciplinary working between social and computing scientists. To provide open, sustainable platform for interoperable social media analysis tools. And refine and evolve capabilities, provide service models compatible with needs of diverse user communities.

There are existing tools out there for social media analysis… but many are blackbox systems, its hard to understand that process that is taking place. So we want those blackbox processes to be opened up, they are complex but can be understood and explored…

So the Cosmos Tools let you view timelines, to look at rates and flows… to look for selection based on keywords and hashtags… and to view the networks of who is tweeting… and to compare data with demographic data.

Also some experimental tools around geographical tools for clustering. The way people use Twitter can show geographical patterns. Another factor is about topic modelling, topic clustering… identifying tweets on the same topic. This is where NLP and Ewan and his colleagues in Informatics has become important.

So current research looking at: Social media and civil society – social media as digital agora; “hate” speech and social media – understanding users, networks and information flows –  a learning challenge here about people not understanding impact and implications of their comments, perhaps a misunderstanding of social media… ; citizen social science – harnessing volunteer effort; social media and predictions – crime sensing, data integration and statistical modelling; suicide clusters and social media; humanitariansim 2.0 – care for the future; BBC World Service – tweeting the olympics. And we have a wide range of collaborators and community engagement.

Let me briefly talk about social media as digital agora… may sound implausible… many talk about social media as a force for change… opportunities to promote democracy… not just in less democratic countries, but also democratic countries where processes don’t seem to work as well… So we are looking at social media in communicative, in smaller communities. And also thinking about social resiliance in a day to day small scale way… problems which if not managed may become bigger issues. For that we have studied Twitter in several locations, collected data, interviewed participants… and built up a network of communications. What is interesting, for instance, is that non governmental group @c3sc seems to have big impact. We have to see how this all plays out… deserves longitudinal approach…

So, to conclude… let me talk about the lessons for academic sociology… and I think it’s about sociology beyond the academy and the role of wider players. Firstly data journalism – was interested in Steven’s 1965 press accounts of the black out earlier. Perhaps nowadays the way journalists are being trained might change that… journalists are increasingly data savvy. We see this through Fact Check, through RealityCheck blog… through sourcing from social media. So is citizen journalism, used to gather evidence of what is happening… tools like Ushahidi… and a sense of empowerment for these communities… reminds me of notion of sousveillance… and the possibility of greater accountability… And Citizen Journalism in the expenses scandal – guardian recruited people to look at the expense claims. The journalists couldn’t do that externally… so recruited others.

So, citizen social science… in various ways (see Harris 2012 “Oh man, the crowd is getting an F in social science”. And Ken Benoit’s work discussed earlier… we see more people coming into social science understanding…

So the boundaries of social science research production are becoming more porous, social scientific knowledge production is changing, potentially becoming more open. These developments create an opportunity to reinvigorate the project for a “public sociology” – as per Burawoy (2005) and his call “For a public sociology”. to make sociology accountable to more people, to organisations, to those in power. Ethically we need to ask what is needed and wanted, how the agenda is set, how to deliver more meaningful and useful social sciences to the public.

How can we do that? New modes of scholarly communications, technology, but it’s not enough… we’ve also been working with a company on a  possible programme for the BBC where social media is used to reflect on the week, a knowledge transfer concept. Also knowledge transfer in the Pheme project – for discriminating false and true information… all quite conventional… but we need other pathways to impact… with people as sensors and interpreters of social life, training and capacity building – in ways we have not done before, and something that has emerged in science and citizen science has been the notion of workshops, hackathons, getting people engaged in using mundane technologies for their own research (e.g. Public Lab), we need something similar for tools, social media, to extract data they want for their purposes for their agenda… to create more public sociology that people can do themselves. And we need to also have an open dialogue about research problems.


Q: My question is about COSMOS and the riot rumours stuff… within COSMOS do you have space for formal input around ethics and law… you cut close to making people identifiable and locatable. And related to that… with police in those circles… may arouse suspicions about motives… for instance in Birmingham did police just monitor or did they tweet.

A: They did tweet but not on that rumour. It is an understandable concern that collaborations make powerful state actors more powerful… for us we want these technologies available for anyone to use them… not some exclusive arrangement, should be available to communities, third sector organisations… anyone who feels that social media may be important in their research

Q: I was more concerned about self-led vigilantes, those who might gang up on others…

A: A responsibility of civil society to be aware of those dangers, to have mechanisms to avoid harm. It does exist already… so if social media becomes instrument of that we have to respond and be aware – partly what hate speech project is about… Bigger learning problem is about conduct in social media space. And the probably issue that people don’t realise how conduct quickly becomes visible to much bigger group of others… and that relates to ethics… twitter is public domain space but when something is highlighted by others… we have to revisit the ethics issues time and again… for the study for the riots we did the usual clearance process… Like Ken we were told it was fine… but don’t make identifiable but that is nearly impossible in social media. Not an easy thing to resolve.

Q: I’m curious about changes in social media platforms and how that effects us… moves from facebook to twitter to snapchat to instagram… how does that become apparent, may be invisible, how do we track that..

A: There is a fundamental issue of sustainability of access to data from social media. Not too much of a problem to gather data if you design harvesting appropriately for their rate limits. In terms of other platforms, and people moving to them, and changes in modality and observability and accessibility of data… what social research needs is agreement with providers of data that, under certain conditions of access, that their data is available for research.. to make access for legitimate data easy. There are efforts to archive data – Library of Congress collects all tweets. Likely to allow access under license I think, to ensure access to platforms as use of platforms change…

Edinburgh Data Science initiative – Prof Dave Robertson, Head of School of Informatics

Sian Bayne quickly introducing Dave Robertson providing a coda to today’s session.

I’m just briefly going to talk about the Edinburgh Data Science Initiative. The ideas being data as the catalyst for change in multiple academic disciplines and business sectors.

So firstly the business side… big data can be very big and very fast… that can be off-putting in the humanities… And you don’t have to build something big to be part of this… I work in these areas but my models are small… and there is a stack you never see – economic and political side of this stuff.

And here’s the other one… this is about variety and velocity – a chart from IBM – looking at predictions of the volume of data and, more interestingly, the uncertainty of data… And the data sites in a few categories… Enterprise Data, loads of Social Media, and loads of Sensors (internet of things)… but uncertainty over aggregate data is getting hugely large… and that’s not in sphere of traditional engineering, or traditional business…

The next slide here is about architectures… this is topical… it’s IBM’s Watson system… this is the one that won Jeopardy… harvested loads of information and hypothesis generation… This stack starts with very computational stuff but the top layers look much more like humanities work and concepts…

Now technology and society interact. Often technology pushes on society. For instance if we look at Moore’s Law (memory in your computer doubles every year) mapped against the cost of mapping the human genome. It looks radically different, costs drop hugely in late 2000’s as a lot of effort is pushed in here. And that drop in cost to $1000 per unit… that is socially important… I could sequence my genome… maybe I don’t want to. You can sequence at population scales… machines generate a TB of data a week too – huge data being generated! And this works the other way around… sometimes technology gives you an inflection point and you have to keep up, sometimes society pushes back. A lot of time online is spent on social networks (allegedly 1/7)… now a unified channel for discovery and interaction… And the number of connected devices is zooming up…

So that’s the sort of thing that is pushing a lot of things… A lot of people have spoken to all the schools in the university… everyone reacts… you will find everyone recognising this… and you hear them saying “and it changes the way it makes me think about my research”. That’s so unusual to have such a common response…

Why this is important at Edinburgh… We have many interdisciplinary foundations at Edinburgh… All are relevant, no matter how data intensive, but we are well developed in interdisciplinary working…

And we have a whole data driven start up Ecosystem in Edinburgh… we have Silicon Walk (miicard, zonefox, etc.), Waverley Gate (Amazon, Microsoft), Appleton Tower (Informatics Ventures, feusd, Disney research, tigerface), Evo House (FlockEdu, Lucky Frame, etc), Quartermile (Skyscanner, IBM), Informatics, Techcube (FanDuel, Outplay, CloudSoft, etc.). A huge ecosystem here!

So, I’ll leave it there but input, feedback welcomed, just speak to myself and/or Kevin.

And that was it for the day…

Related resources:

 May 14, 2014  Posted by at 10:10 am Events Attended, LiveBlogs Tagged with: , , ,  1 Response »
Apr 032014

Today I am at the Digital Humanities: What does it mean? session at Teviot debating Hall. I will be running two workshops later but will LiveBlog others talks taking place today.

We are starting with an introduction from Jessica from Forum, who is explaining the background to today’s event, in exploring what digital humanities are and what it means to be a digital only journal.

The first speaker today is Lisa Otty

Lisa Otty – Digital Humanities or How I Learned to stop worrying and love the computer

I’m going to take “digital humanities, what does it mean?” In two ways. Firstly thinking about literal definitions, but also thinking more rhetorically about what this means.

Digital humanities generate many strong opinions and anxieties – hence my title borrowed from Dr strange love. So I want to move beyond the polemic to what digital humanities actually means to practitioners.

I want to ask you about the technologies you use… From word processing to Google books, to blogs, twitter, to Python and raspberry pis (by show of hands most use the former, two code, one uses a raspberry pi to build). There is a full spectrum here.

Wikipedia is probably the most widely used encyclopedia but I suspect most academics would still be sceptical about it… Can we trust crowdsourced information? Well it’s definition of digital humanities is really useful. What we should particularly take from this definition that it is a methodology, computational methods. Like critical theory it cross cuts different disciplines, which is why to slot into universities structures.

Chris Forster, on the HASTAC blog (9/8/2010), talks about digital humanities as about direct practical use of computational methods for research, of media studies new media, using technology in the classroom, and the way new technology is rescaling research and the profession – academic publishing, social media, and alt-ac (those academic-like but from outside traditional structures, eg based in support services).

So I’ve recrafted this a but. Digital humanities is about:

Research that uses computational methods and tools. Probably the most famous proponent of this is Franco Morello, who uses quantitative computational methods in his area of literature. This is work at large scale – often called scalable reading or distance reading. So for instance looking at British novelistic genres 1740-1900 he has created a visual representation of how these genres appear and disappear – frequently in clusters. Moretti says that this maps out the expectations of genres over time.

Similarly Moretti has visualised the characters in Hamlet and their deaths, mapping out that characters closely related to the king and closely related to polonium then you are toast. Now you could find that out by reading Hamlet, but with that approach you can go and explore other texts.

Research that studies digital objects/cultural. Lev Marovich has founded the concept of cultural analytics. For instance a recent project looks at people’s self portraits online, how they present themselves, how they describe themselves. They found women take more selfies than men, women take them in their early twenties, men in their thirties, and people I’m susan Paulo like to recline in their selfies – not sure what that part tells us!

Research that builds digital objects/tools. For instance the Carnegie Mellon Docuscope which looks for linguistic markers and rhetorical patterns. Interestingly colleagues at strathclyde using this tool found that structurally Othello is a comedy.

So you may be building tools for your discipline or area of research we also see tools built around digitised texts, such as Codex Simaiticus. This has been digitised using a process which photographs the texts in many didn’t light levels and conditions, including ultra violet light. This allows scholars to work with texts in new ways, to read previously inaccessible or delicate texts. And there are 3d imaging techniques too. So digital images have really important implications for humanities scholars, particularly in areas such as archeology.

This computation research fits into four key fields:
– digitisation and TEI, the latter a metadata mark up language which is really scholarly best practice to use. Whole projects are based around setting up details in TEI.
– mapping and data visualisation – like Moretti, georeferencing etc.
– text mining/topic modelling
– physical computing – a catch all for digital imaging and similar technologies

I wanted to now focus on some projects with a close association with this university.

– digitisation and TEI – the Modernist Versions project
– mapping and data visualisation – PLEIDES, extracted georeferenced texts from ancient classical texts
– text mining – Palimpsest uses text mining to georeferences references to places in texts to allow exploration in situ using mobile phones.
– physical computing – digital imaging unit at edinburgh university library is brilliant, has a fantastic blog, a rich resource.

So to the rhetorical aspects of DH.

Roberto Busa (1949-2005) undertook a visionary project with IBM, the Index Thomisticus. He was really the first person to connect text to the internet. The world of 2005 when that project went live was very different to 1949.

The term Digital humanities was coined in 2001. Computing was already about teaching, publishing, convergent practices… The definition of DH which relates the field to to a three ring circus really connects to Chris foresters definition.

By 2009 we reached a pivotal moment for digital humanities! it moved from emergent to established (Christine ?, UCLA). Some enthusiasts saw this as the future. But it generated a kind of equal and opposite reaction… Not everyone wants borders reshaped and challenged, they were already invested in their own methods. New methods can be daunting. What seemed most worrying was what digital humanities might bring with it. Anxieties arose from very real concerns…

There has been an encroachment of science and the precariousness of the humanities with medical humanities, cognitive humanities, neuro humanities, digital humanities. Here the rhetoric sees scientific methods as more valid than humanities. People like frank morello don’t help here. And to what extent do we use these scientific approaches to validate humanities work? I don’t think the humanities would be any less precarious if all used such approaches.

And there are managerial and financial issues, Daniel Allington, himself a digital humanities scholars. He describes humanities research as cheap, disadvantagious from two perspectives, both funders and universities. Sometimes theses projects can be about impact or trendiness, not always about the research itself. matthew tanbaum(?) describes it more tactfully, with DH as “tactical coinage”, acknowledging the reality of circumstances in which DH allows us to get things done, to put it simply.

And who is in DH? Generally it is a very gendered and a very white group. Typically teenage boys are the people who teach themselves to code. The terms can be inaccessible. It can be can seem to enforce privilegde. There are groups that are seeking to change this, but we have to be aware of the implications.

And those tools I showed before… Those are mainly commercial companies, as we all know if you do not pay for a service, you are the product, even the British newspaper archive is about digitising in order to charge via genealogy websites. DH has a really different relationship to business, to digital infrastructure. I want to tell you about this to explain the polemical responses to DH. And so that you understand the social, cultural and professional implications.

Geoffrey Harpham, in NEH bulletin (winter 2014) talk about research as being about knowledge but also the processes by which it is brought into being. We are all using digital tools. We just have to be conscious of what we are doing, what we are priviledging, what we are excluding. digital humanities scholars have put this well in a recent MIT publication. They point to questions raised:
– what haloens when anyone can speak and publish? What happens when knowledge credential in is no longer controlled solemnly by institutions of higher learning?
– who can create knowledge?

I liken this time to the building of great libraries in the nineteenth century. We have to be involved and we really have to think about what it means to become digital. We need to shape this space in critical ways, shaping the tolls we need.

Matthew Kirshenbaum talks about digital humanities as mobile and tactical signifier. He talks about the field as a network topology. DH, the keyword, the tag, constantly changes, is constantly redefined.

And in a way this is why Wikipedia is the perfect place to seek a definition, it is flexible and dynamic.

Digital Humanities has to also be flexible, it is up to all of us to make it what we want it to be.


Q1) is this an attempt for humanities to redefine itself to survive?
A1) it’s an important areas. The digital humanist does work collaboratively with the sciences. The wrong approach is to be staking out you space and defending it, collaborative work is tactical. So many post phd roles are temporary contracts around projects. We can’t just maintain the status quo, but we. Do have to think strategically about what we do, and be critical in thinking about what that means.

Q2) coming back to your Wikipedia comment, and the reinforcement of traditional privilege… I’ve become increasingly aware that Wikipedia can also be replicating traditional structures. Wikipedian in residence legitimises Wikipedia, but does it not also potentially threaten the radical nature of the space?
A2) you’ve put your finger on the problem, I think we are all aware of the gender bias in Wikipedia. And those radical possibilities, and threats are important to stay on top of, and that includes understanding what takes place behind the scenes, in order to understand what that means.

Q3) I wanted to ask about the separate nature of some of those big digital humanities centre
A3) in the USA there are some huge specialist centres at UCLS, university of Victoria, Stanford, create hugely specialist tools which are freely available but which attract projects and expertise to their organisation. In a way the lack of big centres here does make us think more consciously about what digital humanities is. I was speaking to Andrew Prescott about this recently and he thinks the big DH centres in the UK will disappear and that it will be dispersed across humanities departments. But it’s all highly political and we. Have to be aware of the politics of these tools and organisations when we Use and engage with them.

Q4) given we all have to put food on the table, how can we work with what is out there already – the Googles of the world who do hire humanities experts for instance.
A4) I didn’t mean to suggest google is bad, they are good in many ways. But DH as a tactical term is something that you can use for your benefit. It is a way to get into a job! That’s perfectly legitimate. There are very positive aspects to the term in terms of deployment and opportunities.

Q5) how do you get started with DH?
A5) a lot of people teach themselves… There are lots of resources and how too guides online. There is Stanford’s “tooling up for the digital humanities”, Roy rosewhite centre has DH tools. Or for your data you can use things like Voyant Tolls. Lots of eresoures online. Experiment. And follow DH people on twitter. Start reading blogs, read tutorials of how to do things. Watch and learn!

Q6) are there any things coming up you can. Recommend?
A6) yes, we have an event coming up on 9th June. Informations coming soon. You can sign up for that to see presentations, speak to scholars about DH, and there will be a bidding process for a small amount of money to. Try these tools. And there is also a DH network being established by institutions across Scotland so look out for news on that soon!

And with that I ran two workshops…

Panel Session

We have Jo Shaw chairing, Ally Crockford! Anna Groundwater, James Loxley! Louise Settle, Greg Walter

My project is not very digital, and largely Inhumane! I think I’m here to show you what not to do! My project is theatrical, the only 16th century play form Scotland to survive. It had never been performed since 1554. We kind of showed why that was! It is 5 and can half hours long… We got a director, actors, etc. funding to do this, and why is so hard to do financially. So we set up a website, Staging and Representing the Scottish Renaissance Court, with HD video that can be edited and manipulated. Endless blogging, twittering, and loads fore sources for teachers etc. and we have local dramatic groups who are taking the play up. The Linlithgow town Players are performing it all next year for instance


This is incomplete but my project is called digital manipulation a, grew out of AHRC project with surgeons hall in edinburgh. The city is first UNESCO city of literature but medically it is also historically one of the most important cities in the world. So makes some sense to look at those two factors together. So my site, a mock up, is Dissecting Edinburgh. A digital project, based on omeka, designed for non IT specialists but it’s still pretty tough to use actually. They have plugins and extensions. Bit like wordpress but more designed for academic curation. For instance have an extension that has been used to map literary connections between real locations and HP Lovecrafts work. And you can link sources to comment back to full text. And you can design “exhibitions” based on keywords or themes. Looking for similarities in sources, etc.mthat is the hope of what it will look like… Hopefully!

My IASH project uses historical GIS to map crime from 1900 to 1939. Looking at women’s experiences, and looking at policing. Geography became important which is how I came to use GIS. I used edinburgh Map Builder… Although if you aren’t looking just at Edinburgh you can use Digimap which has full UK coverage. I wasn’t technically minded but I came to use these tools because of my research. So I got my data from court records and archives… And out that into GIS, plot them on the map, see what changes and patterns occur. Changes appear… And suggest new questions… Like plotting entertainment venues etc. and I’ve used that in papers, online etc. I’m also working with MESH: mapping edinburghs social history which is a huge project looking at living, dying, making, feeding, drinking… Huge scale project on Edinburgh.

This is a blog site plus I suppose. This was a project Anna and I were working on from 2011-2013 based on a very long walk that Ben Jonson took. I was lucky enough to turn up a manuscript by his travelling companion. I was exploring a text, annotating it, summarising it, and creating a book… But Anna had other ideas and we found new digital tools to draw out elements of the account… Despite being about a writer and a poet it’s much more a documentary account of the journey itself. So within the blog we were able to create a map of the walk itself…. With each point a place that Jonson and his companion visited. This was all manually created with google maps. It was fun but time consuming. Then created a database used for this map. And then there markers for horse or coaches. We worked with Dave in our college we team to help with this who was great at bringing this stuff together. For each place you could find the place, the dates visited, distance form last point, details of food of drink etc. sort of tabulated the walk… And that plays to the strengths of the texts. And we could calculate Jonsons preferred walking speed… Which seemed to be thresh miles per hour – seems unlikely as he was in his forties and 20stone according to other accounts at the time…

Anyway in addition we used the blog to track the walk, each going live relative to the point that Jonson and his companion had reached. And the points on the map appeared to the same schedule – gave people a reason to go back and revisit…

The most fun was the other bit…


I’m going to talk a bit about how we did that I real time. We want edit o be creative… Because we didn’t want to do the walk! And so ewe tweeted in real time, using modernised version (and spelling) of the text in the voice of the travelling companions,and. Chunked up into the appropriate portions of the day. It felt more convincing and authentic because it was so fixed and authentic in terms of timing. (See @benjonsonswalk). We did it on trace book as well. And tweets showed on the blog so you could follow from tweet to blog… It unfolded in real time and always linked back to more detail about Ben Jonsons walk on the blog.

Now… It was an add on to the project. Not in original AHRC blog. Just built it in. It was 788 tweets. It was unbelievably time consuming! We preloaded the tweets on Hootsuite. So preloaded but we could then interact as needed. Took a month to set up. And once up and running you have to maintain it. Between us we did that. But it was 24/7. You have to reply, you have to thank them for following. We got over 1200 followers engaging. Fun bit was adding photos to tweets and blog of, say, buildings from that time that still stand. What I wasn’t expecting was what we got back from the public… People tweeted or commented with information that we didn’t know… And that made it into the book and is acknowledged. It was real Knowledge Exchange in practice!

James: the twitter factor got us major media interest from all the major newspapers, radio etc. madden. Big impact.

Anna: Although more and more projects will be doing these things, we did have a novelty factor.

Jo: what was the best thing and the worst thing about what happens?

Greg: best thing wasn’t digital, it was working with ac tors. Learned so much working together. Worst thing was… Never work with trained ravens!

Ally: best thing is that I’m quite a nerd so I love finding little links and. Connections… I found out that Robert Louis Stevenson was friends with James Demoson (?) daughter, he had discovered cloroform… Lovely comments in her texts about Stevenson, as a child watching her father at work from out of his window. Worst thing is that I’m a stickler and a nerd, ow ant to start from scratch and learn everything and how it works…. The timeload is huge.

Louise: best thing was that I didn’t know I was interested in maps before, so that’s been brilliant. Worst part was having to get up to speed with that and make data fit the right format…but using existing tools can be super time saving.

James: best thing was the enthusiasm of people out there, I’m a massive nerd and Ben Jonson fan… Seeing others interest was brilliant. Particularly when you got flare ups and interest as Ben Jonson went through their home town… Worst bit was being heckled by an incredibly rude William Shakespeare on twitter!

Anna: the other connection with shakespeare was that Jonson stayed at the george at Huntingdon. You have to hashtag everything so ewe hashtagged the place. We got there… The manager at The George write back to say that they stage a Shakespeare play every year in the courtyard. They didn’t know Jonson had stayed there… Love this posthumous meeting!

Q: what’s come across is how much you’ve learned and come to understand what you’ve been using. Wondered how that changed your thinking and perhaps future projects…

Anna: we were Luddites (nerdy geeky Luddites) but we learned so so much! A huge learning process. The best way to learn is by doing it. It’s the best way to learn those capabilities. You don’t have to do it all. Spot what you can, then go to the write person to help. As to the future… We were down in Yorkshire yesterday talking about a big digital platform across many universities working on Ben Jonson. Huge potential. Collaboration potential exciting. Possibly Europe wide, even US.

Ally: it can change the project… I looked at omeka… I wanted to use everything but you have to focus in on what you need to do… Be pragmatic, do what you can in the time, can build on it later…

Jo: you are working on your own, would co working work better?

Ally: would be better if cross pollinations cross multiple researchers working together. Initially I wanted to see what I can do, if I admin generate some interest. Started off with just me. Spoke to people at NLS, quite interested in directing digitisation in helpful ways. Now identifying others to work with… But I wanted to figure out what I can do as a starting point…

Louise: MESH is quite good for that. They are approaching people to do just part of what’s needed… So plotting brothel locations and I’d already done that… But there were snippets of data to bring in. Working with a bigger team is really useful. Linda who was at IASH last year is doing a project in Sweden and working on those projects has given me confidence to potentially be part of that…

Greg: talking about big data for someone and they said the key thing is when you move from where the technology does what you can, and moves into raising new questions, bringing something new… So we are thinking about out how to make miracle play with some real looking miracles in virtual ways…

Jo: isn’t plotting your way through a form of big data…?

Greg: it’s visualising something we had in our head… Stage one is getting play better known. When we. Get to stage two we can get to hearing their responses to it too…

Anna: interactions and crowdsourcing coming into the research process, that’s where we are going… Building engagement into the project… Social media is very much part of the research process..there are some good English literature people doing stuff. Some of Lisa Otty’s work is amazing. I’m developing a digital literature course… I’ve been following Lisa, also Elliot Lang (?) at strathclyde… Us historians are maybe behind the crowd…

Ally: libraries typically one step ahead of academics in terms of integrating academic tools and resources in accessible formats. So the Duncan street caller lets you flick through floor plans of john murray archive. It’s stunning. It’s a place to want to get to…

James Loxley: working on some of these projects has led to my working on a project with colleagues from informatics, with St. Andrews and with edina to explore and understand how edinburghs cityscape has evolved through literature. Big data, visualisation… Partly be out finding non linear, non traditional ways into the data. This really came from understanding Ben Jonsons walk text in a different structure, as a non linear thing

Q: what would you have done differently

Louise: if I’d known how the data had to be cleaned and structured up front, I’d have done it that way to start with… Knowing how I’d use it.

Ally: I think it would have had a more realistic assessment of what I needed to do, and done more research about the work involved. Would have been good to spends. Few months to look at other opportunities, people working in similar ways rather than reinventing the wheel.

Greg: in a previous project we performed a play at Hampton court, our only choice. We chose to make the central character not funny… In a comedy… A huge mistake. Always try to be funny…

Anna: I don’t think we messed up too badly…

James: I’d have folder funding into the original bid…

Anna: we managed to get some funding for the web team as pilot project thankfully. But yes, build it in. Factor it in early. I think it should be integral, not an add on.

Q: you mentioned using databases…. What kinds have you used? Acid you mentioned storify… Wondered how you used? What is immersive environment for the drama?

Greg: I don’t think it exists yet.a. Discussion at Brunel between engineers, and developers and my collaborator…

Ally: I think there is a project looking in this area…

Louise: I used access for my database…

James: to curate map data we started in excel…. Then dave did magic to make it a google map. Storify was to archive those tweets, to have a store of that work basically…

Anna: there are courses out there. Take them. I went on digimap courses, ARCGIS, social media courses which were really helpful. Just really embrace this stuff. And things change so fast….

And with that we draw to a close with thank yous to our speakers….


 April 3, 2014  Posted by at 1:57 pm Uncategorized Tagged with: , , , ,  No Responses »
May 142013

This year I have the great honour of being Chairing Repository Fringe 2013 (#rfringe13), the annual unconference on all things repository related. There will be several posts appearing here over the coming months in the lead up to our three days (31st July – 2nd August 2013) of repository ideas and fun and that kicks off today as I’m excited to say that registration is now open!

Now, as my job title is Social Media Officer, you may be wondering about the connection between repositories and social media. However, I have been involved in the organisation of Repository Fringe for some years now both because of my own event amplifying skills (I wrote a book chapter on amplification of Repository Fringe 2009), but also because social media is increasingly important for link sharing, for scholarly discourse, for information discovery. That makes social media increasingly important for publications, for research impact and for the use and visibility of materials deposited in repositories of all flavours – see, for example Melissa Terra’s April 2012 post for the LSE Impact of Social Sciences’ blog on the impact of blogging and tweeting research papers ).

Repository Fringe also embodies many of the core social media values of enabling community participation and authorship. The event is designed by and for the repository community and everyone who registers (free of charge) is encouraged to participate at every level of the event, from organising, to presenting, to amplifying and, of course, socialising. For me this has always made each event an opportunity to use or try out social media with a really up-for-it community – who picked up and embraced Twitter early, are always keen to share their images, presentations and expertise; who surface new ideas and great new ways to use these technologies in their own professional contexts; and who always provide thoughtful questions and reflections on the ways in which repositories and social media can work together.

So, if you have an interest in repositories then please do register for this year’s event. And otherwise expect a few more posts on how we are using social media this year, why we have chosen to use the combination of social spaces we have, and what we have learned from this year’s event.

Oct 042012

This post is my contribution to the JISC Project Communications Workshop taking place on Friday 5th October 2012 for the rather marvellous projects in the Content funding strand. The JISC Communications team have asked me to come up with an inspiring 10 minute presentation on social media. I’ve decided to focus on what I think is inspiring about engaging people in your project – and how that can benefit a project. Ten minutes isn’t enough to cover every aspect of social media of course so I’ve focused on my ideas for great engagement and am hoping for lots of fantastic questions and comments on your ideas and experiences.

So, without further ado here is my presentation (it may take a few moments for the video to load):

YouTube Preview Image

Well, what did I miss?

I would love to know what you think I may have missed out, what you would have liked to see, or questions about some of the ideas and examples in that video. Here are some key points that I think I may have missed

  • Make your posts sharable. You might do this by adding sharing buttons to each post on a blog (via an AddThis or ShareThis plugin for instance), by encouraging people to like an update or contribute comments, etc. You can also do this by making sure that key people know you have posted something of interest in their particular area – doing this directly and infrequently can be a very effective way of reaching new audiences.
  • Spread the word. Make sure you always share your own posts or updates. For blogs you could do this by emailing those interested in the project (but don’t do this too frequently), it might be through allowing individuals to join a mailing list or receive an alert for new updates – or to like a page or follow an account for news. It may just mean adding URLs to your online presences in your print materials or mentioning them in talks and presentations. No matter how you do it you need to make sure that those you wish to communicate with have plenty of opportunity to find your updates but don’t feel bombarded with emails or updates.
  • Record and measure what you are doing. You might do this using screen captures of key tweets, Google Analytics on a blog, Facebook Insights on a project’s Facebook page, etc. You can also use tools like Storify, If This Then That, and the TAGS explorer to help capture the conversation around your project – social media is as much about listening as it is about talking.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In addition to the JISC Legal, Netskills, etc. you can also ask your social media audiences for help – what they might want to see more of, social media tools they might like to see you using. And you can use guest posts, key advocates comments, etc. to help you keep your social media presences lively, relevant, to help you find new ideas for content. You will also find useful guides to specific types of social media online – how to podcast, how to liveblog, etc.
  • Be timely, connect your work to current affairs when appropriate. This can be a hugely effective way to show your relevance to others work, to the world at large. It’s something we try to do with the JISC MediaHub blog – for instance our posts on the Paralympics and the current Tate Pre-Raphaelite exhibition.
And I think that’s all I want to add for now aside for some useful links from the presentation and video which you may find useful when thinking about your own social media presences.


So, it’s over to you – whether you are at the workshop or just reading this on my blog I’d love to know your questions about using social media for communicating projects, research etc. Either post them below as comments or tweet them to the workshop hashtag #jiscpcw and I will respond on Twitter from my account, @suchprettyeyes.

If you have specific questions about using Flickr you are also welcome to find me and comment/message me there as Eurovision_Nicola. If you have questions about one of our specific presences feel free to comment on the appropriate channels: RepoFringe (includes OR2012 content), AddressingHistory or JISC GECO accounts.


Useful Resources 


Aug 312012
The OR2012 Pinterest page showing how images are collated and used.

In How to LiveBlog Part 1 I discussed why you should LiveBlog your event. But once you’ve decided that you will be LiveBlogging how do you actually go about it?  Well…

1. Be Prepared

To borrow a catchy phrase from the boy scouts (and Tom Lehrer) you should always be prepared!

For liveblogging there are several essential bits of preparation which will make your life much much easier:

  • Decide what you will be LiveBlogging – if you are one of the event organisers then talk with your colleagues about what will be useful to capture, what might not be appropriate to cover. Usually you can assume that talks and presentations will be fine to LiveBlog. It can be tempting to decide to cover the main content rather than any question and answer sessions but I would always recommend capturing question sessions – they are the easiest way to add value to an event write up as they are the least easy to capture part of the event (and may be absent from recordings, others’ notes, and obviously are not covered by slides), and they tend to add the most value to a session – surfacing all the issues, awkward questions and surprises that are often absent in a main presentation. Continue reading »
Aug 292012
ScreenShot of the OR2012 LiveBlog showing the introductory paragraph and my LiveBlog style.

After working on amplification of big events this year, the most notable being Open Repositories 2012,  I thought it would be a good time to share some of my tips for liveblogging and why that should be part of a plan for social media amplification of a variety of events. As I’ve also just been asked for advice on LiveBlogging I thought that would be a really useful topic to talk about. In this post, part one of  two, I’ll be telling you why I think LiveBlogging is so useful. Tomorrow, in part two, I’ll share my top ten practical tips for LiveBlogging. Continue reading »

 August 29, 2012  Posted by at 2:59 pm How to..., Social Media at EDINA Tagged with: , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Apr 272012

It’s been a while since I posted an actual blog post rather than a liveblog and I thought it might be useful to summarise some interesting new social media news that has emerged over the last few weeks. It’s in no particular order but should hopefully be of interest.

Friends Reunited re-launches. One of the very first social networks has made a very unlikely comeback recently. Friends Reunited was the Facebook of it’s day (around 2001-3) encouraging old school friends to connect and post messages on each others walls. It had a real following in the UK but it didn’t develop fast enough and when it was sold from it’s private owners to ITV it really went into decline. However with the visual appeal of Tumblr, Pinterest and HistoryPin in mind and the massive appeal of family history as a new focus the site has relaunched in a new visual nostalgic style. Those used to frequenting Mum’s Comfort Food (formerly Monster Mash) in Edinburgh will instantly be used to the look and feel which is a bit like iPlayer in I Love the 1980s mode. And a fascinating footnote: Freindsreunited are manually retrieving login details for users who can no longer remember their logins, email addresses, passwords etc. It’s notable only because it’s rare a site is around so long it justifies doing that. Although from my first login there it looks like the masses have not returned to Friendsreunited (yet) despite the press coverage.

HistoryPin adds lots of new features! Chief amongst these are Channels which allow significant customisation and aggregation of contributions. A lovely idea for individuals, local history groups etc. We were lucky enough to have Rebekkah from HistoryPin along at a JISC GECO workshop on Geospatial in the Cultural Heritage Domain last month – you see the notes from her talk – which included sneak previews of the new Channels – over on the GECO LiveBlog for the event.

Facebook launches Timeline for Pages. Anyone with a Facebook page will know by now that the old style pages rolled over to the new style Timeline on 31st March 2012. The new look and feel will be very familiar to anyone looking at friends profiles over the last few months (personal profiles having rolled over around January).  Whilst the responses to personal timelines seems to have been quite mixed I think the new format work rather well for Pages and I haven’t seen much in the way of criticism – although inevitably looking around for familiar elements takes a wee bit of getting used to.

One of the most fun parts of the new format Facebook pages is the ability to add “Covers” – large images (851px by 315px – very similar to many WordPress theme banner sizes) which have presumably been labelled as “Covers” to appeal both to those who create elaborate scrapbooks and photo albums as well as those who wish they’d been in a rock band. We’ve now got Covers in place for all of our Facebook pages – why not take a look at the EDINA AddressingHistory Page and Digimap Page both of which use nice geospatial images:

Digimap's Facebook Page showing the new Timeline.

We actually try to keep a collection of images of events, services, etc. for just these sorts of times. A number of us at EDINA are pretty decent photographers and tend to take Digital SLRs to events anyway so we make a concious effort to capture our own high resolution images that are specific to us and our work so that when it comes to sharing images, illustrating blog posts or reports, etc. we have suitable images to hand. For AddressingHistory and JISC GECO, both of which were both very much about engaging the community and encouraging them to blog we’ve found Flickr accounts really useful – sharing images of materials and events lets others out on the web create more engaging posts and talk about our projects. Talking of images…

Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion. Old news now but still worth noting. The story has mainly been reported from a “is this the new dot com bubble” perspective which is hardly surprising as the purchase does value a free iPhone app at more than the value of subscription-based New York Times. However looking at this a bit more pragmatically it’s not quite such a daft purchase. Facebook has paid “cash and shares” and with the Facebook IPO coming up very soon it’s possible those shares are a big part of the payment and being valued highly. More importantly Instagram has a lot of the design and hipster chic that Facebook lacks, useful in itself, and will bring with it a user base and their photos – since images are, in my experience, some of the most productive sources of interaction on Facebook, that’s also significant. Instagram’s main function is to make fairly mediocre phone images look quirky, nostalgic, and tangible in a hard to explain sort of way. Adding that functionality to the photo sharing and storing aspects of Facebook seems like a good move as more of us move to experiencing the site almost exclusively on smartphones or tablets. On a sort of related note a very good recent(ish) Planet Money podcast talked about the longtail of the app economy with the founder of Instapaper.

Pinterest sees rapid growth and claims 97% of fans are female (see piece in Forbes and stats on TechCrunch). If Pininterest has passed you by so far you may be more than a little surprised at the number of new users it’s attracted in a very short time. The idea is very simple and rather familiar if you’re used to using Tumblr, the Flipboard iPad app, the new(ish) Delicious Stacks, Flickr Galleries, Storify, and any number of more obscure Web2.0 sites.  Pinterest is essentially a virtual pinboard for images – you can also add short comments and share those links/images. It’s a very basic idea but engaging because it is so visual, easy to use, and the interface is based on big buttons, easy browsing etc.  Like many predecessors it’s a custom magazine for the web but, unlike many of those, it also has a big user community. And for reference websites with no “pinnable” images cannot be pinned/saved/shared so it’s a great reminder to always include a good image on your webpresences – particularly if you can share something eyecatching!

Citizen Olympics Reporting. Two recent and exciting citizen reporting initiatives have been kicked off recently. The first and larger is #media2012, a reporting network for the Olympics. They held a recent kick off meeting which you can read about here. There is also an associated project to provide crowdsourced blog coverage of the Scottish arm of the torch relay which goes by the name CitizenRelay. Read more about getting involved here.

And finally… EDINA has a new LinkedIn page! If you head over there you can start following us for updates and news. And if you are a current or former staffer here do update your profile to create a connection back to the page. We’ve actually been planning to create a LinkedIn page for a while so it’s really good to see it live!

And even more finally… Our Will’s World project (#willdiscover) has launched and is contributing data for this year’s Culture Hack Scotland. The data is here in case you’re interested but there will be much more on that to follow…


Mar 092012

I am just about to take part in the RSP webinar on Web 2.0, Creative Commons Licenses and Orphan Works being run by Prof. Charles Oppenheim.

This is the first free RSP – Repositories Support Project – webinar and we are just hearing an introduction from Nancy Pontika. The webinar is being recorded and both the PowerPoint and the webinar recording will be available online after the event. For that reason I’ll just be taking summary notes here and linking to the recording when it goes live.

Charles is now beginning here. This talk is based on one to the UK Electronic Information Group – it was one of two and we will be having a second webinar on the other title as well. He assumes those listening are

Charles is using a definition of Web 2.0 from Wikipedia – I note that Time Berner-Lee calls Web 2.0 “a piece of jargon” – which is fair enough to the extent that it is all built from existing technology. The key difference is the interaction between users.

There are some novel copyright issues here though. There are multiple collaborative players, and related to that, it is often international with contributors all over the world. In many web 2.0 situations few of the people involved know about or care about copyright – indeed Charles says some of them have contempt for copyright.

Copyright does have provision for jointly owned works: this is where the work is jointly owneed when more than one person has collaborated in the work’s creation and it is impossible or difficult to distinguish who contributed what. So an email thread may be jointly owned for instance but usually they would be a set of smaller singly owned copyright. But something like Wikipedia is clearly jointly owned – many contributors editing each others work. But the problem is that when you have something jointly owned any one party, any one contributor has a veto – they must all agree to the licensing of the outputs. No reply to a request also has to be taken as a veto. And that point actually extends to copyright in general. When you ask to use material there are three possible answers: yes, no, and no answer. Only a “yes” means you can use the material. So if 9 out of 10 copyright owners approve reuse of material but the tenth does not then that material cannot be reused.

The lifetime of copyright in most work is typically 70 years after the last of the joint owners have died. It could be a very very long time. So if any of you are involved in Web 2.0 tools it would be good to have terms and  conditions that do allow appropriate licensing for their material.

Other issues with web 2.0 is the difficulty of policing such sites – so on something like YouTube there are many many content owners and only some motivated to police that. Again Charles says that many Web 2.0 users have contempt for copyright. And he also draws us to the notion of “Vicarious Liability”, which means that things done by employees/students may have legal repurcussions for the employer/institutions, who may not have been aware of what was going on – and that applies to everything, not just Web 2.0. The risk is high in Web 2.0 because of the risk of copyright infringement.

Moral rights allow the author “Paternity right” – but you must assert that. If you do then you are the author of that work and your name must also be associated with that work. You also have a moral right to protect yourself from “false attribution” where that could damage your reputation etc. More importantly there is also “derogatory treatment” – a protection for using your work in any way that misrepresents you, quotes you out of context etc. Note that moral rights cannot be assigned to someone else. But they can be waived. Moral rights are very important in a Web 2.0 environment – you need to identify authors, to make sure you quote them appropriately etc.

There are also Performers Rights – these cover things like musical performances, dances, acting, lectures, etc. You must ask permission before making or reproducing copies of the performance – and the performer can choose whether or not to grant that. A podcast is a recording of a performance. To give you an example of a case at loughborough – a professor in an engineering department sent Charles a video on YouTube that was prefaced by a comment “the world’s worst lectuer” – it was a clip taken in a lecture on a mobile phone, showed some of the audience. It wasn’t a great lecture but that’s not the point, this infringes his performers rights. I replied that yes, it is infringing your performers rights as only you can give permission to record (except in the case of a student with a disability to use for their own studies), and certainly you shouldn’t add it to YouTube before getting permission!

If this all alarms you then help is at hand – there are a whole set of webpages from the Web2Rights project, a JISC funded project ( to help people with legal problems associated with Web 2.0. It’s such a good resource that it’s useful for any legal and copyright issues around Web 2.0 or other digital  information. It includes a ToolKit that gives all kinds of background information. It can help you look at all sorts of IPR and Licensing Issues. And the whole website is provided under a Creative Commons licence. You can use, adapt, remix, rebrand etc. as useful. You can implement policies in your institution etc. You just need to attribute the source. There are tools for Library and Information Services staff and policy teams.

That site also looks at Risk Management. In general copyright is all about managing risk. You have to be proportionate and pragmatic – be diligent and reasonable. You may be happy to take a low risk, but if something is very high risk you probably will not want to do that. Strategies should reflect and be reflected by employer policies – some organisations are much more risk averse than others. You also need to educate your users about copyright and avoiding infringing behaviour. If you do find you receive a complaint on infringing copyright then most importantly you must respond and take some sort of action – don’t ignore it or do nothing.

To mitigate risk you need to make sure you have mechanisms to take down content and do this whenever you receive a complaint. Then you should look at whether the claim is substantiated or not – it may be that you put the content back again, that may just require you to attribute the content, or there may be a fee for use, or it may be that it has to be removed. You should apologise as appropriate, have a rapid take down procedure and be aware that organisations usually have insurance that may help with charges/royalty fee issues.

So, onto Creative Commons. Lets start with a reminder of how you can copy under normal copyright law. There are exceptions within the copyright law – use for fair dealing, ability to make a single copy etc. Secondly you can use material where the owner has explicitly waived copyright – or has given a Creative Commons or similar free licence. Or you can buy a licence from the copyright owner or someone who acts on its behalf – Copyright Licensing Agency, ERA licence for television recordings etc. But I’m going to focus on Creative Commons.

A reminder of what a licence is, the copyright owner or his/her/its authorised representative (licensor) grants licensee rights to do certain restricted acts. In return fees are (often) paid. Terms and conditions are imposed – you must follow them, or be in breach of the licence and may be infringing. If you have a paid-for licence than you may be covered by indemnity – so the licensor should deal with any claims for infringing in theory. One of the most important licences is Creative Commons.

Firstly there is a website for Creative Commons: If something has a CC licence then you may copy that content at no charge as long as you attribute creator. There may be other limitations which we will come back to. CC licences apply to text, sound effects, music, images, moving images, most any electronic format. To find licences materials there are many sources – Google, Google Images, Mediahub (for HEIs and FEIs only), Flickr, YouTube, much of the content on Google Scholar as well. Many of the Wikimedia (including Wikipedia) materials are on CC licences. In many cases you find these materials through advanced search options. But BEWARE! many people share things under CC that they are not entitled to so you must exercise common sense. So if you find a clip of a recent football match or a BBC programme on YouTube and it says it is CC licenced then it’s pretty unlikely the person who uploaded that has the rights to share that. Be sensible.

There are a number of CC licence types. The base line type is to copy and disseminate the work without changes and as long as you give attribution (CC-BY). So you can use the content but must give the author/licensor credit. You may also find that work has a CC-BY-NC licence – you may only use work for Non-Commercial purposes – there have been court cases here, with glossy magazines using images for instance where the author has had their licence breached and must be paid damages. You may fine that you have a CC-BY-ND licence – this means there may be No Derivatives. Or a CC-BY-SA – this means you must Share-Alike – you must share anything you do with an item under the same licence term.

CC licensed work is very useful – for presentations, for teaching materials, etc. And it’s a great way to share your own work with others.

Now, onto Orphan Works. These are anything that is in copyright but you cannot identify or trace the owner so cannot get permission to copy/permission. This is a growing problem, especially with uploading of content online. A likely solution in the future would be to use licences where funds are put in a pot for rights holders to claim – so you pay a fee and that fee is kept so that if the copyright owner comes forth they can be awarded some money from that pot of money. A big question arises here – in the majority of cases the owner will not come forward in which case the money will build up and how can that be dealt with?

The EU has issues a draft Directive on Orphan Works along these lines but it only covers text and some limited film works. It may not get passed but will certainly take a long time to come into force even if it does. Meanwhile Hargreaves has made some proposals likely to occur earlier and which are a bit more wide ranging. That is the current (vague) legislative position here.

Believe it or not even ancient works (e.g. a cuniform tablet) are still “in copyright” if they have just been found. Again Hargreaves has recommendations there. Obviously from a risk management perspective that would be a low risk issue though.

Hargreaves is a professor at Cardiff University who David Cameron asked to look at copyright law. He has recommended a new exception for orphan works for non-commercial use, with licensing bodies to administer (perhaps Copyright Tribunal). He also suggested the lifetime of copyright for unpublished or anonymous/pseudonymous works to life of author plus 70 years, or 70 years from data of creation. He does recommend requirement for a “diligent search” – before paying a fee to the licensing centre – but it’s not clear what the criteria for such a search would be . And it’s not clear what happens if someone comes forward as an author – they will get fees for prior use but can they block future use for instance?

And there is suggestion of a Possible Extended Collective Licensing schemes – so that colelcting societies c overing a majority of rightsholders in their media can offer licenes for c oprying materials not currently in their repertoise. And this could potentially include orphan works. OR there could be a special Orphan Works Licensing Agency.

Finally the IPO is to develop plans for a “copyright opinions service” in early 2012 for anyone, perhaps specifically/only educational institutions worried that they might be infringing. But this may not happen, the IPO are not keen on it. And there was to be a White Paper with proposed legislation in “Spring 2012” but it will be much later than that and Orphan Works may or may not be included as the independent photographers groups really don’t like the orphan works part of Hargreaves recommendations.


Q1) In terms of vicarious responsibility – surely the employer isn’t responsible for all actions of employees and students and what they do in their personal lives?

A1) It must somehow be related to their employer responsibilities. If a student it’s about using the organisations facilities. So as an employee my personal conduct isn’t in scope. But if I do something at home related to my work role then that would be in scope. And if I do something personal on work computers the organisation can be liable. And with students it’s clearly about facilities. So it must be related to role, or use of facilities supplied by the institution.

Q2) Where do you draw the line between performance or conversation caught on camera – does the law differentiate?

A2) The law doesn’t differentiate exactly. But the law see performance as something that involved pre-planning. So improvised Jazz, some have argued, isn’t pre planned – though I’m not sure I agree. Lectures and concerts are clearly pre planned, schedules etc. There was a case the other day of someone who had created diagrams and graphs and had put them on camera as part of the talk – the question was whether those diagrams etc. enjoyed performers rights. I’m not at all sure. So there is a debate whether football recording infringes performance rights – the moves are not planned! But a conversation… well a pre planned interview would have performers rights but a chance conversation might not qualify.

Q3) Is there a list of organisations that are particularly copyright sensitive and will chase you always?

A3) There are some that usually persue: the film industry, the music industry, some publishers such as John Wiley, Ordnance Survey (happy to grant licenses but don’t do something without those or outside the terms. Some subject areas are dodgy such as business – you have various tests, questionnaires to measure personality or ability to negotiate or stages in marketings etc. and the copyright owners of those are very aggresive. The Honey and Mumford Test is a good example. Sheetmusic is aggresive. Andrew Lloyd Webber is very aggressive. No master list though.

Q4) Do performer and moral rights apply to work undertaken for your employer?

A4) You cannot assign your moral rights but if you create something for your employee duties there simply are no moral rights – so lecture notes here for instance. Performers rights are always retained by the individual not with the institution whether or not that is part of your employee duties. So an employer cannot on insist on recording an employees duties. So a university cannot insist on podcasting your lectures for instance. However even though legally in the right there may be plenty of reasons to approve such recording but these rights always remain your own.

Q5) For repositories can CC licences be accepted or must they always be checked?

A5) I did say you need to be sensible.  But you need to check that third party material is not in that material. And as an author I could have assigned copyright to a publisher… it’s a bit of a risk management approach. I would suggest that you need to get each academic when they submit, or when they first submit to the repository to sign a statement that they have the right to deposit anything going into the repository – a useful prompt for the depositor and this allows the institution to show they have tried to ensure compliance.

Q5) What is your liability for something that you have used that someone else CC licensed but is infringing?

A5) If it’s obviously infringing then you are probably liable. But it’s about how reckless you are. If you think that the CC licence is valid, it’s taken in

Q6) CC-BY-NC – does this mean you can’t sell the work, or that it can’t be used by a commercial organisation. And would a university be intentded a commercial organisation? Would a prospectus to attract students who make money for the university be a commercial use?

A6) It’s about direct or indirect money making usage. So a commercial organisation could use a CC-BY-NA item for non commercial purposes – an internal presentation, an intranet etc. But a prospectus would be a commercial use.

Q7) Non commercial is not the same as non profit…

A7) Certainly. You don’t need to make a profit to be commercial. A charity sharing a booklet that you charge for, even if it’s loss making, would be commercial.

Q8) We publish a photo with a non commercial licence and someone uses it on their blog. Their blog run ads and the blogger claims that it is non commercial as ads cover running costs.

A8) That’s a very grey area indeed. That may be a case to talk to the original copyright owner to ensure there are no objections.

Q9) CC licences for research papers: I read there are formulas for different licensing of materials like GNU, BSD, and CC for artworks. I do not think that these are appropriate for scientific articles – do you agree? What CC licence is appropriate for research papers? What does NC or ND mean in this context?

A9) CC isn’t just for artworks certainly. There are different and more appropriate licenses for software, CC isn’t designed for that. But articles wise I see no reason why a CC-BY-ND-NC licence wouldn’t be appropriate for research articles.

And that’s the last of some really interesting questions. The next webinar is on the latest changes to UK Copyright Law and registration will open up in a few weeks time.

 March 9, 2012  Posted by at 11:41 am LiveBlogs Tagged with: , ,  1 Response »
Jan 182012

Tonight I will be attending this Edinburgh Internet Marketing MeetUp Event featuring two guest social media experts, Adam Gordon Norma Corlette  (change to programme) of Gordon BDM and Colin Gilchrist, The Social Tailor and will be liveblogging my notes here.

Adam seems cued up to talk about LinkedIn which will be of particular interest as I’m getting myself organised to give a talk for students arranged by the University of Edinburgh Careers Service on LinkedIn and how they may want to start to think about using it to begin building their career. Colin, the second speaker tonight, is always great to hear from so I’ll look forward to seeing what’s currently on his mind – perhaps Google+ or perhaps the just-announced Microsft search/network? We shall see…

For those based in Edinburgh that haven’t been along to the Internet Marketing MeetUp group before it’s a really useful space for networking usually based around interesting talks and presentations.  I don’t make it along very often but it’s usually useful and interesting when I do so it’s well worth a look. And tonight, I think mainly as it’s a joint event with the Business School’s E-Club, it’s a really packed event!

Right, here we go…Firstly an introduction to the E-Club which is open to all to join. And now it looks like it’s going to be Colin to speak first.

Colin Gilchrist – The Social Tailor

I’ll be talking about optimising your business and using social media. Four key areas essential for your strategy: Surveying; Training; Planning; Analysing. You need people talking in the right way with the right tone.

I started off life in fashion design. Ended up being part of the Burberry buying team under Rosemary Burbers. Part of my role was closing down the Scottish Burberry stores and I stayed here. I hooked up with some guys from the Leith agency and we got into doing stuff on the web. I come from a fairly creative background

Hugh Mcleod was blogging from about 2000 ( and was copyrighter for ad agencies and a cartoonist. Back in 2000/1 he told me about is blogging life and he was attending geek dinners and he picked up on a particular brand of wine which he couldn’t find anyway. He persuaded them to give him lots of wine and he brought that to the geek dinners and encouraged bloggers to write about them. Then knocked on doors of shops and supermarkets with print out of posts. They were importing 1/4 million cases of wine from zero after that.

In 2006 looking after websites for people like the proclaimers. In 2007 we were doing viral videos. Created a twiter product back in 2008 called Tweetabits – ahead of it’s time but no longer there. In 2009 worked with Zappos – introduced them to some software tools on Facebook. Went from 0 turnover to 1.3 billion. It’s a very social business. So March 2010 doing social media strategy training and planning and keeping website.

So, you want to…

Optimise what?


Brand Presence?

So this is my route, what I typically do…

  1. Survey clients/customers – to know what they think about, what networks they use, what they know about. Identify the produts and services with biggest margin that they like best and why. Build up stock of potential content, you need to generate lots of content and you need passionate and engaged people. When you know what makes your customers tick…
  2. Survey Team – You need to build a team – it’s not one person’s job. Poppy Scotland is an interesting local example. We have Chief Exec, PR people, Fundraisers, etc. all of those people create content. All of my strategies centre around the blog – it’s what you control and you can feed your other channels from there. So you have a team of 7, 8, 9 people, maybe less. You need to know what networks people are good at, what they like, what they enjoy, how big is their network – are you including people with loads of connections? Consider everybody? I always want to integrate everything into existing marketing practices. The strategy is an ongoing voice. You involve a marketing agency for peaks, campaigns that all need to be aware of. So, for example there is an advert going in Vogue, Cosmo and Elle. You don’t just expect business – you tell your contacts etc. about it to make sure it gets seen, it reaches the most people possible. Advertising doesn’t work alone it must be integrated into the plan.
  3. Involve Your Agency (marketing/advertising)
  4. Local voices work – really important especially if you are multisited. People listen to a local voice, it works. Harder to manage but that’s where trianing comes in.
  5. Crisis Management – what’s the plan when it all goes tits up? I get a lot of calls about this. So there is a local internet company whose services went down – if you were a client you lost everything. In 7 hours Twitter decided the business had closed out. They sent out one tweet “we have issues”. That was it. The chief exec said something a little more helpful but nothing else. Nothing on Twitter or Facebook, their own website was down. So what to do. Lists are a good place to start. So you’re a law firm, say something happens that is scandelous (nice example here that I’ll not fill in in detail) but you have a list of everything that *could* go wrong. And you assign words and phrases. Then you go to Google AdWords account and buy ALL of those phrases. And then you can ensure people are seeing what YOU put on your site, you do the same on Facebook etc. You create a funnel to something you can control. On twitter every 5 minutes you update people of the situation, you post something on the blog. Different platforms require different techniques.
  6. Analytics and Monitoring – lets get this right – management need to know! Loads of tools dependent on budget. Ultimately one person directs what activity is wanted..
  7. OK, so who hands out the KPIs?

So lots of activity, lots of voices but one set of targets.

So for example going back to Poppy Scotland. We started work in August 2010. Got Facebook to 6000 Likes, increased web visits by 20%, 5% donations increase (£150k). By 2011 up to 41,000 likes, 50% increase in visits etc.

So the Facebook page is integrated to other activity. Huge image communicating message. Not just a screed of postings on the wall.

Another example… Darren McMullen (@darrenmcmullen) needs more followers – Colin’s working on this but do throw Darren a follow!

I started up a blog called which was nothing to do with his digital agendy but to do with ongoing interest in fashion. Last year I was up to almost 3000 people per day visiting, just through taloking about stuff that excited me. So that’s become the business. Ultimately now a creative director of fashion director we are taking to market in February. How bizarre is that, just from a blog!

So what  matters in social media is 3 things: Passion, Focus, Communication


And now we are moving onto…

Norma Corlette – An entrepreneurs perspective: how can you use social media to promote your business

Norma explains that she started out as an entrepreneur setting up her own businesses. In 2008 she started advising others on how to build and develop their businesses specialising on high growth and often online business.

Adam set up his company in 2009 looking at LinkedIn etc. when few others were focusing on that. He put out a white paper to 28,000 people and from that platform we are building an international business

Adam recently set up Cogniscence – a LinkedIn group you can apply to join – with 1000+ key decision makers there already. It is only our Scottish Cogniscence, we will be launching regional versions across the UK, next up is London and Yorkshire. But I’m an entrepreneur and so I don’t care about the follows, I care about the money. And I am MD of Cogniscence. One of my clients is Edinburgh Zoo and I’ll be picking up Colin’s great crisis tips for my next meeting with them!

What’s coming up next is professional profiling in multiple sense. That’s where we are looking to.

I will talk about where I’ve come from, 5 key principles and how to profile yourself.

I got into this because you can establish a need but if people are not interested in that need then it’s not worth while – whenever someone asks you for your card you’ve said something important, that’s something you can sell – and when I mentioned LinkedIn and profiling people took interested. This started because my son got headhunted through LinkedIn. One of my clients also had one of their software engineers headhunted on LinkedIn. That’s two people who were doubling their salary there. It became clear that profiles really matter. So I set up a LinkedIn Homework Club (I used to be a teacher) and we all ended up with increased activity and enquiries etc.

Then someone from O2 came to me and asked me to find their client group – what I need is everyone in the EH area – Edinburgh & Livingston – between 10 and 200 people in legal, finanial, IT or recruitment sector. And she needed decision makers. I did some research and presented that to her. And we now have a rather large contract with LinkedIn. There’s 120 million people on LinkedIn, all at professional level. Right now it’s something we should be exploring for whatever reasons.

So here are 5 principles to remember:

  1. Everyone prefers to communicate in a different way – I had a young graduate with me in a place with a lot of people they could meet and network with. And I was introducing her around and she was asked to tweet one of these new contacts – she looked a bit astonished. Some poeple prefer phone, some prefer LinkedIn, some prefer Twitter, etc. The most succesful businesses connect in lots of ways.
  2. Enhancing your network – people often connect with others like them. But you don’t want to do that. For business that’s not how you find new leads. You want to connect with your business groups, the people you want to make business. You can do that in so many ways so that you broaden your network to meet your business needs as well. You are building your future clients and sales.
  3. Be where your audience is – where are they? I know where mine is. I’m very specific about it. One of the biggest things that attracted me to Adam he was really clear about the clients he works with – he knew his sector and he only wanted to see heads of departments or businesses – they have budgets to spend. My time isn’t wasted dealing with them. This becomes really important
  4. Leading the conversation – there are loads of different groups on LinkedIn, you want to be involved in the conversation. So if you are a lawyer and in a legal group you can’t just spout legal stuff. You have to get inside their head and get their interest.
  5. Free as a currency – a lot of you will get this in a way that my generation don’t. Adam and I are sitting now, because of his courage and his work, we have this guide to LinkedIn we can send you if you give us your email. He took all that he knew, he wrote it, he made it easy to read and put it out there and said here it is, free… And now 28,000 people know about Adam Gordon. He is top of McKinsey Quarterly and has been for a wee while. That’s free as a currency. Find a way to get it out there. Look at the position. I think I’m about to build another international business and we wouldn’t be there without that white paper.

So shall we look at profiling?

So firstly looking at Norma’s profile. She’s searching for Board Director in the people search – she’s second in the list… and the person before her is the one that showed her how to do this. Go study Norma’s profile to find out how. Part of this is about using the same terms over and over again. So this profile has board and director mentioned over and over. The same applies to particular specialisms. Adam also mentions LinkedIn in multiple places. The more you use these key terms the more you push your position up. Whatever you want to be you use those words… you have to look at it from a client point of view too, what will people type in.

But that’s not enough. Gets you interest but then it dies away… so how do you get the recruitment opportunities?

So… Think this through. If you are a recruitment company you are looking for someone with skills. Just putting a job title isn’t enough. You need a bit of your skills. So need to put in your roles, your skills, the things you specialize in. You need that stuff even in your top heading. The next thing LinkedIn looks at is your current position – so you need to build in all of your roles here. And then LinkedIn looks at your past experience.

You need to spend a weekend sorting out your LinkedIn profile – that white paper is your recipe. When you’ve done that you need to adding activity every week. You need a great picture too – not one at a wedding or something, you need to look professional.

When you edit your profile you can see who has looked at your profile. And you can see the search terms being used to find you. And when the activity is. And those searches tell me how people are finding me. When I was first on there it was my former married name appearing on LinkedIn – I wasn’t communicated in the way I wanted to get the business. Now I am. I am really clear about what I am and what I do.

A good question here – is this a premium feature? Well the people who have seen your profile is free, the stats are premium.

So, if someone has looked at your profile – and if they are a good potential contact, they have lots of good connections, that’s a great time to approach those people, connect with them etc. and make best use of those potential connections.

So, get started. The ones that are on here are the ones that get found, end of story.



Q1) How do you generate traffic to your Facebook Page

CG) What do you want to do? Do you just want Likes? What do you do?

Q1) I am a t-shirt designer, I’m trying to generate sales etc.

CG) Do you have an opportunity for people to like your Facebook page where you sell the product? Even one like per product. Images of people already liking it. I have a handout somewhere with 26 point about how to up your likes – drop me an email and I’ll send that on.

Q2) If you were starting a business today and you were looking to get into social media – should you build a personal brand or a business brand?

CG) for me I would always start with a blog. I got to 2-3000 people today because I was posting articles 2 or 3 times per day. I shared it on Twitter and Facebook but I wasn’t communicating there, I was just sharing that. If you open that Twitter door and you are busy people will expect responses, you need to control those conversations. Blogs need less time, and is more controllable when starting out. With more time and staff you can open up and engage with people and have a conversation. It’s always dangerous to set something new up on your own, if you have a team you can manage them.

Q3) Question on blogging and linkedin. I have an ebook search site which is modestly successful. Opportunity to blog on an industry standard newspaper blog site – should I blog on theirs, or my blog or both?

CG) I would blog on theirs, link to that from your blog, and tweet a link to that to.

Q4) How does Google connect to LinkedIn, would people look on LI for a garden designer etc. I am a sole trader. I do tweet. I use linkedin. And I blog. But I’m trying to figure out how they all slot together.

CG) the blog thing is fanastic. To find people who want a garden designer LI will be brilliant – there will be construction companies and developers who are looking for garden designers etc.

NC) Going back to that girl from O2 who had a specific radius and type of business. You can go for a specific industry if you want. You’re doing well already.

Q4) We are in groups on LI with other gardeners… should I approach people?

CG) Make a point of NOT doing a direct sale. Be a point of advice and expertise. Much more attractive than pushing sales.

NC) Think maybe about your target group financially but do it for yourself at your level

Q5) You mentioned tone of voice at the beginning of your presentation, when you are planning for your clients is it easy to find a tone a voice?

CG) depends on the channels. We’ve used strategies that include point of sale, email, ads all in one strategy. There is a campaign strategy but different tone for each presence. The people managing the twitter account will find the right tone to engage. Twitter is very conversational and you find the tone. Facebook you put stuff out there. YouTube is interesting – more traffic on making of than video, it’s typically more relaxed.

Q6) A more basic question in a way. Interested in what was said – a company not saying anything on Twitter for 7 hours…

CG) The company just didn’t think to use the Twitter account that they had already. They had the ability but just didn’t think of it.

Q7) How often do you use Google’s Pay Per Click, and would you advise using it.

CG) It’s not something I’m hugely experienced with. But it works.

Q7) But it’s high cost…

CG) Yes. The difference between trying to create a big audience yourelf versus pay per click is x20 or x30… it’s monstrously bigger. We did a couple of Facebook ads for poppy scotland – maybe a cost of £200 in total – and that saw the big jump of traffic. If you get it right it’s very successful.

NC) eCommerce are very strategic about when they use pay per click. When people start out they put those pay per clicks out but quickly phase those out – a retail product here.

Q8) On LinkedIn, I know which people I want, they are people with power and budget in pubilshing companies. But what job title might that be – it could be one of many things.

NC) Maybe communicate with them and find out. That happens in every industry. You have to just start communicating with people

CG) Try the ones you have success with already and see what they call themselves.

NC) Have confidence in what you are doing.

Q9) The Facebook Ads thing… Are there any limits on that. Can you do giveaway or competitions?

CG) You can’t have competitions on your Facebook wall without breaking the terms of conditions. You generally need to use third party applications.

Q9) So I was wondering about doing a giveaway to promote my business.

CG) You can do that but you need to use an app NOT your wall.

Q10) I was wondering about your thoughts on Facebook for B2B rather than B2C?

CG) There are some groups that amuse those in construction, say, on Facebook. But you have to be creative about what you do. It has to attract attention in clever ways. It has a place but talk to your creative agency.

Q11) I work with various small companies who want to use social media. They don’t have much time or experience. Any advice on outsourcing to others?

CG) Lots of people do that, and lots of companies do that. But I’m not a fan of it at all. The companies that do it for themselves – it’s a true honest voice and it’s more effective. If it matters to you you have to make the time. I struggle to get volunteers to write a post once a month. If you live and breath your business it just has to be part of the process!

And with that we are done for the evening and moving on to some relaxed networking.

**Update: Tim Willis of Flexpansion has also blogged this event and pulled out the key themes, well worth a read:**

 January 18, 2012  Posted by at 6:21 pm LiveBlogs Tagged with: ,  No Responses »
Dec 132011

Today I will be liveblogging from the University of Edinburgh IT Futures Conference 2011Social media in academia: a tweet too far? – which is taking place at the Informatics Forum in Edinburgh.

The usual caveats apply to this liveblog re:  typos, errors, etc. Today I am also presenting so things will be very quiet in one session I’m afraid.

Here’s what will be coming up:

Welcome and start of conference – Jeff Haywood, Vice Principal Knowledge Management

Jeff is opening the day by saying that it is a time of growing interest in the use of social media. What do you say talking to a room of people on social media – there’s an odd sort of disconnect there. Learning and Teaching, research and administration all benefit from social media. The sort of rolling news feed is great but it can also be a rod for your back. But you are also seeing discourse emerging online between groups who perhaps wouldn’t have been interacting. And you see this idea of reaching out to the community, of transparency, of citizen science can really add value. The discourse is clearly a very important and here to stay activity. But it also presents some real challenges. We only have to think about the REF. As research and as learning and teaching starts taking place away from the normal structured spaces it challenges us in terms of how you keep, how you value, how you refer back to it. And you see those questions emerging in the areas that are most active in that space.

From an administrative point of view even being able to tweet the state of buses, demonstrations, disruptions, changes of venues, events can be increadibly useful. And that forces some of us to participate. If that information takes place on our mobile hand held devices we have to engage with those in order to keep up with that activity. And that produces an odd sense of sczophrenic activity of participating and hiding. And I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about the way that technology is driving us. There is still a lot for us to work out here about how we deal with finding the right balance there.

Session 1 (chair: Hamish Macleod)
Fakers, fools and narcissists: How cultural narratives of blogging affect online reflective practices – Jen Ross, Associate Lecturer, School of Education

Jen is going to be talking about social media beyond the academic sector, particularly looking at blogging. The main arguement I am going to try and make is not that we shouldn’t do it but that we should be attuned to the way that we use those technologies from outside academia. A quote from Carpenter 2009 stats that “electronic environments allow for and even encourage active integration and dynamic interaction, resulting in a mixing of genre and literary practices…”

I will be drawing on my PhD work on reflective writing and online assessment and I found that reflective writing is greatly influences by the wider cultural narratives around blogging. Aspects of self-promotion and authenticity; accursations of narcissicm and pressures to confess; and the growing sense of duty almost for us as professionals to have some sort of online presence.

I am going to tell you 6 stories of blogging and as these are examples from a few years ago I’ll talk about what may be happening today.

Blogs, particularly when tied to real identities, have to be authentic and honest. The idea is that you get something from someone on a blog that you would not get any other way. One of my interviewees, a lecturer of post grad students, said that students shared things they hadn’t even told their partners perhaps, really opening up. Students seemed quite aware of their audience though, they had interesting take on the same issues. Student felt that he had to be creative honest and free – they felt that was part of the criteria whether that was explicit or implicit. Another said they didn’t write for their audience, that it was them… but with the performance indicators for their blog.

Some reflected on too much information being dangerous. One lecturer of undergraduates had put a lot of personal identifying information in their public web portfolio. The student hadn’t thought about the risk but also felt that the lecturer might mark him down for not sharing his information. By contrast others were quite cagey about what was shared, sharing fragments of identity for safety.

Putting your best self forwards… an undergraduate students commented on their own self-editing. Another undergraduate said that there was a difference between her scholarly eportfolio – her serious self and her facebook self, her silly self. And another student reflected that you are always performing in some way, no matter which context you are in.

Many of the students and lecturers were at pains to point out that they weren’t the sort of people to do this sort of blogging thing. Students were keen to point out that it wasn’t what they do. There was a lot at stake as students associated blogging with negative images – narcisscism, geekiness. There were so many ideas of the blogged as shallow and self-obsessed bloggers. A student commented on the cult of celebrity. Another commented on a dependency, getting hooked on the tutor, really needing that feedback, feeling forgotten, worrying that they had been forgotten about. When we set criteria we rarely think about the anxiety and stress about the speed of marking. Curtain 2006 talks about “anxiety may be the key risk associated with blogging”.

And finally there was this issue of the personal brand online. I asked a student about making her blog public. She said she might do when a graduate when she had rewritten or

A student commented that she would not write into an online form but into word first. It felt too live to write into the form “maybe it’s something to do with um what you, sort of preconceptions of what a bvlog is and what the internet is…”.

And I think we need to think about how we adopt these tools in academia and what we do.

So some news

There’s been quite a bit of hoo-hah this week about the idea that bloggers might be revealed by Google Analytics – real tension also more widely on the loss of anonimity.  There has also been a lot of discussion about requests/requirements to take down information on their blog, and freedom of speech. Another story here about a Beirut blogger writing a book – this isn’t news any more, the online and offline is beginning to really merge. This week Disney brought a series of mummy blogs. And there was a news item on “blogging your way to a better career”. And the Guardian is also running a session on blogging for beginners: driving traffic and engaging audiences – that’s something that you would expect media or organisations might do but that’s increasingly something individuals do.

I think if I interviewed my participants today I’d see more on that sense of personal branding and what that means for reflective writing I’m not sure. We need to review some of our ideas about reflective writing for networked learning contexts; we need to think about how we induct students into that culture of blogging at the outset.

And Jen closes with the classic xkcd “someone is wrong on the internet” cartoon


Q1) How much is this an extension of what students already do on the internet, building personas and identity. Does making this explicit make it easier to address some issues now

A1) I agree with you that students are very strategic about how they present themselves online and offline. But in a reflective context they sort of deny that as you are supposed to be telling the truth. I hope my research casts a question on that – are we glossing over some things that are happening there

Q2) I was a little nervous when you referred to an eportfolio that a student was talking about as being “safe within the walls of the institution” – I’m not convinced that anyone can do that…

A2) I had a few students that were saying that they were not worried about their items being used. Then they both told me about a story about one person’s information got shared with all the students… but they weren’t concerned about this. I think there is a real information literacy issue here – these tools are not thought of as “really online”. There’s a real tension there for teachers between opening students up to participate and warning them

Comment) I think there are so many terrorism regulations, for instance, that we have to educate our students about risk and safety.

A2) I think the key issue for me is around work to rethink reflection to see what we can do best online. But we probably do need to back away from the idea of authenticity to make the most of some of these things.

Q3) On that point I wonder about the genre of blogging if we are inducting students. Where are the role models. Should it be the public blogs or should it be something that academics do?

A3) That probably depends on the goal of that particular blogging context. If we give students the role model of public blogging, if we do then lets do that fully, lets make that a beneficial aspect.

Q4) Every student needs to find their own blogging voice and role model. You can put out personal things online but you have to be prepared to take that abuse. There are also lots of role models out there of researchers who blog. I think we need to ask students to explore the blogosphere to find their own voice and their own style.

A4) I think when we are assessing a blog we may have a duty to be slightly more specific about what we want as otherwise we’ll have students concerned about faireness of marking

Q5) What was the background of the students you spoke to?

A5) I spoke to students who were in sort of constellations around courses where they had been assessing online reflection for a year already. Most of those staff were quite committed to blogging but they were from a wide variety of disciplines.

Secrets of writing for the web – Richard Coyne, Professor of Architectural Computing, Edinburgh College of Art

Richard will be sharing his personal experiences of blogging today. Richard has created his ten secrets of writing for the web at and that’s the theme of his presentation.

I was talking to a colleague in another school and asking if he blogged and he said that he didn’t and couldn’t see the pay off. It’s interesting to have people from all parts of the academic spectrum in the room. Early career researchers have an interest in building their profile. And perhaps more reflective older academics who have, like me, many thousands of words under their belt.

Blogging aids my research, writing and teaching in digital, user-generated content, cultural theory, new media audiences. I’m trying to start an MSc by research in digital media and culture. It’s right that I’m out there and doing this stuff. Perhaps my blog will help with recruitment for that, certainly people will approach me as a potential supervisor because of that blog. And the blog helps explain what I do.

Like many people I’m involved in the REF and funding councils are also looking for impact. Through these media everything becomes numeric. So for instance here we have stats for television viewing. This used to be esoteric and difficult to acquire, now it’s just there online. We know that in mass media large numbers are better than small numbers. Does that apply to academia?

The most viewed video on Youtube has over 180 million hits (recently Evolution of Dance by Judson Laipply), Guardian newspaper averages 232k sales per issue (and falling), top selling book is Harry Potter selling over 45 million copies. The average live sciences paper is cited about 6 times (Maslov and Redner 2008).

We are bombarded with these figures. Whether you like it or not tells you your hits. It’s a think you look at, get worried about. You can tell if your work is getting read whether you want to or not. As a bit of an aside I’ve discovered a trick with WordPress. Bloggers want hits, and people sort of obsess about that. WordPress publishes links to the top ten “best” blogs on the front page. If you click on the page then you find that lots of other bloggers will comment or link to that blog to boost their own hits. Congregations around success.. but to what end?

Thanks to Nicola Osborne (me!) giving an excellent workshop on presence on the internet I realised that Google Scholar gives you your citations on any particular article whether you like it or not, I knew that but what to do about it… so if I search for myself I get a list of all it can find in terms of items and citations. There is also a paper that is not mine for an author with my name with some 9000+ hits. You can get lost in that mass of data. So you can now create a user profile in Google Scholar and you can link just your own papers, and give you citation graphs whether you want to or not, calculates your h-index and your i10-index and so on. Barraged by numbers again, we have to address it, or ignore it or deal with it…

Again on the theme of impact its possible to interoperate these programmes and systems. You can easily link your blog and twitter and facebook. I don’t tweet terribly often but my weekly blogpost is automatically tweeted. My dozens of followers therefore see the linbk, the same with Facebook. And there does seem to be a correlation between these other mentions and the hits on my blog on a given day.

So, what do we want?

Well I want to exert influence. Perhaps an indication of influence if you are into publishing is getting cited. And reputation may help with finding publishers and audiences, to sell books, or indeed for external committees, etc. Although I’ve yet to see much difference in sales of my last two books on my blog yet.

Another aspect of my work is teaching and Jen has already talked eloquently about this. I have used blogging in my teaching and blogging has lots of benefits for me and one of those big pay offs is teaching. My blog post is published at 9am every saturday – they are scheduled that way – and often that will relate to teaching work in some way. A colleague has created a blog aggregation based on RSS feeds – my own and others, one is Media and Culture, and that gathers blog posts for that particular course. I use categories on my posts to indicate which type of post it is, where or how it should be aggregated. Students can then explore and comment on these blogs. So what we require our students to do is not to ask students to blog their own reflective blogs but to comment – they can comment on any of the blogs in these aggregations. One of the advantages for me is that when I give written feedback I can even reference them to blog pages – 60 or 70 blog posts etc. that may give an expanded discussion of an issue.

The assignment regime for that particular course includes 10% of the marks for 1000 words (that the students choose) from their commenting on blog posts. We can do that here as we are learning about media and culture. So the assessment is about comments not posts.

And still rattling along the theme of payoffs… in addition to teaching and more important perhaps is the development of research ideas. My own writing and my own reflections are here being scrutinised by public affairs. Wikileaks, ethics, etc. all hot topics. What does my theory bring to bear on these current issues? Blogging forces me to do that and lets me keep my (public) notes, get feedback, collect searchable links, refine my writing. Now I do want to publish. So far I’ve been rejected by two publishers for the idea of turning my blog into a book… a blook perhaps? I do have this idea of a lexicon of terms perhaps – my grand ideas is to create that glossary – still waiting for publisher comments on that.

Finally there are costs. It takes time to create blogs. I limit myself to one post a blog. During slight periods or vacations one can compile a list of posts that can be scheduled. Time is an issue. I actually like writing – not everyone does. There is the concern that it is self-indulgent. Maybe I may look desperate here? Do we want to buy into quantification? And IP control, saturation,… plenty of issues.

So in summary, managing identity and personal branding is a new thing for academics; masification comes with the medium but there is a long tail, a gift society, prosumerism; scheduling – what is happening to the digital native generation is that they don’t submit themselves to scheduled tv programmes for instance as they download their content. In blogs we think about scheduling  and organising; and there is the danger of submitting to pop intellectualism.


Q1) I think there is an important aspect to blogging that you as a while male senior academic haven’t touched upon, the building of community. That is very important for early career researchers, for sharing experience as a woman in academia, as a non white academic etc. There are a number of bloggers – both under their real names and pseudonyms that do this. I’ll mention them in my talk later.

A1) I guess I was looking at this from my perspective but I’m interested in whether my practice encourages my early career colleagues. But I don’t force my colleagues to start their own blogs – they may not want to, writing ability may not be there. A lot of students may not have the same facility to write quickly without edits.

Q1) Many of those who do choose to do this really find it helps them develop and improve their writing. PhD students and research fellows are finding it really important.

A1) I was trying to work out why students resist. Possibly an issue of future proofing – the reluctance to share half-formed ideas, a temptation to wait until confident.

Q2) Two observations really. Some posts get loads of hits, some get hardly any. It’s great to understand what aspects of academic work chimes with people – that’s hard information to get any other way. An looking at PhD students they get really interesting things out of the process but they are concerned about giving away too much of their work. There is a difficult line to go along with blogging. If you are in a secure job it’s much easier to take those risks.

A2) I do remember you talking about blogging before, it’s value for niche work, do you want to say more

Q2) I had a colleague who was researching a family and had numerous responses to her blog from people who were writing books etc. But in some areas you don’t get that kind of response. And some students don’t blog because they are concerned about sharing information before funding has come in.

Q3) What is your thinking with the Saturday morning 9am scheduling? Is it to do with when students look at the blog?

A3) I think it was that the first post I published was at that time. It’s a bit of a shock that when you hit “publish” that’s it, you’re live.

Q3) Well I tweet and I worry about doing lots of posting in the evening.

The promise and pitfalls of academic blogging – Brad Littlejohn, PhD student, School of Divinity

For a blogger I’m very untechie. I’m a second year PhD student in ethics and I will be talking about my own personal experiences of the last few years. When I’m talking about academic blogging it’s not really for academics. It’s about topics at the intersection of my academic work and everyday life. that makes sense in my own research work – I focus on christian ethics and that is easy to apply to other areas of life. If you’re planning to teach blogging for academics makes sense. But for me I use blogging as a think space – a place to share book reviews, interesting sources, initial drafts etc. I also try to maintain bredth to write, organise and find new insights from my work. Lots of students try to write journal articles requireing huge care of the materials. Blogging is a great outlet to try out ideas without the time or vigour requirements of a traditional article.

Blogging forces you to think about simplifying complex terms, about making work more accessible to your audience. Blogging lets you try to write well, to engage people’s attention. And you can get criticism, feedback, suggestions of sources through these readers. You may find readers from academia who let you learn from them, form useful connections and challenge you in helpful ways. This has been my own experience, I blog for myself but it is useful for my work. I write to share my wisdom… To enlighten them from their misconceptions… it’s very easy to get an inflated sense of your knowledge! You can become a temporary celebrity overnight – for instance when I blogged the theological perspective on the final Harry Potter film. But 1000 clicks is no match for a good report from your supervisor or an accepted paper.

Your own time management can be an issue. If you feel your blog is for readers then you feel pressure to post regularly. If you spend time on your blog that you should spend on research then you have let the blog go from useful servant to problematic master. Comments can also take up huge amounts of time – the more popular your blog the more comments you will get. And you can be tempted to be more polished and post more conservatively – this is not best for yourself or your readers. But a sense that no-one is reading can be risky – especially if you are talking about controversial subjects. There are unwritten rules about how one does this. There is more freedom in blogging but it can be easy to go too far. One can regret carelessness all too easily…

Once in writing about a visiting lecturer I made a few light criticisms that I thought were part of a generally positive post. But the lecturer read the post and angrily rang the school to ask about it. So now I assume that all posts might be read by anyone. You need to be genuine without being too informal. By making your ideas the key focus you can form great relationships and make good impressions. But that works best when it is the secondary goal of my blog, when the ideas are the primary goal.

And to finish a tour of my blog:

I have a contact form but I don’t make my email address available publicly. I’ve had very cool people contact me through the form. I show my essays, my recent posts, my publications – and also some unpublished papers that I don’t expect to publish.


Q1) What space are you using? It’s not wordpress?

A1) I use Squarespace – I was advised it was good for technologically challenged bloggers and it’s been great!

Q2) Have you been tempted to edit old material?

A2) I look at the statistics and fewer people read the old posts so I’m not too concerned. But I also don’t want to be too concerned about portraying a certain image. I want to accept and show that I don’t have all the answers

Q3) Why is your name not prominent on the pages?

A3) Hmm… A good question.. it probably should be.

Q3) Some sites use alias or esoteric names intentionally

A3) No, that’s not intentional!

And now for coffee…

And we’re back…

Session 2 (chair: Jessie Paterson)
Blogging on the New Testament and Early Christianity – why? – Larry Hurtado, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology, School of Divinity

I didn’t set out to be a blogger, we just wanted to create a space for discussing the new testament and early christianity and blogging seemed like a good tool. But we didn’t know where to start. A colleague got me set up really quickly. He asked what it should be called – we didn’t want to represent the entire department so we went for Larry Hurtado’s Blog ( and I picked quite a dull template. And we added a few pages about me and the site. And that was about it. And so we hit publish to see how it looked… and the next day I had 11000 hits, I clearly had to do something with the blog. And it probably helps that I’m retired, a very senior researcher I guess. And one of few people in my field. So people found me quickly. The one tip people had for me was “no comments”. At all. But I decided to be difficult. I decided I wanted comments and I did feel I wanted to make expert knowledge available to a wider audience – would you give a public lecture and not allow comments? So overall handling comments may take more time than the actual posting. It comes and goes… if it’s something particularly interesting, or if it’s something that requires reply it can take a really long time.

So a wee tour here… you have current posts of various lengths. My recent posts are shown, I have my tag cloud here for the tags of posts on my blog.

And here is how it looks to the blogger… you can see your stats for your blog. It will tell you about your hits. It averages about 10,000 per month as you can see. And you can look at which posts they are reading, where they came from and where they go to… and how many subscribers I have… I have 198 followers, gee, I’m almost like Jesus! And all of this blog tool and these stats are free.

It seems to me that there are two types bloggers. I believe there is a group that are highly opinionated but typically ill informed about and vent online… they often have astonishingly large followings. And there are blogs that are operated by people who know what they are talking about – graduate students, academics etc. and they are the smaller numbers.

And there are two types of sites. there are those with blogrolls that curate and dynamically add content to your blog. The other type is a public information site, things I’m interested in, books I’ve read etc.

On my site I have prepublications of my work. The copyright applies to the formatted typeset version of your paper so I convert the manuscripts in pre-publication format and share as PDFs with the published versions’ citation. The casual reader can read all the papers. The serious reader can then find the published citable version. And I have the publications list in a more formal way to show my authenticity.

A couple of comments here… Christian comments as with anything in this area always generates huge amounts of interest, often inflamatory. It comes and go. My best day in terms of hits was in May – 10,000 hits in one day – because of a news story about, supposedly, a cache of lead codexes discovered in Syria and that they were possibly the earliest Christian books ever written, by an early Jerusalem community. I saw the story and sniffed a rat and posted as much, that I felt it was a hoax. And that’s where the hits came from. Most days I get 200-400 hits a day. I post once a week or every 10 days on average. Sometimes more frequent than that but usually it’s once a week or so. And I try to put out information on my own work, things I’m interested in, and I try to engage with issues in the field. I try to stay carefully in my field but occasionally I do stray… I did post after woman scholar friends complained about lecherous graduate supervisors… I didn’t name them but I did say I knew who they were and that it was a travesty to our profession and to women… and that generated a certain amount of interest…

A few other blogs I wanted to show. April Deconick writes the Forbidden Gospels blog – she does use a blog role and includes images of the books she talks about.


Q1) May I ask… was that a hoax?

A1) Yes!

Q2) One of the previous speakers said that posting thoughts online helped them develop thoughts and get feedback online… what do you get out of blogging as a senior researcher?

A2) Some of the time I have readers who are peers, occasionally I’ve had great pointers, references etc. from graduate students and other scholars. That’s definetly worth something. But for me I really do feel an obligation to see that information on my subject gets out there… I get satisfaction from that. And recruitment, one is constantly trying to hang out your shingle for possible PhD students for the school. It’s for the benefit of the school one hopes.

Q3) Can I ask if you’ve ever regretted going for comments? People who were advising you not to were presumably thinking about bad experiences they had had.

A3) I think so but also the time usage. The amount of comments varies enormously. Comments are not time consuming unless you feel you should respond to them. It depends on what the subject is. Some subjects are full of sane people – English, Cognitive Psychology, etc. – but everything to do with religion brings all the crazos out of the woodwork – and they are well known to the bloggers though it took me a few months to discover them. And one of the experts I consulted with said “look, it’s your living room… you decide if you allow guests to smoke or not. It’s your choice”. Some comments are so asinine… they come to you as an email and you choose to approve, or to reply, or to edit it. I have edited some slanderous things before now. It’s your site so you could have responsibility for those. Sometimes I just delete them. Sometimes I patiently email the commenter to explain why I haven’t posted it – that it’s not on the topic, or because it’s slanderous. Some say “thanks for that” others say “well in that case I’m not coming to your site” and you think “YES!”

Q4) Your goal for this site is about your putting yourself out there… do you systematically put yourself out there as connecting to key news stories or key topics etc. You could blog on the Guardian religious site for instance where you might sit next to others comments and writing on the same things…

A4) Maybe I should. But basically I open the window on my workshop and let people watch. I think to be more proactive about reaching out, connecting to major news sites would take time but it would be possible…

Blogging for Reviews of Biblical and Early Christian Studies – Kerry Lee, PhD student, School of Divinity

I will be talking about my work on the Biblical and Early Christian Studies blog ( written by students at Saint Andrews and also has contributors in Birmingham, Durham and I’m the blogger from Edinburgh.

We write reviews of books, articles, events etc. I’m fairly new to the site but so far my focus has been our Friday Biblical Studies seminar. So here is my most recent post – it’s one of the longer ones. Generally posts are 500 to 1000 words, relatively short. I tend to add some comment after my reports – questions, evaluative reports, arguements that need work. Nothing too heavy. I’m not sure we’re supposed to do rebuttals here. But that raises the issue of what we are doing here… I’m not sure we’ve worked it out ourselves yet. The contributors are still working that out. We are a little around the edges of the topic, sticking to reports etc. We haven’t decided about sharing our own work – the tacit answer is no/not yet. We are all blogging because we want to – we are friends now and there is an interpersonal aspect here. At least half of the contributors are from outside the UK, not sure if any are Scottish, it’s a fairly mixed group. Our stats show 40-60 hits per day – mainly it comes from other blogs and from our Facebook page. The rest from Google searches. Our blog is being noticed by the wider biblical and early Christian studies community.

So why am I doing this? Well it’s fun! It’s fun to reach out, to have people reading and responding to your work. It helps you develop two complimentary skill sets. We have self-imposed obligations to understand academic papers and summarise it for the blog. Sometimes that responsibility makes me have to tune in and find the value in a paper. Secondly related to that this also helps me to develop my succinct writing skills – make it at least as understandable as the original paper. And if I can make an unclear paper more digestible that’s great.

I do operate another blog, primarily political, where i have met poeple through the blog. I anticipate that happening here. And of course there is a perk of free books – review copies of books are hugely motivating for PhD studies. Can it contribute to a CV? I’m not sure blogging has solidified enough to effect your reputation. I’m not sure I can point to it yet in this way. And this is a blog of limited scope, it’s not about me, it’s me digesting other peoples’ things. Now it could turn into something with more “me” in it. We are discussing as a group whether we share our own papers etc. Of course we could create our own blogs for that purpose.


Q1) Were you forced to do this blog for the Approaches to Research course? I would be interested to know if this was different. That course is very similar to this and we give it to masters students as their first piece of assessed work – a summary and critique of an academic paper. And I’m interested in how that would be for assessment vs. doing that for your own choice.

A1) No, I didn’t do this for assessment. I do find it valuable. I hope if it was for a mark I wouldn’t have found it less valuable. One wonders if shifting that task to a blog output might change how students approach that task.

Q2) I’m really interested in this collaborative approach to bloggers. So are you sensing any tension in the collaborative process that someone will want to take control etc. Are institutions on board or is this individuals?

A2) I don’t detect any tension. There are discussions about what to include. But for this group it’s more about doing the basic thing we are doing. That collaborative effort keeps it really focused. A blog can easily explode into many directions. I know this from starting up other blogs… It doesn’t work. Because it’s a group we stay very focused. I don’t detect concern over control of the content. Today is probably the first anyone at the University of Edinburgh knows of my involvement in this. There are several St Andrews students who contribute though and I think staff there are aware and it’s fine.

Q3) You mentioned your Facebook page. Do you actively promote your blog anywhere?

A3) I think it’s pretty much online publicity via facebook and via other blogs. One of our contributors, Dan, has a really huge presence in this community and his name shows up everywhere and that usually also includes a link to this blog.

Discussion about blogging

Comment 1) I’m interested in the possibility of collaborative blogging but for more generic purposes. But I was interested in the last two speakers. Kelly talked about collaborative blogging and Larry talked about having a big popular blog. I was wondering how having someone high profile

Comment 2) Two models from the science community: 1 is a site that hosts a variety of bloggers, each blog connects to the others. If someone gets a really well known blogger that sparks interested. And there is also a collaborotive Science and Medicine blog that gives a chance for less well known

Comment 3) Multiplicity of blogs… how many read and how many write…

Comment 4) EDINA and guest blog posts

COmment 5) One thing that Kelly has done that is very clever is that they use the names of those that give the seminars – those are well known names that drive traffic. But I notice you have replies from some of those who have given talks – commenting, critiquing the summaries etc.

Kelly) I would welcome that and on book reviews we’ve certainly had some comments from authors

Larry H) Sometimes the topics, the words, the tags etc. of your blog post will be high profile – that’s another way to promote the site. Obviously if you use “sex” or “drugs” you get loads of hits… but obviously names, subjects, terms etc. will all make your blog high profile. The other thing is that I do think that, particularly for junior level scholars, I do think this can be another way to recruit postgraduate students. It’s only been in the last 10 to 15 years that people have realised that there is a web out there and that students are interested in this space and not just in the published space. I think serious worthwhile blogging is another way that Masters and PhD students can find out about a person or a programme and that is very worthwhile. If you do good intelligent helpful blogging, even as a junior academic, you will really draw attention, build reputation, and attract postgraduates.

Comment 8) I think Richard was saying that he did use his blog in that sort of way – that he hoped to attract PhD Students

Comment 9) Is there a collaborative blog internally to manage projects, for sharing experience etc.

Comment 10) I’m actually from student experience and admissions and we don’t use a blog but we do use a wiki for that purpose. That is not public in that way, it’s more for a virtual frontroom for meeting. You can either be a spectator or contribute. And that’s closed to the outside world but open to the university (though you can make wikis public). That wiki is almost like a blog. IS will provide wikis for any part of the university.

Comment 11) Please do feel free to share your ways to read blogs… I use Google Reader and things like FlipBoard for the iPad lets you have a more magazine-like interface.

And now it’s off to Lunch…

Session 3 (chair: John Lee)

Tweet Dreams are Made of This – Nicola Osborne, Social Media Officer, EDINA

And that was me presenting! View my slightly festive Prezi here:

A Year on Twitter: Self Promotion, Whingeing and Starting Fights – Richard J. Williams, Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures, Edinburgh College of Art

Richard is going to talk about his experience of using Twitter. I’m not professionally involved in this year. It’s the one social media I see real potential in. So I’m going to say a bit about what I’ve been up to.

So a bit about who I am. Like many academics in the middle of their careers I do many hings. I am th edean of postgraduate studies here at the university. I’m also a researcher in architecture and art history. I’m a manager and supervisor of various kinds. I’m also an occasional journalist and critic though the bottom has somewhat dropped out of the architecture magazine market at the moment. Not all of us academics are like this but a fair few of us are. Twitter has helped me maintain a presence in all of these communities. Most of my work is with peer groups and networks with academics and Twitter is very good for that.

What is Twitter – well that;s been dealt with – and how I’m using it, and what has been happening. Nicola dealt with what Twitter is but I guess I’d add it’s a bit of a game to gain followers. It has real potential to displace other sorts of communication. I’ve caught myself being slightly irritated when people aren’t on Twitter. A lot of people use it instead of email. It’s also a sort of defacto news channel. About a decade ago at media conferences people would talk about narrowcasting rather than broadcasting. And it’s routinely faster than mainstream media for news. Anyone with any interest in the middle east will have found the news was routinely  4 to 5 hours ahead of the television news. To me I get increasingly annoyed with the narrowness of the BBC and the Guardian, etc. coverage.

One of the key reasons Twitter is so good is that it’s brief – we need more of that in Academia. It’s in public – I like doing things on Twitter. It’s simple. It’s fast. I’ve tried various social media and I think I was quite a late adopter. I couldn’t quite see what Twitter was for. I got Facebook for a while, maybe for 6 months and went off it as it can be too personal, you get into too small a conversations. And Twitter is quite impersonal in a way. You need a certain impersonality to carry on effective public debate. The intimacy of Facebook was getting on my nerves and I did want to stay up to date. And students, and people I respected were using Twitter. I like to try things out even if I don’t go for it. I actually recently got into digital in a big way. And I really wanted to get into public engagement for – increasingly I feel that if we’re not doing public engagement we are failing in some way. I want to reach out beyond a small academic audience. I wanted to publicise my research and also an MSc programme I was running called The City. And that was partly to do with my frustration with print media – mainstream architectural journals have a circulation of maybe 6000, some only a few hundred.

In 2009 we tried Twitter as we thought it could publicise the MSc programme. We were sharing our news, we were boring, we hadn’t found our voice.

In 2010 I decided to try again. I decided to go beyond my own interests, I just signed up for anything that I thought was interesting – following all the news channels, also things like NASA, lots of other things, lots of people I knew. I was very catholic in who I was signing up for. And I tried to develop a mode of conversation  that would work. And I started to enjoy the discipline of writing at this very short length. And I try to be funny a lot of the time. But also to be serious – always a serious point there. Occasional anger or irritation. I tried to filter that stuff out but just occasionally there’d be an angry or irritated tone. I thought quite carefully about what the identity would be.

I found it a great discipline. I am convinced my writing has improved. I almost wondered why write an 80,000 word book.

So what was my experience… it’s been a fantastic way to find out about stuff, for news. It’s more or less displaced my use of paper. I was quite a major newspaper reader before, I just want electronic newspapers now. It’s displaced a lot of printed material. And it’s been a great way to find things out fast. And in an academic context it’s been a great way of testing opinion. A lot of us like to have our ideas tested. I like to be challenged and it’s been a really good way to do that. So I’ve put out ideas about potential grant applications and they’ve been instantly been shot down and that’s very useful. It’s also been really useful for thinking through my ideas on some topics. So there was a book earlier this year, Katherine Hakim – Honey Money, a sort of post feminist take on the workplace which caught a bit of a stink. And discussing that has been fantastic.

I’ve had discussions with Simon Kirby, Tiffany Jenkins who writes about museums, etc. I have conversations with them every day and I don’t think I’d have done that in other mediums.

There’s quite a range of things I’m looking at in my stream now. In the future I want to develop better more focused network on Twitter. Test out ideas for grants and research. Do more with images – I’ve been testing that more now. Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened in the last year. I got an early approach from a TV company called Utopia about a large scale international TV series on Culture/Art – an updated take on Micheal Clark’s Civilisation. We had 3 or 4 serious meetings. That came purely from Twitter. They said they deliberately looked for academics using social media and how to communicate using social media.


Q1) You said right at the start you got annoyed with people not being on Twitter. I don’t think that Twitter is perfect for real time conversation. I dont see it as a means of conversation

A1) It’s a particular form of conversation, it’s far better than email.

Q1) You’re bringing others into the conversation and I see that but if I’m offline for a while how do I know what you’ve been saying

A1) Well if I’m away it’s easy to look back at what the person you’ve been talking to has been saying. And if it’s important then people will say it again! It replicates a conversation in the real world – like a pub chat – in a lot of ways.

Q2) If there’s a consensus it’s pretty easy to have a conversation but for disagreement it’s not so straight forward

A2) There are a number of ways you can stage that – you can sent private messages. That’s a useful stage between shouting across the room and doing something more serious. It’s very brittle with anything that involves real conflict.

Q2) Someone did some analysis of video, voice and text. And synchronously and asynchronously. That conversations move from box to box.

A2) I wouldn’t do accurate things with this but for sharing, for networking,

Q3) Do you separate personal and professional accounts?

A3) At first I intended Twitter to be fiercely professional but it’s been almost impossible to do that. But there is something helpful about that. It doesn’t seem like work. Maintaining a webpage seems like so much work, this almost seems like play. But that also means it’s never off.

Q4) People are trying to compare Twitter to email and other forms of writing to people. Saying “but you can’t have this deep conversation” and that’s missing the point. I was teaching a course in informatics and suddnely I was taloking to Jimmy Wales one to one. And I’m working on Digital Scotland and then I got to meet the head of BT in the pub this lunchtime. I could not meet those people any other way. Seeing Nicola’s presentation I saw that map and I hadn’t seen that before – I have followers all over the world! It’s not a replacement for email. It’s something different.

Q5) You said you got a lot of your information on what was happening in North Africa. A lot of spoofing and inaccuracy has been reported. How do you know it’s reliable.
A5) It’s fair. You take all news with a pinch of salt. But that’s true of any media, including the established media. A lot of my news was coming from a Libyan friend who was a fairly reliable source. Many of the print media are staffed by almost no-one. The Evening News is pretty much written by 2 people.

Q5) Surely you limit your horizon to who you choose to follow, the limited filter of your interest. Google already filters results for you, there’s a danger of only listening to what you want to hear.

A5) My experience is that I look at more stuff, a wider range of stuff, but it has the possibility to do that.

Q6) One assumes that Lady Gaga does not read what all her followers write. Of your followers how do you pick who you will follow back.

A6) I tend to follow those people I know already in some way. Theres no strategy.

A rollercoaster ride through the world of social media in science and medicine – Maria Wolters, Research Fellow , School of Informatics

Maria will be doing a whirlwind tour of science and medicine blogging. The four topics I will focus on are transparancy, engagement, privacy, ?

I am going to start with blogging and that’s about a long format dialogue in the community. There is a huge culture of public engagement type science blogging on the Research Blogging ( site. If you include a link in your post it will be indexed and surfaced there. That is one way communicating science, aggregating.

I want to show you two examples of specific bloggers:

Brian Switek (

Did not train in palentology but through his blog he has become part of the paleontology community. He started blogging and improving his writing based on feedback. He started writing a book and sharing that process on his blog and then, bang, he had the preorders. And now he writes for Wired and is a really prominent blogger.

So now we will look at Context and Variation – Kate Clancy. This is a blog that cross the boundaries of sciences and humanities. She looks at reproduction in a cultural context. She takes studies poorly explained or distored by the mainstream media and she explains and expands and reinterprets those studies. She also looks at what it means to be a woman in academia. Women have childen and being a parent in academia is much more of an issue so she also loooks at that.

Now staying with the theme of Kate’s blog we have Petra Boynton who is also very prominent on Twitter and on television. Her blog addresses the distortion of sex education and research on her blog. And her personal experience of being a prominent woman educator in this space.

The view from the states is Dr Jen Gunter who is on WordPress. She disconstructs an app that Cosmo has about the sex position of the day and she deconstructs the ridiculousness of this.

These are all science communication, communicating the outputs of science.

Now if you remember the arsenic-is-life work but scientist Rose Redfield cried foul – see – so she pointed out all the holes in the paper. The authors were appalled that this criticism had been done on blogs, rather than in letters to the journals. And now they are live blogging an attempt to rerun the experiment to check if it really does work.

For women the classic is science professor – – this blogger posts anonymously about being a woman in academia. So he blogs about strange occurances and latent sexism in academia. If you want a UK version of that sort of perspective you can see Francine Donald’s writing on being a woman in science in the UK.

Scientopia – – defends her use of a consistent pseudonym across the web. She wants to be judges on the quality of what is written, not who is behind it. She is a woman and wants to evade the sexism against women in sciences. And she conducts animal research so her use of a psuedonym is a safety measure for her and her family. And it also is liberating for her.


Q1) I have a question about abuse online from a feminist perspective. I don’t blog but I comment sometimes under non gendered handles, and sometimes under gendered handles. I know that on newspaper comments sites – even on the Guardian – you will get far more abuse with a female handle than a male one.

A1) My personal practice is to stay sane. I try not to comment on newspapers anyway. I try to comment in spaces where the community is engaging in a more constructive ways – specific blogs etc. I’ve not personally had any issues. But I’m not that high profile. But I’m also up front, I don’t tolerate abuse. And I take swift action when needed. And I always moderate comments.

Social media: Steering a safe and responsible path – Dawn Ellis, Director, University Website Development Programme

This is a little overview of social media guidelines that are coming up, it’ll be very brief.

The background to the document is that an IS communications meeting about a year ago I mentioned that quite a lot of people were coming to me and my team asking about how to get started with social media. I knew that Nicola was doing lots of activity in EDINA and other active groups. And we had a document in a 2008 Web 2.0 guidelines. and also to look at the EDINA Social Media Guidelines. And to come up with something. And about it being a guideline NOT a policy. To be supportive. We put together a group from schools, support groups and EDINA. And we have been producing that document.

That document has two areas. Firstly on personal presences. Then on hosting a professional official presence. And some general good practice. There is some legal considerations materials – some indications on how to find out more on data protection, university policies etc.

On building an official presence, the key area for help here, we focused on approval, making sure that your supervisor knows that that is going on. Is there contact information. Are you prepared to actively manage your profile and keep that up to date – how will that be monitored in that absence. Monitoring mechanisms for your social media spaces – we’ve heard today about the importance of moderating comments. And your brand and identity.

We encourage you to think about tone and authenticity. To manage comments – and that being a core part of having a social media presence. And you need to think about your exit strategy – you know what you will do at the end of your project. Just to make you think about what you do.

And you will also find handy checklists, links to other university policies, and a flowchart to help you deal with comments which may come in.

And that is it!

It will be placed as a live document in several places – the Comms & Marketing website, the IS Apps website, the Website team website. This document has gone to the website governance steering group and they have suggested an all staff email to all staff with the first page and a link to the rest in the new year – so look out for that. Comments and contributions are welcomed as it should evolve.


Q1) Are guidelines re: the University crest in the guidelines

A1) There is a reference out to the suitable part of the Comms and Marketing website.

Discussion about Twitter and tweets on the Twitter wall

Comment) I was helping my wife set up her Twitter account yesterday and she was asking me how to use it and I said that I mainly follow on Twitter. And as I said earlier I use FlipBoard to look through linked images, etc. rather than tweet.

John Lee) Yes, I think that’s quite a common approach. We have question about people who tweet as part of the community.

Discussion around accessing old tweets…

Comment) who in the university is researching Twitter? Do we know? It might be good to

Peter) Nicola is doing so much on this is because EDINA wants to find out what’s going on. How others use that tool and how we as an organisation engage with that. We don’t… in the R&D arguement we don’t do big R’s we do little r’s and a big D. But we’d love to work with you to work out how one can properly engage without showing up at the disco every time, where you are positioning yourself. If you are reaching out with services etc. you have to be reaching out. And to get that knowledge would be great.So we’d be interested in EDINA to finding out what you want from our platform for your research.

And finally we ended with discussion of the best way to encourage students to follow a course account on Twitter, suggestions were to post engaging content that is slightly off topic, to share essential information that makes the account indispensible, and above all to tweet regularly.

And with that we are done with a really excellent day!