Among the many tweets I read every day there was one last week advertising a London event dedicated to researchers and academics. The event organized by the Research Information Network (RIN) and the National Endowment for Science, erectile Technology and the Arts (NESTA) is meant to help academics and researchers understand the inﬂuence of technology on current research practices as well as understand what types of tools to use while also identifying benefits and barriers to using them. The event is also meant to be a reaction to these two recent publications (If you build it, side effects will they come? How researchers perceive and use web 2.0 and Open to All? Case studies of openness in research) which suggest that, at least within the UK, the research that involves using web 2.0 tools or that explores web 2.0 phenomena is relatively low.
Having delivered many talks to researchers and students alike on new media research tools (such as this one) , I can confirm that there is little awareness on new media research and tools but the interest is high. The reasons for not engaging in social media research (as resulted from informal talks with the attendees of my lectures and seminars) include among others “no journal will publish this”, “this doesn’t count as <proper> research”, “I have never heard about these tools before”, “I have no time for this” or “I cannot find the data anymore”. Nevertheless, as I wrote on my posterous blog last week, I believe events like these should be organized in other academic institutions as well.
There are numerous benefits.
- new tools for current methodologies (Wordle could be used for qualitative research to pick up frequencies and visualize frequencies within a text in a matter of seconds; ManyEyes enables visualization of both qualitative and quantitative data while also providing access to a growing research community; Automap, Gephi and ORA provide automatic visualization of textual and semantic networks. More examples here.)
- new tools for triangulating results (excellent in the case of qualitative research as a means of testing credibility)
- new tools for new environments (with the rapid increase in popularity of social media and social networking, there is great potential for researchers in many areas from communication to economics and beyond; tools like Engagor and Spark from Spiral 16 enable online and social media monitoring with Spark adding into the mix semantic metrics, Twendz and Twittratr provide Twitter sentiment analysis results based on search terms useful for media analysis, Twitter Analyzer and TweetStats provide Twitter statistics useful for online ethnography projects and behavioral studies, CTwittLike enables users to see Twitter like someone else, Twitter Archive, TwapperKeeper, and What the Hashtag permit monitoring and archival of hashtagged conversations on Twitter while Summarizr automatically generates statistics related to the archived Twitter data and the list could go on)
- tools for non-specialists (not all academics and researchers are versed with both qualitative and quantitative methods and techniques. Tools like the ones listed above enable researchers to obtain the data – statistical or qualitative – that otherwise would require complicated algorithms. However, the researcher’s duty is to explore, critically analyze and appraise these tools, preferably use more of them to answer their research questions and compare their results)
- a growing community (Mendeley is just one example where people choose to share and annotate research and resources)
- a changing attitude to research, peer-review and the role of academia within their local environments
For universities/research groups:
- enhance public engagement
- showcase research and result
- enable collaboration
- expanding their area of expertise
What is needed?
Social media tools are not one-size fits all. Most of them provide results into one specific aspect of the online activity (frequency, volume, influence, dialogue, sentiment, semantics). Like with everything social, new media research requires clear research questions and objectives that will help identify the tools with which the researchers will work.
Social media tools are, like social media, “new” and rapidly changing. They are, most of the times, NOT perfect. It is the researcher’s duty to evaluate their performance and explain as clearly and as accurately as possible the evaluation methodology for the tools. In doing so researchers will achieve their objective to contribute to knowledge as well as bring original research (by exploring new tools/methods/environments) to the existing body of literature.
Do you want to know more about social media research? Do you want to know how you can incorporate it in your project? Get in touch by leaving me a comment, a video message or by reaching out on twitter.