Scribbled Ideas for “Research” Around the OU Online Conference…

So it seems I missed a meeting earlier this week planning a research strategy around the OU’s online conference, which takes place in a couple of weeks or so… (sigh: another presentation to prepare…;-)…

For what it’s worth, here are a few random thoughts about things I’ve done informally around confs before, or have considered doing… I’ve got the lurgy, though, those this is pretty much a raw core dump and is likely to have more typos and quirky grammatical constructions than usual (can’t concentrate at all:-(

Twitter hashtag communities: I keep thinking I should grab a bit more data (e.g. friends and followers details) around folk using a particular hashtag, and then do some social network analysis on the resulting network so I can write a “proper research paper” about it, but that would be selfish; because I suspect what would be more useful would be to spend that time making it easier for folk to decide whether or not they want to follow other hashtaggers, provide easy ways to create lists of hashtaggers, and so on. (That said, it would be really handy to get hold of the script that Dave Challis cobbled together around Dev8D (here and here) and then used to plot the growth of a twitter community over the course of that event. What’s required? Find the list of folk using the hashtag and then several times a day just grab a list of all their friends and followers (So we require two scripts: one to grab hashtaggers every hour or so and produce a list of “new” hashtaggers; one to grab the friends and followers of every hashtagger once an hour or so (or every half day; or whatever… if this is a research project, I guess it’d make sense to set quite a high sample rate and then learn from that what an effective sample rate would be?). Then at our leisure we can plot the network, and I guess run some SNA stats on it. (We could also use a hshtagger list to create a twitter map view of where folk might be participating from?) One interesting network view would be to show the growth of new connections between two time periods. I’m not sure if the temporal graphs Gephi supports would be handy here, but it’d be a good reason to learn how to use Gephi’s temporal views:-) If the conf is mainly hashtagged by OU users, then it won’t be interesting, because I suspect the OU hashtag community is already pretty densely interconnected. As the conference is being held (I think) in Ellumniate, it might be that a lot of the backchannel chatter occurs in that closed environment…? Is it possible to set up elluminate with a panel showing part of someone’s desktop that is streaming the conference hashtag, I wonder – ie showing backchannel chat within the elluminate environment using a backchannel that exists outside elluminate? (Thinks: would it be worth having a conference twitter user that autofollows anyone using the conf hashtag?) Other twitter stuff we can do is described in Topic and Event based Twittering – Who’s in Your Community?. Eg from the list of hashtaggers, we could see what other hashtags they were using/have recently used, helping identify situation of OU conf in other contexts according to the interests of people talking about the OU conf.

Facebook communities might be another thing to look at. The Netvizz app will grab an individuals network, and the connections between members of that network (unless recent privacy changes have broken things?). This data is trivially visualised in Gephi, which can also determine various SNA stats. Again it would make sense to grab regular dumps of data in maybe two cases: 1) create a faux Facebook user and get folk to friend it, then grab a dump of it’s network every hour or so (is it possible to autofriend people back? Or maybe that’s a job for a research monkey…?! Alternatively, get folk to join a conference group and grab a dump of the members of the group every hour or so (or every whenever or so). The only problem with that is if the group has more than 200 members, you only get a dump of a randomly selected 200 members.

– link communities – by which I mean look at activity around links that are being shared via eg twitter (extract the links from the (archived) hashtag feed) , or bookmarked on delicious. I’ve doodled social life of URL ideas before that might help provide macroscopic views over what links folk are sharing, and who else might be interested in those links (e.g. delicious URL History: Users by Tag or edupunk chatter). From socially bookmarked links, we can also generate tag clouds.

– chatter clouds: term extraction word clouds based on stuff that’s being tweeted with a particular hashtag.

– blog post communities: just cobble together a list of blogs that contain posts written around conf sessions.

– googalytics, bit.lytics: not sure what Google analytics you’d collect from where, but an obvious thing to do with them would be to look at the incoming IP adddresses/domains to see whether the audience was largely coming in from educational institutions. (Is there a list of IP ranges for UK HEIs, I wonder?) If any links are shared in the conference context, eg by backchannel, it would might sense shortening all those links on with a conf API key, so you could track all click throughs on shortened versions of that target link. The point would be to just be able to produce a chart of something like “most clicked through links for this conf”.


Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

6 thoughts on “Scribbled Ideas for “Research” Around the OU Online Conference…”

  1. Tony
    many thanks for taking the time to put these down. From my view I think the following would be interesting/priorities:
    Hashtag communities – yes, exactly what I had in mind. If people follow others, and also if we have clusters of ppl replying to each other, retweeting etc. Analysis of activity (was one session more active? What was average activity? Who was most activity?)
    Facebook – less of a priority for me, but I’m not sure I can justify why. Maybe because we don’t explicitly encourage its use for the conf.
    Link communities – yes some of this related to the hashtag activity, what links are being shared.
    Chatter clouds – this would be my second favourite thing (after hashtag communities) to do. What terms are being used, when, etc
    Blog – I think this could be done at a more leisurely pace as part of evaluation.
    Google analytics – I’m getting analytics data from the Cloudworks team, so hopefully that will cover most of what we need.

    Dumb questions: For things like Gephi how quickly do you need to do the analysis before it’s lost? (or is it being in twapperkeeper sufficient to prevent that?).
    You willing to have a play with Gephi around this? I think we should see it as a research paper type activity.

    1. Gephi good for showing the network graph, but last time I looked, Twitter API friends/follower calls just returned user IDs (no timestamp of when the connection was made, though the list may be time ordered?). AFAIK twapperkeeper only archives tweets? So you could use that post hoc to look at when people were tweeting to each other, but you wouldn’t necessarily know whether or not folk were making friends.
      I don’t know if there is a service that tracks and publicises friend/following events eg some place i could sign up to track follow who’s adding you as a friiend, or who you’ve starting following, as a status update? IF such a service did exist, whenever somone hashtagged for first time we could:
      1) grab their frienfds/followers lists;
      2) sign up to follower friends/follower adds;
      3) log that data over the conf period.

      I’m lurgied out and have 4 (?) presentations to prepare and deliver in next 10 days, so i’m not even going to say i might get round to looking at this, cos I’m not…

  2. I’m not going to do this, I’m not, really not – ill, bleurgghhh, lurgy, but it seems that RSSfriends might provide a list of new friends/followers (eg ), if that service works (I can’t see anything yet in feeds i’ve tried to follow) so it should be easy (?) to:

    1) grab a list of users using a hashtag (I’ve previously built a pipe to do this); trick would be maintaining a comprehensive list over time. I really need to find a simple solution to poll and archive an RSS feed; maybe able to do this with ontime event in google spreadsheet?! Don’t know, and atm. don’t care…
    2) each new person added to hashtag users list has rssfriends friends/followers accounts set up, subscribed to and archived (if you just call an rssfriends feed for a user not seen before, i think it creates the feed automatically… IF rssfriends has time stamp, all well and good. If not, call it at known times and record those times with any new users appearing in feed.

    Even if rssfriends doesn’t work, should be easy enough to just poll twitter api for friends/followers of each hashtagger and assuming the list is ordered, just grab the IDs of users who appear after most recent friend/follower you’re already aware of.

    Note that I don’t really know how to do any of this, so you’re in exactly same position as I am in, Martin, wrt putting the solution together, except that you hopefully aren’t as lurgied out as I am ..

    1. Ok, thanks. I’m not going to be able to get to anything before the conference, too busy trying to sort out why OU machines can’t connect to elluminate. Maybe we can see what can be done afterwards.

  3. I’ve got a Twitter account currently following only those people who are
    (a) registered on Cloudworks as attending, and with a Twitter address on cloudworks
    (b) registered on Cloudworks as following the Cloudscape, and with a Twitter address on Cloudworks
    (c) who has Twittered using the conference hashtag
    It’s registered with backupify. Anyone have any other ideas for it?

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