Learning Digital Methods: A Reflection

Today ends a week long series of presentations about emerging to explore social media practices. The presentations ranged from Richard Rodgers talking about differing modes of Digital Methods; Noortje Marrers presenting her work on co-word analysis to explore hashtag usage on Twitter; and the work of Maurizio Teli, reflections on neo-tribes and ethics in digital research.  The talks were full of insight about both the possibility of digital methods in cultural research and the challenges we face as the socio-technical landscape evolves.

The week also focused on learning exercises about data scrapping techniques for the collection of conversations from Twitter [using Twitter Scaper from Issue Crawler] and software for the visualization of structures and node connections from the Tweets collected [Gephi]. As a researcher who has been examining the Internet since the world of Web 1.0; and in the last 5 years specifically exploring learning of web-based social technologies, this week addressed some questions I had about the social media data collection techniques emerging. But it also raised many other questions. Questions about ethics in emerging digital method practices; the fetishism over social media metrics [to quote Alessandro Gandini talk about reputation management and Klout] and how the software increasingly being used to extract and visualize online conversations and connections treats social data, changing how a researcher and readers of their work view, interpret and present natural mediated human conversations.

The most resonating thoughts that remain with me are about the evolution in how the terms , digital , netnography are used coupled with terms such as online community, online publics, neo-tribes. A second thought is about the corporate and capital [data as asset] stakes in both the structuring of and many of the software applications used to scrape and visualize the digital connections cocreated. Is there a link between these two? Should their be? This is going to require further reflection to see how the world of visualized metrics and cultural meaning from digital social practices may converge.

As a researcher, reflecting on my own position in this conversation, tonight I feel overwhelmed and conflicted, yet positive. Positive for the peers who I shared this week with, for the forever learning I am navigating in my own digital ways of working, learning and sharing. At the end of this blog I’ve included a poem I wrote on the trip home to express my reflection of the dominant elements I felt emerging over the week and other similar events I’ve been fortunate to attend in the past few years about digital methods and ethnography.

NB: To read the tweets from this weeks event, The <ahref Foundation



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