October has been a busy month – as those of you who follow my personal research blog may already have seen, our Mapping Online Publics colleague Tim Highfield and I have presented several papers at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) conference in Manchester and the European Communication Conference (ECREA) in Istanbul. Additionally, I also presented guest lectures at the University of Helsinki and spoke at a symposium held by the Centre for Communication and Computing at the University of Copenhagen. My live blogging coverage from the CCC event, the AoIR conference, and the ECREA conference is over at snurb.info.
Over the next few posts, I’ll share our various papers and slides – and you can expect several of these papers to be converted into journal articles and book chapters in the near future as well. First, though, I need to flag a new article which Jean Burgess and I have published in the ‘list’ issue of the open-access M/C Journal. Taking our cue from the fact that the datasets we retrieve through the Twitter API constitute a form of list, we consider the impact of Twitter’s increasingly restrictive data access policies on our and our colleagues’ ability to conduct meaningful research. (And it’s especially ironic in this context that Twitter recently celebrated itself as an example of “the human face of big data“: if so, that face is increasingly hidden from view by Twitter’s access restrictions.)
In our M/C Journal article, we flag that
implicit in these changes is a repositioning of Twitter users (increasingly as content consumers rather than active communicators), but also of commercial and academic researchers investigating the uses of Twitter (as providing a narrow range of existing Twitter “analytics” rather than engaging in a more comprehensive investigation both of how Twitter is used, and of how such uses continue to evolve). The changes represent an attempt by the company to cement a certain, commercially viable and valuable, vision of how Twitter should be used (and analysed), and to prevent or at least delay further evolution beyond this desired stage. Although such attempts to “freeze” development may well be in vain, given the considerable, documented role which the Twitter user base has historically played in exploring new and unforeseen uses of Twitter, it undermines scholarly research efforts to examine actual Twitter uses at least temporarily—meaning that researchers are increasingly forced to invest time and resources in finding workarounds for the new restrictions imposed by the Twitter API.
There’s a real worry here that Twitter, Inc.’s attempts to commercialise the data generated by its users will only serve to harm Twitter itself; such an outcome would be tragic, given the significant utility of the platform which our own research has so frequently demonstrated. In addition to continuing our research into the uses of Twitter, we’ll continue to investigate these platform-political issues as well, of course.
Anyway – read more over at M/C Journal!