I had such a fun time at the 2014 New England Political Science Association conference that I have a hard time identifying my five favorite moments. But if I force myself to choose, here they are.
1. No such thing as a free lunch? As conference organizer hands me tickets to two keynote luncheons, he says “here, take ’em. We won’t ask for them at the door, but you can take ’em anyway.” Two graduate students on the periphery lean in.
2. Prediction! Campaign consultant shares a tip with me on the side: Senate Democrats Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor? “They’re both going down, big time.”
3. Most enjoyable presentation: Abigail Fisher Williamson and Rachael Ann DiPietro of Trinity College on changes in the social movement for undocumented youth after victory reveals complexity.
4. Prediction! Distinguished speaker declares that this time around, Eliot Cutler’s campaign for Governor of Maine looks strong. Counter-Prediction! Scholars at several tables spontaneously interrupt: “No.” Someone’s got to be right.
5. Finishing my own presentation on social media networks among state legislators, letting the nervous anticipation go, and feeling freed to enjoy others’ work.
Attending academic conferences can feel a bit like living in a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. A conference that’s too small can leave you feeling underfed. On the other hand, a conference that’s too large can be overwhelming, intimidating and even alienating. A conference on a highly particular subject may be quite useful if you select just the right one, but may be completely useless if you’re even slightly off the mark. The presentations at an overly general conference may lack those crucial connections that stimulate career-changing “aha!” insights. If you’ve been to enough conferences, you probably know what I mean.
How rare, and therefore how precious, is the conference that hits the Goldilocks sweet spot in between these distasteful extremes. The 2013 Social Media & Society International Conference was that conference for me. Gathering and connecting presentations on the causes, kinds and consequences of online social connection, #SMSociety13 managed to be more than simply the sum of its individual presentations. Researchers across diverse fields of social science, humanities, business and computer science shared distinctive approaches and concerns regarding the same substantive subject, which meant that we all had some basis for understanding but also had something to learn:
Attendance numbered in the sweetly moderate middle between a hundred and two hundred, providing a critical but collegial mass of thinkers who began conversations during one set of presentations and continued them across others. How do we bridge (or barricade) the quantitative-qualitative divide? How do we know who is “really” speaking in an online environment, and how do participants manage the online presentation of self? What are the ways in which online interaction leads to offline action? As we ran into one another again and again in various combinations, these questions carried over into the late night at a pub and over danishes in the morning, with an aggregate from far-flung places becoming a quirky community.
The Social Media & Society International Conference meets again at Ryerson University in Toronto on September 27-28, 2014. Got a paper or panel in mind? Submit through this link: I’d love to see you there. Abstracts are due April 18. Poster proposals are due May 23.
Twitter is a great subject for social media research because 1) it is used by a lot of active and influential people and 2) its data is presumed public, obviating privacy concerns. Yet the sheer volume of Twitter data poses problems for researchers, especially those without thousands of extra dollars needed to harness insane amounts of computer power. Part of the solution for modest researchers at small institutions like myself is to study relatively small-scale subjects. Another part of the solution is to tie together multiple low-cost solutions and not look for one magic software package to address all needs.
I’m working on a project right now in which I’ve been following all tweets by and tweets mentioning members of the Maine State Legislature over time. I could write a program in PHP using the Twitter API to accomplish this… if I had a bit more time and know-how. I’ll try to get these later, but for now, I’m running multiple copies of the program Tweet Archivist Desktop, each of which captures and saves tweets by or regarding one Twitter account as they’re posted. Tweet Archivist Desktop costs just $9.99 for a perpetual license, which I consider well work the price.
Tweet Archivist Desktop creates a separate .csv dataset for each of the searches I’m saving. To gather them all together, I’m following advice shared helpfully by solveyourtech. On my Windows laptop, I’m entering the command prompt and combining all csv files in a folder into a single csv file with a variant of the “copy” command.