- 2014-2015: Andrew Radford (policy memo currently in development)
- 2012-2013: Al French, Implementation of State Licensing Requirements for Medical Qigong, Tai Chi and Wellness-Based Yoga
- 2011-2012: John McLaughlin, Increasing Private Well Testing in the State of Maine
- 2010-2011: Mary Lynch, Risk Management for Maine’s Increased Exposure to Future Oil Shocks Through Industry-supported Private Sector Initiatives
Like many institutions of higher education these days, the University of Maine at Augusta communicates about its accomplishments and keeps track of the work of others using the social media service Twitter. In its communications, UMA traces the paths of the community that surrounds it.
Unlike the social media platform Facebook (oriented toward friend and family relationships) or Pinterest (devoted to the sharing of images), Twitter acts like a news clipping service of sorts. Limited to 140 characters of text, Twitter posts are like headlines in a newspaper, with links to web pages containing more information. Making headlines social, Twitter posts can mention other Twitter accounts that are relevant to the story. By tracking those mentions, we can find communities of posters who find one another’s work relevant.
To generate the social network graph you see below, I’ve searched through all Twitter posts made this year by the university’s official account, @UMAugusta, and identified all of the other Twitter accounts that @UMAugusta has mentioned. In a second step, I looked at the records of each of the Twitter accounts @UMAugusta mentioned and found out whether and how often they referred to one another. The result, formally speaking, is a level 1.5 ego network. In the graph below, Twitter accounts are indicated with labeled dots; in the parlance of social network analysis, these are called “nodes” or “vertices.” The larger a dot is in the graph, the more often it is mentioned by other Twitter accounts. Mentions between Twitter accounts are indicated with curved lines, which network analysts refer to variously as “lines,” “arcs,” “edges” or “ties.” The darker a line is, the more often mentioning occurred between two Twitter accounts.
To highlight structure in the network of mentions surrounding @UMAugusta, I identified five clusters of Twitter accounts who mentioned one another especially often. These clusters are color-coded in the network graph above. Because the identification of clusters of conversants was driven by data, not by pre-conceived notions about which accounts might “naturally” be grouped together, it is curious to see how particular clusters focus on particular domains. Some patterns:
- The dark green cluster in the lower-right of the graph consists strongly of offices and officers connected to student life and services at the University of Maine at Augusta.
- The dark blue cluster in the upper-left of the graph is anchored around newspapers and newspaper reporters of central and southern Maine — the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal of Augusta and the Morning Sentinel of Waterville. These three newspapers are not simply tied by geography, but are also published under the aegis of the MaineToday Media company; @centralmesports is a joint outlet of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Other central Maine institutions — Colby College and the Holocaust & Human Rights Center — are also featured in this cluster.
- The light green cluster in the lower-left of the graph features strong representation in the arts, with the 5 Rivers Arts Alliance, Harlow Gallery, photographer Jill Guthrie, and The Band Apollo included.
- Immediate substantive commonalities in the red upper-right cluster, including my own account, the Maine State Library, the Maine Humanities Council and a edu-metrics website NerdScholar are elusive. We are tied to one another because of our mutual communications across disciplinary boundaries.
- The light-blue cluster at the bottom of the graph is a remainder category, consisting mostly of Twitter accounts that UMA has mentioned but that do not mention other accounts often.
- Finally, although these clusters identify groups of accounts that communicate more often internally, connections between clusters are frequent, indicating that most of the accounts mentioned by the University of Maine at Augusta are part of a broader community.
On the social media platform Twitter, users post messages of 140 characters or less. Those messages can include links to web pages or communications to other Twitter accounts using the @ (“at”) sign. When a # sign is placed in front of a word in a Twitter post, the word becomes a “hashtag” and that post is added to a stream of all other posts using the same hashtag. Direct mentions and replies build pair bonds in the Twitter environment; hashtags build community.
For years, people interested in discussing Maine politics have used the #MEPolitics hashtag to broadcast, to speak and to listen. As Election Day 2014 approaches, volume of chatter on the #MEPolitics hashtag has increased. Who’s speaking most? Who is speaking to whom (and who isn’t)? What’s being talked about? To find out, I’ve gathered all posts (popularly called “Tweets”) using the #MEPolitics hashtag over the last weekend: October 24-26, 2014. The following is a graph of the resulting social network, in which each unique contributor to #MEPolitics is represented by a dot, each tie indicates that one contributor has mentioned or replied to another contributor in a Tweet, and contributors are placed closest to those in the network with whom they tend to communicate most:
A few features of the #MEPolitics network are immediately apparent. First, nearly every one of the 603 participants in the #MEPolitics hashtag over the weekend is a communicator and not just a broadcaster; only 23 individuals posted Tweets during the period without referring to or being referred to in some way by another Twitter user (these are the loners colored light green in the lower-left of the graph). Second, most participants (565 out of 603 participants) are connected to one another either directly or indirectly in one giant conversation; the few unconnected conversations graphed in the lower-right corner are happening in small groups of 2 or 3. Third, the large conversation in which most Tweeters are participating is itself divided up into smaller clusters, in-groups whose members more frequently communicate with one another than with outsiders. These smaller clusters of conversation are color-coded in the graph above.
What’s going on inside those clusters of communication? To help clarify, I’ve depicted each Maine candidate for governor or federal office not as a simple dot, but rather using their profile picture. Also rendered by their profile images are the Twitter accounts of the Democratic Party and Republican Party of Maine. We can see from the graph that independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler and independent congressional candidate Richard Murphy are, not surprisingly, located in their own unique sub-community separated from the communities of discussion surrounding the major-party candidates. Perhaps more surprisingly, conversation involving Republican candidates is not embedded in a single Twitter community, but rather split among four sets. Indeed, both Senator Susan Collins and Governor Paul LePage have two Twitter accounts each, and each of their accounts is placed in its own commnunity. The Democratic Party and Democratic Party candidates, in contrast, are all located in the same sub-group of accounts. It is fair to say, at least in the context of Twitter communication and at least for this time period, that Maine Democrats have a more cohesive social media community than Maine Republicans.
A careful observer may notice the absence of one candidate and one party from this graph. Where is Republican congressional candidate Isaac Misiuk, for instance? Where is the Maine Green Independent Party, which is fielding a slate of 13 candidates in this cycle? The answer is that neither Misiuk nor the MGIP are included in the graph because neither participated in the #MEPolitics discussion, at least over the weekend.
Finally, there are some notable clusters of communication with non-party, non-candidate accounts at the center; these are indicated with a text label identifying the most central account of a cluster. M.E. McRider (BikinInMaine) is a conservative citizen (“Fighting the spread of the disease which is liberalism!“) who posted 130 provocative Tweets over the period, attracting 48 responses:
On the left, blogger Bruce Bourgoine posted 46 Tweets over the weekend, a smaller number than McRider, attracting 36 responses:
The Kennebec Journal (KJ_Online) and Bangor Daily News (bangordailynews) are two Maine newspapers sitting at the center of their own circles of conversation. The Portland Press Herald, another prominent Maine Newspaper, isn’t in its own independent Tweeting group; rather, its Tweets are referred to predominantly by Democratic candidates and their followers.
Of course, it’s not just the structure of the #MEPolitics network that matters; the content of discussion this weekend matters too. With Election Day just a week and a half away, what subjects in Maine politics are being talked about the most? The ten most-used hashtags in last weekend’s #MEPolitics discussion were:
Top Ten Hashtags
1. #mepolitics: 2542 uses
2. #michaud2014: 386 uses
3. #michaud: 354 uses
4. #lepage: 320 uses
5. #hillaryclinton: 302 uses
6. #mike: 288 uses
7. #eliotcutler: 278 uses
8. #cutler: 246 uses
9. #maine: 224 uses
10. #poll: 206 uses
The weekend visit by Hillary Clinton on behalf of Democratic candidates and the race for Governor appear to have garnered the highest volume of attention. This pattern is borne out in a listing of the ten most linked-to web pages in #MEPolitics Tweets:
Top Ten Page Links
1. Story: Paul LePage leads polls: 45 links
2. Story: Michaud does best one-on-one: 24 links
3. Story: Hillary Clinton endorses Mike Michaud: 22 links
4. Editorial: the Governor’s race will determine health outcomes of sick Mainers: 21 links
5. Story: A retrospective on Mike Michaud’s record in the U.S. Congress: 14 links
6. Story: poll on bear baiting: 13 links
7. Video: Eliot Cutler asks Mainers to vote for someone else if he can’t win: 11 links
8. Story: Eliot Cutler benefits from out-of-state money: 11 links
9. Another Story: Eliot Cutler benefits from out-of-state money: 10 links
10. Michaud Campaign TV Ad: Cutler supporters who will vote for Mike Michaud: 10 links
Remember bear baiting? Although there are many letters to the editor being published about this controversial referendum, relatively few Twitter users are discussing the possible ban over social media. The subject of a bear baiting ban garnered only one link in the top ten links of the weekend. All other stories have to do with the race for the Blaine House.
You may notice a trend toward citing newspaper articles in the top ten link list. Let’s look at the ten most linked-to domains for a deeper look:
Top Ten Domains
1. pressherald.com: 181 links
2. bangordailynews.com: 109 links
3. youtube.com: 93 links
4. michaud2014.com: 37 links
5. centralmaine.com (Kennebec Journal): 31 links
6. conventionofstates.com: 22 links
7. blogspot.com: 16 links
8. sunjournal.com: 16 links
9. huffingtonpost.com: 14 links
10. lepage2014.com: 14 links
Newspaper links are indeed the most popular, with the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News, the Kennebec Journal and the Lewiston Sun-Journal gaining spots in the top 10. Social media sites are also quite popular, with YouTube, Huffington Post and the blogging platform Blogspot representing the form. Campaign websites for Paul LePage and Mike Michaud make the list (notably, Eliot Cutler’s page does not). The final entrant in the top ten list of linked sources is the website conventionofstates.com, which proposes a new Constitutional Convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. Tweets mentioning this website consist almost entirely of posts made by M.E. McRider (handle @BikinInMaine) and responses to these posts.
McRider has made an impact this weekend in an otherwise election-centric week, and that impact is felt in discussion as well. Some Twitter users might elevate the salience of their favorite websites by simply posting a link again and again, a kind of anti-social behavior that some say borders on spamming. Yet McRider elicited responses as well, as evidenced by this last list of the ten most mentioned or replied-to accounts:
1. Mike Michaud (Democratic candidate for Governor)
2. Hillary Clinton
3. Eliot Cutler (Independent candidate for Governor)
4. Maine Democratic Party
5. Amy S. Fried, University of Maine political science professor and political columnist
6. Shenna Bellows (Democratic candidate for Senate)
7. M.E. McRider
8. Paul LePage (Republican candidate for Governor)
9. Bangor Daily News
10. Randy Billings, reporter for the Portland Press Herald
Last weekend, these were the speakers closest to the center of Maine political discussion on Twitter.
Methodological note: analysis and visualization was performed using NodeXL, a free and open-source plugin for Microsoft Excel that makes social media analysis accessible to almost anyone with a computer.
On October 15, 2014 the Social Science program at the University of Maine at Augusta hosted a debate between the two candidates on the ballot to become the next mayor of Augusta, Maine. Cosponsored with the Kennebec Journal, the debate asked city councilors William Dowling and David Rollins to address questions driven by available social science data regarding the city of Augusta. I had the enjoyable privilege of moderating, while fellow professor and sociologiest Lorien Lake-Corral fielded and filtered audience questions.
A video of the debate is available below (with audio kicking in about 20 seconds in):
During the debate, reference is made to a series of charts drawing from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports and the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. These charts, reproduced below, place the circumstances of the city of Augusta in the context of the other large communities in Maine and the nation itself, describing property crime rates, violent crime rates, median household income, food stamp use, female labor force participation and the sex gap in pay for Augusta and its peer cities.
Finally, budget materials for the city of Augusta in fiscal year 2014-2015, referred to often during the debate, can be found here.
As you evaluate the debate performances of Bill Dowling and Dave Rollins, I encourage you to consider their committments and demurrals with regard to the social challenges Augusta faces. Also think about the budgeting choices the candidates have made as councilors. In that context, how do you think they’ve done?
Looking for a simple, hands-on, meaningful way to make a difference in your community? Volunteer for the UMA Community Garden!
The University of Maine at Augusta Community Garden is gearing up for its third year of growing fresh organic vegetables for the Augusta Food Bank. In 2013, UMA staff and students delivered nearly 2,000 pounds of produce to the food bank, bringing new life to the old idea that a small group of dedicated people can change their world.
Hunger in Maine is a real problem, and we do our part by donating all food grown in the garden to the Augusta Food Bank. The bank provides supplemental food for over 1,000 individuals in the Augusta area. Many of those who are served by the food bank lack access to fresh, nutritious produce, making this project a sustaining service to the community.
Will you join us in 2014? We are looking for UMA community members of all sorts — current students, alumni, staff, faculty and administrators — who are willing to lend a hand. You don’t have to be an expert to help in the planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. All we need are your hands and a helping spirit.
If you would like find out about upcoming events or just watch the garden grow, visit our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/156445314475791/. If you’re a UMA community member who would like to jump in and become a community gardener, contact Cynthia Dean, faculty garden advisor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you know that as part of the University of Maine system’s commitment to public transparency, you can look up the annual salaries of “regular employees” employed by the system and its seven campuses? It’s true. Looking through November 2013 data (the latest available), I notice that the University of Maine campus in Orono employs two people under the official job title of “Wizard.” One of them is even a “Wizard Coordinator.”
Think carefully: if I ask you how to get to the University of Maine — exactly how to get to the University of Maine — can you give me absolutely precise directions? Did you ever see odd-colored lights streaming out of the on-campus dorms late at night? Have you ever had a conversation with a graduate or current student of University of Maine student in which you ask them what they’re studying and they respond in vague terms (“this and that, “stuff,” “qualitative research,” “arts & sciences”) and then quickly change the subject?
I can’t speak my claim out loud, because I don’t have proof, but you know what I’m suggesting. Think about it — and look for the signs.
As a sociologist, I come to the study of social media as a real-world instance of a theoretical object, the social network. Entrepreneurs across the country, on the other hand, start with the practical imperative of generating and maintaining business leads and contacts, and seek to learn more about social media as a means to that end.
Connecting us in the middle is the Social Media Breakfast, where academics, businessfolks and professional consultants meet once a month over coffee and a bagel, discussing technique and technology while members take turns presenting on areas of their own expertise. I attend the Social Media Breakfast Central Maine, held on the campus of nearby Thomas College in Waterville.
Last month, I presented to the group on low-cost to no-cost tools to gather and analyze data on communication patterns in social media. This week, Aimee Bermudez of Dream Local is sharing her experience in time-saving devices for content creation:
Together, while we learn and grow in our capabilities to make connections online, we make connections with one another and build community offline. Social media breakfasts happen around the country. Google “social media breakfast” and the name of your nearest city and find a place at the table. The “real” world, the virtual world, the business world and the academic world are all welcome here.
Thanks to Val Marsh of the University of Maine at Augusta Office of Civic Engagement for bringing a great student activist opportunity to my attention. On April 8 2014 in the Maine State House, UMA students have the opportunity to make their case to state legislators regarding a social or political issue they care about. Students only need to bring themselves, relevant literature and a poster board with information about their cause of choice. The Hall of Flags is right in the middle of the legislative action, being situated right underneath the dome of the state house, so this opportunity for student organizing can’t be beat.
If you’ve got questions or want to get involved, contact Coordinator of Civic Engagement Valerie Marsh at 207-621-3158 or just drop by her office in the Randall Student Center Room 210.