Reporting on IR16: The Association of Internet Researchers conference in Phoenix, AZ

Between October 21 and 24, and with generous funding provided by GSU’s Center for Instructional Effectiveness (CIE), I had the great pleasure of presenting my current research at IR16, the conference of the Association of Internet Researchers in Phoenix, Arizona. This annual conference is one of the most prestigious opportunities for Internet researchers to connect, collaborate, and discuss current issues regarding digital communication. Further, while the focus lies on the Internet, social media, and big data, the conference is very interdisciplinary in scope as it brings together researchers from various disciplines, not only from the fields of computer and information sciences but also from areas such as communication, literature, sociology, political science, and cultural studies.

The pre-conference day was all about workshops, and I attended various meetings from the “Digital Methods in Internet Research Workshop” segment, hosted by the research team from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. During the workshop I learned more about big data research methods and how to treat big datasets analytically. One of the tools that Prof. Axel Bruns, director of the research lab, introduced to attendees is called DMI-TCAT, developed by the Digital Methods Initiative located in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The program is used for real-time social media data collection purposes. It is mostly geared towards quantitative analysis but qualitative approaches are also possible.

One of my favorite presentation from the conference was given by Helen Kennedy, Professor of Digital Society at the Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield (UK). Her talk was based on questions of how we make sense of data visualizations. As it turns out, data visualizations (graphs, histograms, both static and interactive) are usually evaluated on their efficiency value. However, most often, human beings understand data visualization through the way they feel. Prof. Kennedy is project director for the Seeing Data – Initiative, which is a research group in the UK that has been conducting studies on the particular dynamics that are at play when “ordinary” and professional people make sense of visualized data. I can certainly see the benefit of addressing the effectiveness of a visualization through the kinds of feelings that it invokes in the viewer, and I encourage all of you to check out their website by clicking on the hyperlink above.

Another great presentation was given by Dr. Robert W. Gehl from the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. His talk focused on the recent developments of alternative social media platforms. As we all know, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram pretty much control the social media market. However, when it comes to questions of meaning-making, deliberation, and collaboration, these big social media platforms only offer limited features. Not only that, the big platforms also often overshadow the fact that there are a whole host of smaller, more specialized social media services available on the Internet. Dr. Gehl and his team have, therefore, put together an archive of alternative social media platforms, which includes information on both current and discontinued social media. The list, which is updated frequently, is comprised of the kinds of platforms that have attempted or are currently attempting to move beyond the restrictions imposed by the big boys such as Facebook and Twitter. It is definitely worth it to check out the archive.