Archiving Social Media Conversations of Significant Events

This is a rough proposal for another session at 2009 THATCamp that grew out of conversations with a number of people in my network about the role of social media in the recent events in Iran.

I propose that we have a session where THATCampers discuss the issues related to preserving (and/or analyzing) the blogs, tweets, images, Facebook postings, SMS(?) of the events in Iran with an eye toward a process for how future such events might be archived and analyzed as well. How will future historians/political scientists/geographers/humanists write the history of these events without some kind of system of preservation of these digital materials? What should be kept? How realistic is it to collect and preserve such items from so many different sources? Who should preserve these digital artifacts (Twitter/Google/Flickr/Facebook; LOC; Internet Archive; professional disciplinary organizations like the AHA)?

On the analysis side, how might we depict the events (or at least the social media response to them) through a variety of timelines/charts/graphs/word-clouds/maps? What value might we get from following/charting the spread of particular pieces of information? Of false information? How might we determine reliable/unreliable sources in the massive scope of contributions?

[I know there are many potential issues here, including language differences, privacy of individual communications, protection of individual identities, various technical limitations, and many others.]

Maybe I’m overestimating (or underthinking) here, but I’d hope that a particularly productive session might even come up with the foundations of: a plan, a grant proposal, a set of archival standards, a wish-list of tools, even an appeal to larger companies/organizations/governmental bodies to preserve the materials for this particular set of events and a process for archiving future ones.

What do people think? Is this idea worth pursuing?

Twitter: Why all the fuss?

I’ve been using Twitter for several months now. [I have ~25 people I follow and about the same number follow me. I post at least once a day and I’ve used it to learn more about people I already knew from work, and gotten to know people with whom I’ve spent less than 48 hours in person. I don’t have it on my cell phone, but I do check it fairly regularly when I’m online.]

Although I have no idea what the company’s business plan is (probably to be bought by Google or Yahoo), it’s interesting to me that so many people are asking themselves how to use it (or dismissing it as overwhelming and/or naval-gazing). If we see it as a slightly different method of keeping in touch with other people, with people we’re interested in for a variety of intellectual or personal reasons, then good. Why the hand-wringing or defensiveness about it I see from so many bloggers (many of whom I really respect)? [For example] Is it that it’s really hard to explain to people who aren’t on it?

Facebook and Faculty: A Small Tale of Utility

A podcast by CHNM’s Digital Campus team and posts by Jerry Slezak and Jim Groom, stimulating an active conversation about the merits and weaknesses of Facebook in academic settings have prompted me to write about my own recent experiment with the social networking site. I’ve had a Facebook account and a growing number of mostly student friends (~65) for a couple of years now. I’ve used it mostly to keep in touch with recent grads, though current students have used it to look up my AIM account or converse with me about particular projects or their on-campus activities.

Recently, however, I set up a Facebook group for my History Department Alumni Book club and invited those of my Facebook friends who were alums. Thirty joined in 24 hours, and other alums joined as well (I left the group open) bringing the total close to 40. I’ve already organized the next meeting and book choice via the event system and people have already RSVPed (and explained to the group why they’re not coming, if they can’t make it). Not sure why I resisted tapping into that existing community before now, but I’m glad I have.

It doesn’t reach everyone; not everyone’s on Facebook, and not all of those who are on the site are my friends. [Though, as I noted, a number of unofficial friends have joined on their own .]* I have about 90 people on the email list for the book club and I still use that to contact most people. Facebook also won’t be the prime way we meet and discuss the books. [Face-to-face meetings are supplemented by a blog and comments at] Still, Facebook allows an easy RSVP system and a convenient place to coordinate meetings and book choices and it will advertise the book club in a way that most alums wouldn’t have stumbled on before. [Not to mention the fact that current students can see it in my Groups and those of their friends who recently graduated, furthering the likelihood that they’ll join when they become alums.]

I’m not particularly interested in using it for classroom teaching at this point (though I’m open to the possibility if it made sense); rather I see Facebook as a way to engage students in larger (broader than one course) discussions and as a way of interacting with students and former students through a group channel that persists beyond their time in a particular class or in their collegiate career. I’ll post about Facebook’s relation to the book club in future posts.

UPDATE: A former student contacted me via Facebook after I created the book club group. He had wanted to be in the book club when he graduated two years ago, but had forgotten to contact me to sign up. He’d seen the book club group on Facebook and he’s excited to be able to join it now.

* “Unofficial” is an awkward, though brief, way to describe people who I know, but are not Facebook friends with; however, “non-friends” (an alternative I considered) makes it sound like I don’t like them….