Apologies for the lull in posts here – following my move to Perth in July I spent a lot of time just trying to get some data analysis happening, with some degree of success, and then preparing slides for presentations at IR11 last month. Following the conference I’ve been on holiday in Europe, without a laptop or regular internet connection, only getting back to Perth a few days ago.
To combat the recent inactivity, I’ve uploaded the slides for my IR11 presentations on Slideshare, and also given further updates – but not here. Before I left for Sweden I was also working on updating my site and relocating this blog to my own domain. It’s not entirely done yet, but as I’ve started putting new posts there rather than here, bookmarks might want to be updated to http://timhighfield.net/blog/. All the posts that are currently here will still be here, but they’ve also been copied across to the new domain. See you (possibly with more content) in the new place!
Last month, I moved back to Perth, and have been (very slowly) getting back into the routine of the PhD and refamiliarising myself with my data. Over the next few months, hopefully, there will be more posts going up here as I work through case studies (but this might not happen).
If you haven’t already seen it, what you should be keeping an eye on is Mapping Online Publics, the new site for the major research project being run by Axel Bruns and Jean Burgess in partnership with Sociomantic Labs. While the project itself will cover additional social media sites, currently Axel and Jean are posting detailed commentary on current Australian use of Twitter, around both the upcoming Federal election and the just-finished season of Masterchef. The site also highlights how the analysis is being carried out, which tools are most useful, and details the first stages of the research moving away from covering political blog discussions to wider tracking of Australian communication online.
I’m currently in Singapore, having spent the last few days at the now-concluded International Communication Association conference for 2010. As well as going to various interesting presentations covering a wide range of processes, subjects, and disciplines (including such topics as the uses of Twitter while watching television programmes and the anatomy of YouTube memes), I also prepared a short presentation on some of the network mapping I’ve been doing recently, using data collected by Lars Kirchhoff and Thomas Nicolai of Sociomantic Labs. The final paper authored by the three of us, ‘Challenges of tracking topical discussion networks online’ will be available later, but for the moment here are the slides used yesterday morning at 8.30 (and, for more explanation, Axel Bruns was liveblogging both this session and the rest of the conference too):
[For details of the other presentation I was involved with, ‘Mapping the Australian Networked Public Sphere’ (Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Tim Highfield, Lars Kirchhoff, and Thomas Nicolai), Axel has the slides online here]
Some cross-promotion here, just in case anyone reading this is interested in a postgraduate research conference being organised by QUT‘s Creative Industries faculty in late October 2010 (disclaimer: I’m on the organising committee): Ignite10! Looking for Trouble? Intended for postgraduates from Creative Industries at QUT, but open to other disciplines and universities too, Ignite aims to showcase the diversity of research across the faculty and develop connections between its postgraduates and the faculty itself. All going well I will have a poster displaying some of the various visualisations I’ve been working on this year at the conference (as seen in previous entries and on flickr), and there will be a range of presentations from across the disciplines featuring in Creative Industries, including creative writing, film, journalism, media and communication, visual arts, urban informatics, and music. Showcasing postgraduate student work from QUT Creative Industries, the conference will be a mix of student papers, posters, panels and roundtables, creative works, and performances over three days: 27-29 October, QUT Creative Industries Precinct, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane. I presented at the previous conference in October 2008, and recommend it as a venue for presenting research or work-in-progress in a supportive environment, and also as an opportunity to learn about projects in other Creative Industries disciplines or to meet fellow postgraduates.
2010 is already looking like it’ll be fairly busy, not least because nearly a quarter of it is gone already. Over the next twelve months, I should finish my thesis, while other projects are also being developed and carried out: I’m tutoring in a first-year unit this semester, and am currently writing up new work on the French political blog research, first outlined at IR10 last year, for both my thesis and a conference presentation.
That presentation will be in June, at the International Communication Association conference in Singapore, as a paper co-authored with Lars Kirchhoff and Thomas Nicolai from Sociomantic Labs in Germany. Where my IR10 presentation looked at the text content of blog posts, this paper will be covering the links being made, in their various guises.
As part of this work, and indeed in preparation for research into topical networks, the links made around particular events or themes, I’ve been busy looking into the more permanent/static networks created by blogroll links from sites in the sample population. As with the IR10 work, I’m using data collected by Thomas Nicolai and Lars Kirchhoff over the first eight months of 2009, with 217 political blogs, media resources, and other related websites represented in the final collected data. For this stage, I’ve taken these sites as a starting point, making a list of each blogroll out-link from each of the 217 sites as a two-column spreadsheet (host site, site linked to), and then importing the final list into Gephi for visualisation purposes.
[Because I was using a slightly older version of Gephi, I was also converting the spreadsheet into Pajek’s .net format in order to import it into Gephi using Excel 2 Pajek. However, the latest version of Gephi imports .csv, with extra import options through the .gdf format too]
Having not used Gephi before (I couldn’t get it to work when I tested out visualisation options quite a long time ago), my success in testing it out was greatly aided by the Gephi team releasing a step-by-step tutorial for new users. Importing every individual link originating from the 217 sites and following each tutorial step led to something that looks rather spectacular, although doesn’t really say much:
Of course, the risk with visualisation is that too much attention is spent on the ‘pretty’ side of things, or on preparing diagrams that look impressive (or ‘sciencey’), but don’t aid the research’s argument (or even confuse it further). While the initial aim of creating a blogroll network is to help me see the groups of sites that associate with each other, trying to get a handle on how these sites in the sample relate to each other, the warnings and advice from people such as Bernie Hogan at last year’s OII Summer Doctoral Programme have stayed in the back of my mind. As such, I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last few weeks trying to clean up the data and improve the visualisations, not from an aesthetic point of view, but so I get a clearer sense of what I’m trying to describe.
With the full list of links containing over 5000 nodes, receiving at least one in-link from one of the 217 initial sites, one of the main problems in the first visualisation is the sheer number of nodes, and the implied overimportance of sites with many out-links (especially when these sites are the only ones linking to many nodes – it leads to large groups of satellites around nodes). The next step then, as seen above, was to restrict the nodes to those sites receiving two or more in-links from the initial 217 sites. A number of loose groupings were immediately apparent (see, for example, the top-left of the diagram), and these were followed up after the next round of cleaning the data:
In the first of these two visualisations, some nodes are coloured by their affiliation to particular political parties (either by being official sites or by containing the party name/acronym in their URL). A loose grouping of sites from the Front National (brown) and UMP (blue) in particular is apparent. In the second visualisation, I located sites that were members of three different blog communities or networks, organised around different themes or beliefs. Again, there is some loose grouping – unsurprising, considering this is a blogroll-oriented network, and often sites will have links either to the main page of the group or the other members in their blogrolls – but what is most interesting is the general location of the anti-Sarkozy group Les vigilants (in pink) between the left-wing and centrist party groupings (in the first of the two visualisations). For more details and visualisations-in-progress, check out my Flickr (and look out for updates on the related paper over the next few months!). The next important step, particularly in terms of new information, is comparing the blogroll links to the topical networks, and seeing whether the same associations are in play regardless of time or topic – this will be investigated further over the next few weeks. At this stage, in particular because of its ease of use (and not being restricted to the latest version of operating system-specific software, I’ll most likely continue to work with Gephi while I work on my thesis. I’d still like to try out Prefuse though at some point, but that may have to wait until after all this work is out of the way…
Over the Australian summer, I’m working from the Scholars’ Centre in the UWA Reid Library in Perth, a few desks away from where I wrote the bulk of my honours thesis, hopefully writing and finishing various things that have been in the works for some time. While in Perth, as well as working on the phd, I have the opportunity to see what’s changed both in the city and here on campus (I spent five years here as an undergrad and a staff member before heading east to QUT), and to explore a little.
One major development at UWA that opened earlier this year is the new Science Library. Combining collections previously housed in separate buildings for Maths, Physical Sciences, Biology, or the Arts & Humanities library in the case of Geology, the library is an extension of the previous Physical Sciences library, but also a complete refit of the building. It is a really impressive construction and renovation project, with what looks like a decent balance between collaborative/social spaces on the ground floor with quiet and private zones on the upper levels. Of course, it is currently the summer recess, so the number of students using the new library at the moment is far fewer than would be in the middle of semester, but from the brief period I spent wandering the library yesterday, it certainly appears the very model of how new libraries should be designed. And I’m clearly not alone in this thinking:
Granted, many of the features on display are not new to other libraries or campuses – QUT do the displays of available computers rather well, for example – but it’s still pleasing when a new development turns out right. Or at least appears that way… One of the nice touches is the artwork found at the end of each shelf: a biographical poster of a scientist, with the words coloured to form a portrait of the scientist as well. Examples and a UWA news article can be found here , and of course it wouldn’t be UWA if one of the posters didn’t depict Barry Marshall.
Exploring the new Science Library reminded me of a project I came across on my trip around the US in October, which had slipped my mind after my return. While being shown around Seattle, I was introduced to the Seattle Central Library, where, behind the main librarian’s desk, is located a visualisation entitled ‘Making Visible the Invisible‘ (the image above is from George Legrady’s site, as I wasn’t able to take my own photo). The work of George Legrady, Andreas Schlegel, August Black, Mark Zifchock and Rama Hoetzlein, the visualisation is in four parts, providing different representations of data around title, keyword, format, and Dewey Decimal call number. The visualisation is also dynamic, presenting items that were recently checked out from the library system. It’s not a new project, being unveiled in 2005 and having been the subject of a post at VisualComplexity, but it’s a great example of informative, data-oriented visualisation in public spaces (and wouldn’t look out of place in other libraries). The previous links should provide more information on the project itself; as a bonus, Legrady also has a very nice visualisation as an overview to the Dewey Decimal System, showing each section and (presumably) the number of items the Seattle Public Library system holds/held in that section. Given that one of the other, non-work-related projects I’m involved in uses the Dewey Decimal system, it’s of particular interest to me, but the approaches and use of dynamic data are noteworthy too.