Tag Archives: Community

“Mapping Twitter Topic Networks” and Tweetku Digital Essay

As I’ve been working on my digital essay, one thing I’ve been struggling with is how to show what the #tweetku community, or any hashtag community, looks like, without forcing readers to go experience for themselves.

I could try to depict this hashtag public by saying it has X number of contributors, or X number of tweets between Date A and B–but that doesn’t feel especially persuasive or meaningful. So, a portion of my research has been spent trying to figure out the best ways to incorporate and present quantitative data from social media sites.

The digital essay I want to contribute this week is a report on Twitter data visualization by Marc A. SmithLee RainieBen Shneiderman, and Itai Himelboim, entitled, “Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters.”

A quick summary: in an effort to better understand how Twitter political conversations happen, these guys analyzed many different conversations visually using software Node XL in order to recognize patterns:

Our approach combines analysis of the size and structure of the network and its sub-groups with analysis of the words, hashtags and URLs people use. Each person who contributes to a Twitter conversation is located in a specific position in the web of relationships among all participants in the conversation. Some people occupy rare positions in the network that suggest that they have special importance and power in the conversation.

What they found was that, through visual analysis, they were able to recognize at least six different kinds of network crowds.

  • The Polarized Crowd, which features “two big and dense groups that have little connection between them.”
  • The Tight Crowd, which is “highly interconnected.”
  • The Brand Cluster, which is made up of similar topic-driven commentary from many disconnected participants.
  • The Community Cluster, in which a popular topic has devolved into several, separate hubs of communication.
  • The Broadcast Cluster, in which “many people repeat what prominent news and media organizations tweet.”
  • The Support Network, which has a similar premise to the Broadcast Cluster except that the organization at the center or hub of the conversation is also replying and responding to many of its disconnected users (think of big business Twitter accounts that try to solve issues for their clients via Twitter).



This report has been extremely helpful for me in at least two ways: first, it gives me a set list of types of communities to compare #tweetku and other hashtag publics to, as well as ways of discussing the implications of being one of these community types. The #tweetku hashtag public, tiny as it is, is definitely a “Tight Crowd” community with many highly-interconnected members that all use the same or similar hashtags and respond to one another and with very few isolated members.

Second, this report gives me a better sense of methodology and resources–now that I know this kind of visualization is possible, I will be able to do it for myself. Unfortunately, Node XL is only available on Windows, so until I drag myself to the library for a day, I won’t be able to use that software.

Luckily, I’ve been able to find similar, if not quite as intensive, resources online. Using ScraperWiki, I’ve been able to get a lot of data–information about all of @TheTweetku’s followers, and information about every single tweet that includes the hashtag #tweetku or #tweetkuchallenge since April 22nd (unfortunately, it won’t let me look back farther than that).

With that information downloaded as a spreadsheet, I can then use Google Refine to clean up the data–fix it so that it catches all of the @mentions and #hashtags independently, cluster the locations together as much as possible, and edit it so I can export a new spreadsheet with only the necessary data.

Once I have that, I can use either Google Fusion Tables, Raw, or Gephi, to do the work of creating a visual element to display the data. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • A map of @TheTweetku followers


  • A look at the #tweetku community–the #hashtags (yellow) or @users (blue) involved, sized by frequency (this is visualization most similar to the original report–see the “Tight Crowd” interconnectedness?)



hashtagsvis (2)


  • A list of #hashtag publics associated with #tweetku, arranged by frequency

Although my attempts at data visualization aren’t anywhere near as grand as the report I’ve shared, I wouldn’t have known how to do them much less that they were possible without having read it. That’s a reason worth sharing, if nothing else.

Mining the Archollection, Writing the “Stuff of Life”

In his chapter on remix, Adam Banks draws from the work of Catherine Latterell because of her attraction to the concept of remix as something that “allows students ways of juxtaposing texts and ideas from academic and popular culture as well as other forms of public discourse and encourages students to create a wide range of print, oral, and digital texts” (88). Although Banks is clearly interested in these pedagogical values of remix, he advocates that our definition of what remixes, mixtapes, and samples are and do should also emphasize how they enact a “synchronizing of generational commonalities and tensions that allows, even demands, innovation while remaining linked with histories and traditions” (90-1).

So, even if we aren’t explicitly utilizing African American rhetoric within our first-year composition courses, how can we get our students “to remix history in order to point a new way forward” (100)? Furthermore, how can we get them to recognize composition as one giant “digital humanities project, as a thorough linking of texts, techne, and technologies” (155)?

I’m especially interested in how Banks calls for a “linking of texts” that preserves their “histories and traditions” because it feels (at least to me) like he is proposing a New Historicist approach to composition, which could have numerous exciting possibilities. And I very much agree with his assertions that we, as teachers, cannot “create any syllabus or teach anything without the explicit and implicit borrowing and reuse that DJs have celebrated and mastered,” and that “[e]very course we teach is a mixtape” (138).

But what are some examples of texts that we can introduce into our first-year composition classrooms that carry with them historic import?

Well, I’d like to think that material culture (or Material Culture?) is a fine place to start.

In my past two years of teaching E110 here at UD, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching my students’ reactions when I introduce their final writing assignment of the semester: a material culture multimedia project that asks each of them to examine a significant object from their own lives. They first write a personal narrative detailing how that object has helped them understand who they are as individuals but also as members of various communities (family, school, hometown, teams, etc.). They must then transform that narrative generically for a class presentation.

Initially, they view material culture as just a bunch of “stuff,” not as a series of “texts” that can offer valuable insight into their personal histories.  Sort of like this guy:

Because I like to make their lives “miserable,” obvi.

But their final projects almost always rise to the challenge:

ImageAnd what I’ve received are narratives centered around extremely evocative objects: a childhood home, a bracelet commemorating a loved one, a tchotchke from their birth country, or even a video game that has helped them through major life transitions like divorce or changing school systems.

So, why material culture then? Well, for Banks, part of what is at stake in using African American rhetoric in composition is to show black students how to interact with their backgrounds/origins, and their capabilities in a multimodal world. Material culture, as I’ve shown in the project I have my students complete, achieves a similar end. Likewise, Banks wants us to educate our students on how “to critically examine the technologies they often use without careful consideration” (88). To that end, it would behoove us to conceptualize material culture not just as “stuff” but as an archollection (archive & collection) of critical life technologies, ones that we may take for granted through everyday use but nonetheless tell us a great deal about who we are, where we came from, and what we can do both inside and outside of the composition classroom.

The Many Sides of Tumblr: An Internet Coffee House

Resident Tumblr ambassador here, this time drawing a connection between Tom Standage’s discussion of coffee houses as centers of social media and Tumblr.

At first, I thought that Tumblr is more akin to the Devonshire manuscript (Standage 65). A post is “reblogged” across the site among users with varying degrees of anonymity that can add to it however they want (with images, audio, video, capitalizing, quoting and italicizing, quoting and bolding, quoting and italicizing and bolding…and capitalizing…). What intrigues me about Standage’s description of the coffee houses, however, is his observation that different coffee houses were the home of different subject areas: science, literature, law, sailing, and so on. It is this description that brought Tumblr to my brain as site users have “divided” the community similarly.

Tumblr science side(Source on Tumblr)

I see the “science side of tumblr” most frequently. (For a more scientific science side post, see: Shape Memory Alloy). Not being all that well-versed in science, I never know immediately whether the information is accurate (but there’s Wikipedia for that). All the same, users who want to find a funny, often irreverent, and generally speaking fairly accurate update on something to do with science can explore the science side tag or follow the ever-increasing number of blogs devoted to the science side. There is also always the fact-checker side of Tumblr. They arrive on a post about science, history, politics, you name it, and are often accompanied by a .gif from Mythbusters.

Users expand and transform these informational posts through creative use of images, audio files, and video. One post always comes to mind when I think of digital writing and audio:

Origin of the American Southern Accent

A disclaimer here: I have no idea how right or wrong this post is, especially since the original poster’s blog has been deleted at some point over the past few years. What interests me about is that it does something that the written word simply cannot do and is highly persuasive – at least, to someone that is not a linguist and knows nothing about the origin of the Southern accent. I imagine that a written essay to describe the same point would either be overly simplistic (the LA accent is a French accent slowed down) or incredibly complicated (with a lot of linguistic jargon and symbols or accent marks of some sort). Less than two minutes of audio convincingly accomplishes what would take paragraphs of text to do to a lesser degree of success. Tumblr as a collection of coffee houses intrigues me because users can easily speak to one another through a variety of forms on one single platform.

This is not to say that the “sides” of Tumblr, the various coffee houses, coexist peacefully. Tumblr users also divide themselves by primary interest – the main division being the “hipster” side and the “fandom” side. Every few months I will see a post by fandom blogs for fandom blogs that remind users not to criticize the hipster side, but to let them reblog pictures of rainbow hair colors and leggings with galaxy patterns in peace.

Related to my post last week about marginalized voices and social justice on Tumblr, there is also a tension between the “social justice” side and the broader site.  Gavia Baker-Whitelaw writes about the friction on the site: “While Tumblr’s userbase tends to skew younger and more politically liberal than, say, Facebook, SJ Tumblr has gotten a bad rep for being reactive and obnoxious. Accusing someone of being an SJ blogger is the Tumblr equivalent of calling someone a hipster: You may fulfill all the necessary criteria to be one, but nobody wants to own the title.” (“Meet the Trolls and Hoaxers of Social Justice Tumblr“).  Her larger piece discusses one Tumblr user, forfuturereferenceonly, that ran a blog for about a year that mocked SJ Tumblr. I followed the blog during its run (it has been deleted) and never could call if it was an overblown social justice user or if it was a troll.

Being on the internet, and being difficult to search through efficiently, Tumblr is difficult to divide into neat sectors, and I don’t think it should be. I do think, however, that the ways in which users discuss the divisions have led to an interesting parallel between the site and Standage’s coffee houses.

(As an aside – I’ve been collecting a bunch of posts that pop up on my personal blog in a separate tumblr dedicated to this class for convenient perusal: roguemarble.tumblr.com)

Fastwrite: Authorship since 2007

The notion of authorship pre-digital media is already fraught in terms of cultural context as well as the specifics of publication and editing. I think a lot of people believe that sites like Tumblr or Twitter are perhaps less influence-free or contrived than traditional publishing, and offer authors a more direct sense of control over their text. But at the same time, the context of authorship on the web seems to have become more and more localized in the last few years, as specific, smaller web communities have sprouted and grown. Perhaps the kind of assumed cultural knowledge of a specific site, maybe something like Reddit or a specific Tumblr tag, is a mirror of something like specific scholarly communities, both influencing and reacting to and against texts as they come and go. Yet, for both, there does seem to be a certain kind of boundary, one that can be transgressed as texts become too popular for their smaller community, but also one that does keep a community somewhat protective and engaged with its own existence. Subreddits concerned with the quality of their own content, like r/TrueReddit, or people who become moderators of things like the Education tag on tumblr: are these different versions of groups like the MLA or other editorial boards?