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Today the phrase “social networking” has become synonymous with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. For the average person these websites are simply a convenient way to keep in touch with friends and family. However, in the world of digital humanities, they offer numerous opportunities for research in the sphere of online collaboration. Social media has revolutionized the way people share and perceive information and scholars are just beginning to understand the implications of this transformation.

In the long paper “The Social pleasure of the text: applying digital humanities methods to reception studies” Anouk Lang analyzes how readers use social networks to express their impressions of literary works. She focuses on two specific online platforms: the micro blog “Twitter” and the book collection “Library thing”. Dr. Lang points out that sharing one’s opinion with others brings to both sides a better understanding of the topic. To prove that and evaluate people’s literary engagement, the study uses three separate tools from the digital humanities framework:

  1. Thematic analysis: Identifies commonly used words and phrases.
  2. Temporal analysis: Uses twitter’s time stamped data to analyze trends over time.
  3. Geospatial analysis: Maps the observed word and phrase patterns.

In the short paper “Archaeology in social media: users, content and communication on Facebook”, Ingrida Vosyliute uses Facebook, the most popular social network, to study online communications on the topic of Lithuanian archaeology. Her conclusions on the significance of such collaborations are in line with Dr. Anouk Lang’s opinion outlined above. Social media brings unique opportunities to connect scholars, subject matter experts and the wider public, stimulating them to interact and share their knowledge. Digital ethnography, content analysis and social network analysis are the main methods used in the study to answer questions such as who uses social media in archaeology, why do they used it, could one use the information available to perform proper academic research, and does social media alter the content of the different topics in archaeology.

Some of these questions are addressed in Justin Tonra’s poster on “Crowdsourcing annotation and the ‘social edition’: Ossian online”. The Ossian online is an online platform created to allow scholars to read and analyze different versions of the Ossian poems, first published in 1760 by James Machperson. Machperson translated the poems from Gaelic, collecting fragments of an old and lost Celtic epic. Since he did not provide any original transcripts, the poem’s authenticity has always been questioned. The Ossian online contains all available versions of Machpherson’s work and allows researchers to annotate and comment. It is another strong example of the power of collaboration. In his poster, Dr. Tonra shares his excitement with this real time interdisciplinary approach to academic research.

The collaborative effort of social networks substantially exceeds what one can accomplish through working alone. This is the shared opinion of many scholars within digital humanities. It seems like an obvious statement, but the reality is that today academic research is performed primarily by scientists sitting alone in a lab. This might be due to the nature of the work, often requiring a high lever of concentration. Face-to-face social interaction is not always possible or required. Moreover, many people question the quality of information provided in the social networks. It might be a viable option for social studies, analyzing behavior and identifying trends based on time and location. However, it is not the place where scientists exchange research ideas. Does the set of people actively using social networks overlap at all with the set of people who perform academic research is a question that one needs to address.

No matter what the answer is, online social network platforms are constantly evolving. When Facebook and Twitter were conceived, they were not intended to be used as a source of research studies. It is hard to predict what their role will be in the future. They are undoubtedly powerful, providing one the opportunity to exchange ideas without leaving his or her comfort zone. They keep record of many different aspects of a person’s life. Understanding the meaning of this data will only become more important in the future.

References

Galway, N. (2014). Ossian Online | NUI Galway. [online] Demo.ossianonline.org. Available at: http://demo.ossianonline.org/about [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Torna, J. and Barr, R. (2014). CROWDSOURCING ANNOTATION AND THE ‘SOCIAL EDITION’: OSSIAN ONLINE.. [online] Dharchive.org. Available at: http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Poster-210.xml [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Lang, A. (2014). THE SOCIAL PLEASURE OF THE TEXT: APPLYING DIGITAL HUMANITIES METHODS TO RECEPTION STUDIES. [online] Dharchive.org. Available at: http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-527.xml [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

Vosyliute, I. (2014). ARCHAEOLOGY IN SOCIAL MEDIA: USERS, CONTENT AND COMMUNICATION ON FACEBOOK. [online] Dharchive.org. Available at: http://dharchive.org/paper/DH2014/Paper-468.xml [Accessed 21 Oct. 2014].

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