Monday, June 20, 2011

Hashtags and communities of practice

I’ve begun to look at hashtags (#) used in tweets. I’m interested in the way that people use hashtags to signal their membership of wider groups, and so to indicate aspects of their identity.

Hashtags make a tweet searchable, and so visible to others who search for tweets on the same topic. If you search for the hashtag #worldcup2010 you will find all the tweets written about that event, whether or not you follow the people who wrote those messages.

One aspect of the hashtag is that it seems to signal participation in a shared event, for example

• going to a conference: #gurt2011 (Georgetown Roundtable 2011)

• Watching a TV show or mainstream media event: #Lost; #BGT; #worldcup2010

• Supporting a campaign: #foodrevolution, #stoptrafficking

• Commenting on national events: #ge2010 (general election 2010)

But I am not convinced that the use of the hashtag creates a ‘community of practice’ around these events. Although the participants are using the same linguistic repertoire, their tweets are isolated broadcasts and there is no ‘mutual engagement’. There are a lot of people all offering their opinions, but not necessarily engaging with each other (they are just all talking about the same topic, not to each other).

So is there an existing term that describes this aggregating effect, where the talk of an asynchronous and geographically disparate audience coalesces temporarily around a particular event? I know Anstead and O’Loughlin (2010) described this practice as a viewertariat, but I am talking about something wider than this, which mimics a community but is not one. Suggestions?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about "Common Rooms" or "Talking shops"

John Kirk

10:23 AM  
Blogger junglehungry said...

Hmmm... Some initial thoughts: Twitter users form a community of practice in some senses, and there are clearly some sub-groups of twitter users that might also be conceptualised as a community of practice. However, I wonder if it might be more gainful to think of some hashtags simply as topic markers, and others more as group identity markers - much like a particular item of clothing or a particular speech style?

9:38 AM  
Blogger Clare Hooper said...

I think there's /some/ level of mutual engagement. I'm just back from the #websci summer school, and a lot of our tweets were independent, but a bunch of them involved us speaking /with/ one another as well as live-tweeting or just commenting in general.

Someone must have done some quantitative work into this. I suspect one of the summer school mini projects may have, in fact...

9:39 AM  
Blogger Clare Hooper said...

A further comment:

Ramine Tinati, a WebSci student in Southampton, did a quick analysis of tweets with the #websci tag during the summer school. I'll quote what he said:-

Total tweets: 180 (188 but my app only recognised 180 [error in tweets etc])
Total Mentions: 37
Total Retweets 50

This is obviously quite a small dataset of tweets, it gets very interesting
(visually and analytically) when dealing with lots of data!

Cool eh? Quite a lot of interaction within that specific community, at least.

7:31 AM  

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