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?


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Using Antconc to search social media data

In my recent work on Twitter, I've been using the freely available and user-friendly concordancing software, Antconc to search for frequency and collocation patterns in the datasets I've compiled. 

On Thursday 23 June, 2011 at I'll be in the David Wilson Library Cafe, happy to chat about the basics of using Antconc.  If you'd like to join me for a coffee and an informal Antconc 101 seminar, you'd be very welcome.  Give me a shout on Twitter (@ruthtweetpage if you are coming along!