Microblog Analysis as a Programme of Work

Peter Tolmie, Rob Procter, Mark Rouncefield, Maria Liakata, Arkaitz Zubiaga

ACM Transactions on Social Computing. In press.

Inspired by a European project, PHEME, that requires the close analysis of Twitter-based conversations in order to look at the spread of rumors via social media, this paper has two objectives. The first of these is to take the analysis of microblogs back to first principles and lay out what microblog analysis should look like as a foundational programme of work. The other is to describe how this is of fundamental relevance to Human-Computer Interaction's interest in grasping the constitution of people's interactions with technology within the social order. To accomplish this we take the seminal articulation of how conversation is constituted as a turn-taking system, A Simplest Systematics for Turn-Taking in Conversation (Sacks et al, 1974), and examine closely its operational relevance to people's use of Twitter. The critical finding here is that, despite some surface similarities, Twitter-based conversations are a wholly distinct social phenomenon requiring an independent analysis that treats them as unique phenomena in their own right, rather than as another species of conversation that can be handled within the framework of existing Conversation Analysis. This motivates the argument that microblog Analysis be established as a foundationally independent programme, examining the organizational characteristics of microblogging from the ground up. Alongside of this we discuss the ways in which this exercise is wholly commensurate with systems design's 'turn to the social' and a principled example of what it takes to treat the use of computing systems within social interaction seriously. Finally we articulate how aspects of this approach have already begun to shape our design activities within the PHEME project.

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