Twitter is the epitome of risk/reward for scholars working with contemporary materials:
Rewards? It is a living, evolving archive that captures a diverse range of perspectives on contemporary events. The archive is public, easily accessible, and open for statistic manipulation and study.
Risks? Twitter is a privately-owned company whose motivations are not synonymous with archivists, scholars, or the academy. Moreover, scholars interested in manipulating tweets must learn to digitally interface with the Twitter API and then must turn elsewhere, like Google Spreadsheets, to store and study their data.
First, I’m interested in the ethics of scholarship and the public life of academics on platforms like Twitter. As scholars, how and where do we draw the lines about using Twitter as material for our research. Are we guided solely by own our academic obligations (IRBs)? What role do the legal and extra-legal rights of Twitter and its users play for us? What if we are “publishing” our introductory research online (e.g., on a personal or professional blog)? Do we owe our Twitter subjects an invitation to see themselves in our work? Should that invitation be made from within Twitter?
Second, I’m interested in the technological demands of working with Twitter. How does one manage the technical challenges of an ever-growing archive (e.g., fed by daily automatic calls to Twitter that are placed in spreadsheets)? What are the limits of the documentation with Twitter? What are the emerging citation practices and writing conventions for intensive studies of material from Twitter?
I can see this going in a few different directions. Some of this ground has been covered before, as in Jeffrey McClurken’s 2009 THATCamp on “Archiving Social Media Conversations of Significant Events.” The interest there seemed to be documenting ‘significant events’ as they happened to preserve them. My interests differ in that I’m hoping to discuss Twitter as a kind of already preserved site, if one knows how to access it. That may just be nitpicking.
This could also easily be split in two (a TEACH/MAKE session on the technical aspects of using/manipulating the Twitter API with Google scripts and a broader conversation about ethics and public scholarship on Twitter and other social media). I am comfortable facilitating a discussion, but I’m less comfortable being the only technical guru directing a teach/make session. If things went horribly wrong with the Google scripts (as they sometimes do) I might not have to skills to fix them on the fly. A technical buddy would be fantastic to make sure things don’t go too awry.
Either of these sound like something you’d fancy?