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Digital Research and Big Data: Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?


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Poster presented at Digital Research 2012, 10-12 September 2012,

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Digital Research and Big Data: Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?

  1. 1. Digital Research and Big Data Ralph Schroeder & Eric T. Meyer Oxford Internet Institute University of OxfordIs the Tail Wagging the Dog? [ralph.schroeder],[eric.meyer] data are data that are unprecedented in scale and scopein relation to a given phenomenon. They are often streamsof data (rather than fixed datasets), accumulating large volumes,often at high velocity.Is the tail of the availability of big data and computational methodswagging the dog of good research questions?If not, how do big data advance research?What are the opportunities and challenges? Source: Leonard John Matthews, CC-BY-SA ( Case 1 Case 2 Case 3 Search Engine Behaviour Large-Scale Text Analysis Social Network or News? Waller’s [1] analysis of Australian Google Michelet et al. [7] ‘culturomic’ analysis of Kwak et al.’s [17] analysis of Twitter Users 5 Million Digitized Google Books and Heuser & Le-Khac [8] of Key findings: Key findings: 2779 19th Century British Novels - 1.47 billion social relations - Mainly leisure - 2/3 of users are not followers or not - > 2% contemporary issues Key findings: followed by any of their followings - No perceptible ‘class’ differences - Patterns of key terms - Celebrities, politicians and news are - Industrialization tied to shift from among top 20 being followed Novel advance: abstract to concrete words - Unprecedented insight into what Novel advance: people search for Novel advance: - Volume of relations and topics - Replicability, extension to other areas, Challenge: systematic analysis of cultural materials Challenge: - Replicability - News or social network needs to - Securing access to commercial data Challenge: be contextualized in media ecology - Data quality - Securing access to commercial data Conclusions Savage and Burrows? [6], who ask are commercial data outpacing social science? Boyd and Crawford? [18], who ask if big data raise epistemological conundrums? ... No ... The connection between research technologies and the advance of knowledge The threats and opportunities represented by unprecended windows into people’s minds and thoughts Does this lead to more ‘scientific’ (i.e. cumulative) social sciences and humanities?References[1] V. Waller, “Not Just Information: Who Searches for What on the Search Engine Google?”, [7] J. Michelet al. Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books. [14] S. Fish, “Mind Your P’s and B’s: The Digital Humanities and Interpretation”. The New York Times Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(4): 761-75, 2011. Science: Vol. 331 no. 6014 pp. 176-182. 2010. Opinionator [Online Commentary]. January 23, 2012. Online[2] E. Segev and N. Ahituv, “Popular Searches in Google and Yahoo!: A ‘Digital Divide’ in Information [8] R. Heuser and L. Le-Khac, “Learning to Read Data: Bringing out the Humanistic in the 2012/01/23/mind-your-ps-and-bs-the-digital-humanities-and-interpretation/?hp Uses?” The Information Society 26 (1): 17-37, 2010. Digital Humanities,” Victorian Studies 54.1: 79-86, 2011. [15] T. Porter, “Statistics and Statistical Methods. In ‘The Modern Social Sciences”, in T. Porter and D.Ross, eds.[3] M. Hindman, The Myth of Digital Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. [9] F. Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature”, New Left Review, 1, p.54-68, 2000. The Modern Social Sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 238-50, 2008.[4] B. Tancer, Click: What Millions of People are Doing Online and Why It Matters. New York: [10] F. Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. London: Verso, 2005. [16] J. Beniger, The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society. Harper Collins, 2009. [11] A. Stauffer. “Introduction: Searching Engines, Readings Machines”. Victorian Studies 54.1, 63-68, 2011 Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.[5] W. H. Dutton and G. Blank, G. Next Generation Users: The Internet in Britain. Oxford Internet [12] P. Duguid, “Inheritance and loss? A brief survey of Google Books”.FirstMonday12(8),2007.Online [17] Kwak, H. et al. (2010). ‘What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media?’ Proceedings of the 19th International Survey 2011. Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. Available at World Wide Web (WWW) Conference, April 26-30, 2010, Raleigh NC. (last accessed April 16, 2012). [13] G. Nunberg, “Google’s Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars.” The Chronicle Review August 31, 2009. [18] boyd, D. and Crawford, K. (2012). ‘Critical Questions for big data: Provocations for a cultural, technological and[6] M. Savage and R. Burrows, “The Coming Crisis of Empirical Sociology”, Online scholarly phenomenon’, Information, Communication and Society, 15(5), 662-79. Sociology 41(5): 885-899, 2011.