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"I always feel it must be great to be a hacker"


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Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda & Katrin Weller.
Presentation at Web Science Conference (WebSci '14), Bloomington, Indiana.

Published in: Social Media, Technology, Business
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"I always feel it must be great to be a hacker"

  1. 1. The Role of Interdisciplinary Work in Social Media Research Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda & Katrin Weller GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences Data Archive for the Social Sciences Unter Sachsenhausen 6-8, 50667 Köln, Germany { | katrin.weller} “I Always Feel It Must Be Great to Be a Hacker!”
  3. 3. “to me if you are not doing something that is interdisciplinary you are not doing web science“ Wendy Hall, Keynote at WebSci ‘14 3 Challenge: But how to make interdisciplinarity happen?  This is our contribution to this ongoing challenge
  4. 4. We interviewed researchers studying social media – Methods, objectives & challenges when dealing with social media data We started with researchers with social science backgrounds Interdisciplinarity turned out to be of major concern 4 Our study
  5. 5. Overall conclusion Interdisciplinary collaborations, especially with computer scientists, are of high importance for social media researchers from the social sciences …AND they showed a high level of reflection of challenges and opportunities 5
  6. 6. Our approach • Qualitative semi-structured interviews • Exploratory design to allow for unexpectedness • Theory building occurs in parallel to experiences in the ‘field’ • Established qualitative approach in the social sciences (please join us later if you have questions about our method) 6
  7. 7. Interview partners • 20 interviews at a major international internet studies conference • Social media researchers from the social sciences – researchers working with social media data identified from the program • various countries, professional levels and experiences 7
  8. 8. Findings Interdisciplinarity is of high importance for social media researchers from the social sciences… With regards to: 1) Researchers‘ careers 2) Research methods, approaches and potential findings 3) Practical issues in the everyday work 8
  10. 10. Social media researchers are already interdisciplinary • Knowledge or training in various disciplines, mix of methods and theories • They operate on the fringes of their ‘home’-discipline • They often challenge disciplinary boundaries & studies may not fit into mainstream social science publications • Social media research as a social scientist can be challenging and even risky • Nevertheless: General sense of excitement about working in an interesting area 10
  12. 12. Social media research needs to be interdisciplinary We found a strong belief that social media research was inherently interdisciplinary and also needed to be: • More options to tackle material, methods, perspectives & theory • ‘See more’ and obtain different results • Belief that new fields require an open mind and should not be limited by disciplinary boundaries or strict standards Methodological level 12
  13. 13. Computer scientists’ skills are valued in social media research – Longing for the “productive tension” of negotiating methods – Working with social media data requires different skills & tools than social scientists are used to working with – Approaches from computer science can help to address new research questions 13
  14. 14. Social media research needs collaboration • It is becoming difficult to obtain meaningful results as a single researcher • Data collection was seen as time-intensive and difficult, which resulted in having to ‘outsource’ parts of projects • Interdisciplinary projects & a delegation of roles were common: – data collection, literature review, theory building, data analysis required many people Practical level 14
  16. 16. Critical reflection of one’s skills as a social scientist • A strong desire to acquire new technical skills – Limits of research opportunities, e.g. limited options for data collection 16 “Yeah, I always feel it must be great to be a hacker because you can get hold of all these great datasets.” Social media researcher from Europe, PhD student, Media & ICT
  17. 17. Different reactions • Some had already started to learn new methods and skills, e.g. programming, statistics • Others were aware that this was too time-consuming and would not leave enough time e.g. to focus on theory building and literature review 17 Possible solution: Interdisciplinary projects with computer scientists
  18. 18. A role for computer scientists? • Often: Reducing the roles of computer scientists to those of ‘mere’ data collectors • Solves the ‘skills problem’ but was seen as problematic • Interviewees realized that computer scientists had their own research agenda and that often the tasks that social scientists required were not interesting to them 18
  19. 19. “They can’t publish results on the things we need from them. Like collecting data or creating something to collect data. We collaborated with (...) experts in databases. And it was very difficult to find something that was useful also for them under the academic point of view.” Social media researcher from Europe, Assistant Professor, Communication & Humanities 19
  20. 20. Analysis: Division of roles • Computer scientists’ role as ‘mere’ data collectors also originated in computer scientists’ view of social scientists as end users, that they needed to provide a technical solution for… • …as opposed to collaborators in challenging traditional paradigms and methods 20
  21. 21. Analysis: Overlaps & differences • Overlaps: Interest in the same data • Differences: Methods, standards & expectations of results • Differences become critical when decisions about data collection and analysis are made: Data needs to be useful for all collaborators • Ideas about methodology & epistemology (e.g. validity of data) need to be negotiated and allowed to co-exist 21
  22. 22. Analysis: Success stories • Interdisciplinary work needs open minds and constant discussions – Share and discuss expectations about derivation, validity and explanatory power of the data – Explore new methods, experiment with different types of data (big, small…) 22
  23. 23. 23 I’m trying not to be in a specific discipline, on the contrary. (…) Actually I’m objecting to the idea of putting me in a specific discipline. It seems very hard, or nearly impossible, to do this kind of stuff in the future as a single or individual researcher. I think this research has brought us into contact with people from computer sciences and other disciplines like that more. The road ahead • ““I love thinking about ethics!” Perspectives on ethics in social media research” @ IR15 conference • More interviews • Other aspects, e.g. epistemology My questions are limited to what I can do.
  24. 24. Questions and Feedback: Dr. Katrin Weller @kwelle Dr. Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda @ka_kinder