Monthly Archives: September 2011

#SMWglasgow Social media, research, academia and industry

A week ago, while Edinburgh was enjoying one of its local holidays, I took the express train to Glasgow – partly for an Apple Store pilgrimage, partly to attend Jillian Ney’s (@jillneyblog here) session as part of Social Media Week. Glasgow was one of twelve cities to host events as part of this annual global project, the other European cities were Berlin, Milan and Moscow. As is the way of many events these days you can register your own event and join the official programme: part Fringe festival model, part unconference.

Jillian’s official blurb reads…

This event is designed to discuss the opportunities and issues in academically researching social media, and to provide a platform for fostering new research partnerships. The event is aimed at industry practitioners and final year, masters, PhD students, and researchers who are interested in driving forward valuable social media research.

That link between academia and industry is important in some of the arguments put forward:
  • Research based on social media is gaining credibility in the academic community.
  • Bringing academic rigour together with industry data and expertise can foster this.
  • There is currently a lack of academic literature which explores and develops these themes.
  • Also, there are a range of terms with competing and overlapping meanings: social media, Web 2.0, social content and so on.
  • There are opportunities and risks associated with borrowing theory from other fields, leaving ideas relatively untested for your purposes.
  • ‘The industry’ is often keen to get involved in academic research, but will come with its own agenda(s) and can quickly lose interest.

We were also joined by Prof Alan Wilson of University of Strathclyde Business School, who Jillian is working with. He focused on:
  • Establishing your perspective, for the purposes of your research: the user/consumer, or the corporate/organisation/industry side. What is it that each side is looking for? Do they really know what they’re doing?
  • Conference topics are increasingly focusing on:
    • trust – in the relationship between user and provider, between users and so on.
    • motivation – of all parties to get involved, share ideas and content, etc.
    • ethics – what sort of ethical considerations should we be having when researching social media content, using it in ways that weren’t intended by the creator?

The discussion developed from there, reflecting on the risk of researchers being exploited by industry partners, or taken off track by competing demands on their time. Likewise as the range of tools grows to extract social media content how to separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’ (or even identify which is which). The usual mantra applies that researchers need to justify just about every decision they make.

The event was held at the KILTR HUB, a space down a lane, opposite Stereo (and I believe managed by them and their partners). One result of my trip was signing up to KILTR, Scotland’s own social network. It’s all about the connections after all.

(I have pinched the image below from a Facebook event and I hope I don’t get into trouble for this. Also below is the reference list from my PhD proposal.)

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Leaving The Shire.

With a dash between campuses on Tuesday 6 September 2011 I matriculated as an Edinburgh Napier University research student. The clock started ticking towards the first deadline on my PhD quest, a journey if you will??? as told by Dave Pritchard on this site:

The story starts with Frodo: a young hobbit, quite bright, a bit dissatisfied with what he’s learnt so far and with his mates back home who just seem to want to get jobs and settle down and drink beer. He’s also very much in awe of his tutor and mentor, the very senior professor Gandalf, so when Gandalf suggests he take on a short project for him (carrying the Ring to Rivendell), he agrees.

Frodo very quickly encounters the shadowy forces of fear and despair which will haunt the rest of his journey and leave permanent scars on his psyche, but he also makes some useful friends. In particular, he spends an evening down at the pub with Aragorn, who has been wandering the world for many years as Gandalf’s postdoc and becomes his adviser when Gandalf isn’t around.

After Frodo has completed his first project, Gandalf (along with head of department Elrond) proposes that the work should be extended. He assembles a large research group, including visiting students Gimli and Legolas, the foreign postdoc Boromir, and several of Frodo’s own friends from his undergraduate days. Frodo agrees to tackle this larger project, though he has mixed feelings about it. (“‘I will take the Ring’, he said, ‘although I do not know the way.'”)

Very rapidly, things go wrong. First, Gandalf disappears and has no more interaction with Frodo until everything is over. (Frodo assumes his supervisor is dead: in fact, he’s simply found a more interesting topic and is working on that instead.) At his first international conference in Lorien, Frodo is cross-questioned terrifyingly by Galadriel, and betrayed by Boromir, who is anxious to get the credit for the work himself. Frodo cuts himself off from the rest of his team: from now on, he will only discuss his work with Sam, an old friend who doesn’t really understand what it’s all about, but in any case is prepared to give Frodo credit for being rather cleverer than he is. Then he sets out towards Mordor.

The last and darkest period of Frodo’s journey clearly represents the writing-up stage, as he struggles towards Mount Doom (submission), finding his burden growing heavier and heavier yet more and more a part of himself; more and more terrified of failure; plagued by the figure of Gollum, the student who carried the Ring before him but never wrote up and still hangs around as a burnt-out, jealous shadow; talking less and less even to Sam. When he submits the Ring to the fire, it is in desperate confusion rather than with confidence, and for a while the world seems empty.

Eventually it is over: the Ring is gone, everyone congratulates him, and for a few days he can convince himself that his troubles are over. But there is one more obstacle to overcome: months later, back in the Shire, he must confront the external examiner Saruman, an old enemy of Gandalf, who seeks to humiliate and destroy his rival’s protege. With the help of his friends and colleagues, Frodo passes through this ordeal, but discovers at the end that victory has no value left for him. While his friends return to settling down and finding jobs and starting families, Frodo remains in limbo; finally, along with Gandalf, Elrond and many others, he joins the brain drain across the Western ocean to the new land beyond.