June 3 and 4, 2010 – Personal Democracy Forum 2010 – NYC

I spoke on June 4th at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City about what social media network maps can tell us about various political figures and topics.

The video is available here: http://streams.civicolive.com/stream/127/5040/6000.

Political discussions are obviously a major area of social media use. This talk explores the ways social network analysis and visualization can be applied to mapping discussions of political issues and topics. It features a number of NodeXL generated visualizations of twitter crowds and networks that form around topics like the conference hashtag #PDF2010 (and #PDF10) as well as political and current event relevant terms.

I was also interviewed by Deb Berman from JustMeans.com after the presentation to describe the NodeXL project a bit more:

Here are some sample images of NodeXL topic network maps from the talk:

2010 - June - 3 - NodeXL - Twitter - PDF2010

2010 – June – 3 – NodeXL – Twitter – PDF2010: This map represents the connections among people who tweeted the term “PDF2010”.  It illustrates the people in the “center” and the sub-clusters in the map.  People who occupy “bridge” locations are visible as well.

2010 - June 1 - NodeXL - Twitter - #tcot_

2010 – June 1 – NodeXL – Twitter – #tcot: This is a map of the “Top Conservatives on Twitter” tag. It has a large dominant cluster and a tiny sub group of tcot critics.

2010 - June 1 - NodeXL - Twitter - #p2

2010 – June 1 – NodeXL – Twitter – #p2: The #p2 hashtag is used by “Progressive 2.0” discussions.  It features a clear dominant cluster of supporters and a smaller cluster of skeptics made up largely of conservatives.

PDF2010 at CUNY

Outside the CUNY Graduate Center auditorium during PDF2010.

Clay Shirky speaks at PDF2010

Clay Shirky’s talk was great: it wove together stories of collective action for good and trivial purposes that framed a call to increase the costs of political activity on the net rather than reduce as a way to improve the impact of contribution rather than their mere scale.

Howard Rheingold at PDF 2010

Howard Rheingold’s discussion with Micha Sifry was insightful, focusing on the ways the Internet can lull us into a lack of mindfullness. A Mindfull approach, Howard encourages, is one where we are not as easily pulled into random tangents and drift aimlessly from link to link and click to click.

Craig Newmark at PDF2010

Craig Newmark

Marc Smith and Craig Newmark at PDF2010 dinner

Marc Smith and Craig Newmark

Book: Online Deliberation: Design, Research, and Practice

2009 - ODBook-site-logo

The Second Conference on Online Deliberation: Design, Research, and Practice (OD2005/DIAC-2005) was held at Stanford University May 20-22, 2005. From that event there is now a book,  Online Deliberation: Design, Research, and Practice, edited by Todd Davies and Seeta Peña Gangadharan (CSLI Publications, November 2009).  All content in the book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

I will call out a few of the many interesting chapters, one of which I contributed to:

Chapter 5: Friends, Foes, and Fringe: Norms and Structure in Political Discussion Networks (John Kelly, Danyel Fisher, and Marc Smith, pp. 83-93)

And two from colleagues who report on tools for facilitating political debate and decision making:

Chapter 6: Searching the Net for Differences of Opinion (Warren Sack, John Kelly, and Michael Dale, pp. 95-104)

Chapter 26: Online Civic Deliberation with E-Liberate (Douglas Schuler, pp. 293-302)

The book is a great guide to the many ways computer-mediated interaction technologies are being used to build consensus or tear it apart!

2009 - December - Online Deliberation Book Cover

Paper in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: Discussion Catalysts in Political Discussions

My co-authors Eric Gleave, from the University of Washington, Department of Sociology and Itai Himelboim, from the University of Georgia, Department of Communications, are pleased to note the publication of our paper “Discussion catalysts in online political discussions: Content importers and conversation starters” in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (JCMC) http://jcmc.indiana.edu/ at http://ping.fm/7NF5T

The paper describes the roles of “discussion cataylsts” who populate political web boards (newsgroups) and start the threads that get people talking!  It turns out that only a very few people in a community get to start many threads successfully.  Discussion catalysts have a knack for sparking conversations: setting the agenda for the community at large.  Discussion people have high “-in-degree”, they get replied to by lots of people, but low “out-degree”, they tend not to reply that much themselves.  The people whoreply to discussion catalysts, in contrast, do reply to one another densely.  These are the discussion people, a role  that will be the focus of a subsequent paper!

JCMC - Discussion Catalysts
JCMC - Discussion Catalysts


This study addresses 3 research questions in the context of online political discussions: What is the distribution of successful topic starting practices, what characterizes the content of large thread-starting messages, and what is the source of that content? A 6-month analysis of almost 40,000 authors in 20 political Usenet newsgroups identified authors who received a disproportionate number of replies. We labeled these authors ‘‘discussion catalysts.’’ Content analysis revealed that 95 percent of discussion catalysts’ messages contained content imported from elsewhere on the web, about 2/3 from traditional news organizations. We conclude that the flow of information from the content creators to the readers and writers continues to be mediated by a few individuals who act as filters and amplifiers.

Previously, we published “Picturing Usenet” in the JCMC, a paper that features several images of information visualizations of threaded discussions and authors over time.  That paper was based on an early work with Fernanda Viegas (now at IBM Research, Cambridge, then as an MIT graduate student in the MediaLab interning with me at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington).
[2009 – JCMC- Discussion Catalysts – Himelboim, Gleave and Smith]