Monday was day 6 of the Summer Doctoral Programme (SDP) here at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and it kicked off our second week. We heard from Ralph Schroeder again, but this time he was joined by Eric Meyer. They spoke about “Big data and the future of knowledge.” It was an interesting talk because, while they agree on some things, the two also have very different theoretical standpoints. They conducted interviews with social sciences regarding big data and big data methods. They are exploring if the (big data) tail wags the (research) dog. That is, are a lot of people just doing big data studies now because there is so much data available? And, are people just creating models that fit the data available instead of actually using relevant data to answer important questions?

Next, Jonathan Bright gave us an introduction to using Python to collect social media data. Although this session was similar to what I am already doing through my position at Temple’s Digital Scholarship Center, I still found his lecture and point of view interesting. Accessing the Facebook API, we explored which news items cause the most social reaction by tracking article shares. I appreciated that at the end of his session, Jonathan made it a point to note that he was wondering if he should even teach us these methods. He isn’t sure how ethical scraping is seeing how easy it is for “just anyone” to gather information about many people. Two things as comments to this. First, people should be aware that this is happening all the time. The only way to do this is to teach people about the process–let them see it for themselves. Second, not just anyone can do this. You first need knowledge that it is even possible, and you then need the skills to be able to do it …return to my first comment. If more people just had a simple understanding of how coding and scraping works, perhaps we would have less ambiguity when it comes to our data and “privacy.”

Our first student presentation for week two was Jennifer Thiele, and she presented her research on broadband infrastructure in rural areas. Jennifer works in Wisconsin as a public library director and spoke about the trouble with getting reliable internet in rural areas like where she lives and works. The public library group she works for almost had a federal grant to build a fiber optic infrastructure but the state rejected the grant for a reasons that made no sense to Jennifer and her team. There is certainly a need for access in these areas, especially with job centers closing down, but there is no incentive for telecommunication companies to go out and develop in rural areas. Jennifer’s research is interesting because she is applying notions of the disappearing public sphere to understand libraries as public spaces.

The next student presentation was Jenna Jacobson. She presented her dissertation work on young adults working in social media. Jenna is interested in self-identity, personal branding, and community managers. Jenna argues that this new field of social media community managers is changing the landscape of labor. (Seventy percent of the community managers are millennials.)  There was some good discussion surrounding personal identity versus the identity that you must use to manage a space that is not your own. Also, many people commented on the fact that millennials had to essentially make up this new position because the economy is not great and when they graduate they cannot find jobs.

The next presenter was me! I won’t go into detail, but you can check out my current “The Structured Self” project (both my dissertation and the complementary website) here. (I may write a separate blog post focused on my presentation and the great comments I received.)

Monday night a small group of us had dinner at a great pub and somehow placed fourth in trivia …which we thought was pretty good considering we are in one of the smartest cities in the world. :)