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May 29 2013

16:51

What’s New in Digital Scholarship: Teen sharing on Facebook, how Al Jazeera uses metrics, and the tie between better cellphone coverage and violence

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Editor’s note: There’s a lot of interesting academic research going on in digital media — but who has time to sift through all those journals and papers?

Our friends at Journalist’s Resource, that’s who. JR is a project of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and they spend their time examining the new academic literature in media, social science, and other fields, summarizing the high points and giving you a point of entry. Roughly once a month, JR managing editor John Wihbey will sum up for us what’s new and fresh.

This month’s edition of What’s New In Digital Scholarship is an abbreviated installment — we’re just posting our curated list of interesting new papers and their abstracts. We’ll provide a fuller analysis at the half-year mark, in our June edition. Until then, happy geeking out!

“Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter.” Study from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in First Monday. By Kalev Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook.

Summary: “In just under seven years, Twitter has grown to count nearly three percent of the entire global population among its active users who have sent more than 170 billion 140-character messages. Today the service plays such a significant role in American culture that the Library of Congress has assembled a permanent archive of the site back to its first tweet, updated daily. With its open API, Twitter has become one of the most popular data sources for social research, yet the majority of the literature has focused on it as a text or network graph source, with only limited efforts to date focusing exclusively on the geography of Twitter, assessing the various sources of geographic information on the service and their accuracy. More than three percent of all tweets are found to have native location information available, while a naive geocoder based on a simple major cities gazetteer and relying on the user — provided Location and Profile fields is able to geolocate more than a third of all tweets with high accuracy when measured against the GPS-based baseline. Geographic proximity is found to play a minimal role both in who users communicate with and what they communicate about, providing evidence that social media is shifting the communicative landscape.

“Predicting Dissemination of News Content in Social Media: A Focus on Reception, Friending, and Partisanship.” Study from Ohio State, published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. By Brian E. Weeks and R. Lance Holbert.

Summary: “Social media are an emerging news source, but questions remain regarding how citizens engage news content in this environment. This study focuses on social media news reception and friending a journalist/news organization as predictors of social media news dissemination. Secondary analysis of 2010 Pew data (N = 1,264) reveals reception and friending to be positive predictors of dissemination, and a reception-by-friending interaction is also evident. Partisanship moderates these relationships such that reception is a stronger predictor of dissemination among partisans, while the friending-dissemination link is evident for nonpartisans only. These results provide novel insights into citizens’ social media news experiences.”

“Al Jazeera English Online: Understanding Web metrics and news production when a quantified audience is not a commodified audience.” Study from George Washington University, published in Digital Journalism. By Nikki Usher.

Summary: “Al Jazeera English is the Arab world’s largest purveyor of English language news to an international audience. This article provides an in-depth examination of how its website employs Web metrics for tracking and understanding audience behavior. The Al Jazeera Network remains sheltered from the general economic concerns around the news industry, providing a unique setting in which to understand how these tools influence newsroom production and knowledge creation. Through interviews and observations, findings reveal that the news organization’s institutional culture plays a tremendous role in shaping how journalists use and understand metrics. The findings are interpreted through an analysis of news norms studies of the social construction of technology.”

“Teens, Social Media and Privacy.” Report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. By Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Maeve Duggan, and Aaron Smith.

Summary: “Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they have in the past, but they are also taking a variety of technical and non-technical steps to manage the privacy of that information. Despite taking these privacy-protective actions, teen social media users do not express a high level of concern about third-parties (such as businesses or advertisers) accessing their data; just 9% say they are ‘very’ concerned. Key findings include: Teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media profiles than they did when we last surveyed in 2006: 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006; 71% post their school name, up from 49%; 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%; 53% post their email address, up from 29%; 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%. 60% of teen Facebook users set their Facebook profiles to private (friends only), and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings: 56% of teen Facebook users say it’s ‘not difficult at all’ to manage the privacy controls on their Facebook profile; 33% Facebook-using teens say it’s ‘not too difficult’; 8% of teen Facebook users say that managing their privacy controls is ‘somewhat difficult,’ while less than 1% describe the process as ‘very difficult.’”

“Historicizing New Media: A Content Analysis of Twitter.” Study from Cornell, Stoneybrook University, and AT&T Labs Research, published in the Journal of Communication. By Lee Humphreys, Phillipa Gill, Balachander Krishnamurthy, and Elizabeth Newbury.

Summary: “This paper seeks to historicize Twitter within a longer historical framework of diaries to better understand Twitter and broader communication practices and patterns. Based on a review of historical literature regarding 18th and 19th century diaries, we created a content analysis coding scheme to analyze a random sample of publicly available Twitter messages according to themes in the diaries. Findings suggest commentary and accounting styles are the most popular narrative styles on Twitter. Despite important differences between the historical diaries and Twitter, this analysis reveals long-standing social needs to account, reflect, communicate, and share with others using media of the times.” (See also.)

“Page flipping vs. clicking: The impact of naturally mapped interaction technique on user learning and attitudes.” Study from Penn State and Ohio State, published in Computers in Human Behavior. By Jeeyun Oh, Harold R. Robinson, and Ji Young Lee.

Summary: “Newer interaction techniques enable users to explore interfaces in a more natural and intuitive way. However, we do not yet have a scientific understanding of their contribution to user experience and theoretical mechanisms underlying the impact. This study examines how a naturally mapped interface, page-flipping interface, can influence user learning and attitudes. An online experiment with two conditions (page flipping vs. clicking) tests the impact of this naturally mapped interaction technique on user learning and attitudes. The result shows that the page-flipping feature creates more positive evaluations of the website in terms of usability and engagement, as well as greater behavioral intention towards the website by evoking greater perception of natural mapping and greater feeling of presence. In terms of learning outcomes, however, participants who flip through the online magazine show less recall and recognition memory, unless they perceive page flipping as more natural and intuitive to interact with. Participants perceive the same content as more credible when they flip through the content, but only if they appreciate the coolness of the medium. Theoretical and practical implications will be discussed.”

“Influence of Social Media Use on Discussion Network Heterogeneity and Civic Engagement: The Moderating Role of Personality Traits.” Study from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and the University of Texas at Austin, published in the Journal of Communication. By Yonghwan Kim, Shih-Hsien Hsu, and Homero Gil de Zuniga.

Summary: “Using original national survey data, we examine how social media use affects individuals’ discussion network heterogeneity and their level of civic engagement. We also investigate the moderating role of personality traits (i.e., extraversion and openness to experiences) in this association. Results support the notion that use of social media contributes to heterogeneity of discussion networks and activities in civic life. More importantly, personality traits such as extraversion and openness to experiences were found to moderate the influence of social media on discussion network heterogeneity and civic participation, indicating that the contributing role of social media in increasing network heterogeneity and civic engagement is greater for introverted and less open individuals.”

“Virtual research assistants: Replacing human interviewers by automated avatars in virtual worlds.” Study from Sammy Ofer School of Communications, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (Israel), published in Computers in Human Behavior. By Béatrice S. Hasler, Peleg Tuchman, and Doron Friedman.

Summary: “We conducted an experiment to evaluate the use of embodied survey bots (i.e., software-controlled avatars) as a novel method for automated data collection in 3D virtual worlds. A bot and a human-controlled avatar carried out a survey interview within the virtual world, Second Life, asking participants about their religion. In addition to interviewer agency (bot vs. human), we tested participants’ virtual age, that is, the time passed since the person behind the avatar joined Second Life, as a predictor for response rate and quality. The human interviewer achieved a higher response rate than the bot. Participants with younger avatars were more willing to disclose information about their real life than those with older avatars. Surprisingly, the human interviewer received more negative responses than the bot. Affective reactions of older avatars were also more negative than those of younger avatars. The findings provide support for the utility of bots as virtual research assistants but raise ethical questions that need to be considered carefully.”

“Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage on Political Violence in Africa.” Study from Duke and German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), published in the American Political Science Review. By Jan H. Pierskalla and Florian M. Hollenbach.

Summary: “The spread of cell phone technology across Africa has transforming effects on the economic and political sphere of the continent. In this paper, we investigate the impact of cell phone technology on violent collective action. We contend that the availability of cell phones as a communication technology allows political groups to overcome collective action problems more easily and improve in-group cooperation, and coordination. Utilizing novel, spatially disaggregated data on cell phone coverage and the location of organized violent events in Africa, we are able to show that the availability of cell phone coverage significantly and substantially increases the probability of violent conflict. Our findings hold across numerous different model specifications and robustness checks, including cross-sectional models, instrumental variable techniques, and panel data methods.”

Photo by Anna Creech used under a Creative Commons license.

March 03 2010

16:26

Pew Report Shows Mobile News Use Spreading in U.S.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) released a important new report this week, Understanding the Participatory News Consumer. It presents many insights on how Americans stay informed, and highlights the fact that many of us are already accessing news on our mobile phones.

For those considering producing news for mobile phones, or debating whether or not to venture in the news-on-the-go space, here are the key points from the extensive report.

Mobile News Spreads

A quarter of all American adults are reading news content on their mobile phones. This is only likely to grow, and hopefully it will convince news organizations to offer their content to mobile users. The report notes that, "some 80% of American adults surveyed own cell phones; 37% of them go online on their phones. Out of those who have mobile internet, 88% get some form of news on their cell phones. This is 33% of adult cell phone owners, and 26% of the general population."

On-the-go news consumers -- meaning those reading news on their mobiles -- are highly active on their mobile phones. They use social media services, send text messages, take pictures and instant message, among other activities. Mobile news producers should consider facilitating some of these other activities on their platforms in order to engage these savvy news consumers. From the report:

Not surprisingly, on-the-go news consumers maximize their cell phone use. They are 67% more likely than other cell phone users to text message, more than twice as likely to take pictures with their phones, and four times as likely to use their phones to instant message. They are also especially heavy internet users--80% of this on-the-go group are online on a given day, compared with just 67% of other internet users--and they engage in activities such as blogging (20% v. 11%), using social networking sites (73% v. 48%), and using status update sites like Twitter (29% v. 14%) at significantly higher rates than other internet users.

Users are increasingly using multiple platforms to get their news. Among the general population, consumers are using multiple platforms, such as newspapers, television, radio, internet, and mobile phones to get news content. On-the-go consumers use a variety of news sources online, with 16 percent saying they regularly access more than six news websites for news and information. This shows there is demand for mobile content, and that mobile news production will be highly competitive. From the report:

When asked about their routines for getting news on a typical day, and specifically which news platforms individuals turn to daily, the results are striking. Almost all American adults (99%) say that on a typical day, they get news from at least one news platform (local or national newspapers, local or national television news broadcasts, radio, or the internet), including 92% who follow the news on multiple platforms on a typical day. Some 46% of Americans use between four and six of the media platforms cited in the bullets above on any given day. Another 46% use two or three platforms and 7% use just one platform. The notion that people have a primary news source, one place where they go for most of their news, in other words, is increasingly obsolete.

Users increasingly share, comment on, and contribute to news and reporting. On-the-go news consumers are especially active on social networking platforms, and are more likely than others to participate in news production and dissemination. As a result, the development of interactive content -- along with the creation of tools that allow users to easily share content -- should be foremost in the mind of mobile news producers.

From the report:

Of those who get news online, 75% got news forwarded to them through email or posts on social networking sites. Of the same users, 50% sent they passed along email links to news stories or video content. In particular, on-the-go news consumers and close followers of news were much more likely to send links in their emails than online news consumers in general. 28% of internet users were also found to have customized their browser home page to include favorite sources of news. 36% of internet users said that having interactive content like charts, quizzes, graphics, and maps they could manipulate themselves was an important part of choosing which news websites they visited. Some 37% of internet users have actively contributed to the creation, commentary, or dissemination of news. This number includes users commenting on blogs and news sites, posting links and thoughts about news on social media, tagging or categorizing content online, or contributing opinion or multimedia content to news sites.

Other Mobile Studies

This survey comes on the heels of a FCC broadband survey that cataloged U.S. consumers' use of mobile technology. While that survey was not focused on news consumption, it showed that 86 percent of American adults own cell phones, and 30 percent of cell phone owners use the mobile web.

Another survey, the Mobile Intent Index from PR agency Rudder Finn, found that 60 percent of mobile web users are using news websites, and 95 percent of mobile web users use their mobile phones to "keep informed."

Unfortunately, all three of these surveys are only relevent to the U.S. International data is harder to get a hold of, although the soon-to-launch Audiencescapes project holds much promise. The project is being developed by InterMedia, a non-profit research, evaluation and consulting organization. It will present data showing to what extent individuals in countries around the world have access to and use communication technologies and how they consume media. For the impatient, a beta version is currently available.

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