A Twittering Beacon

I thought, given the recent Day of Digital Humanities that posting the proposal I sent into DH 2009 would be appropriate. (Ultimately, the proposal was part of a panel that was turned down, so I don't think I'm offending anyone by posting it here).

A Twittering Beacon:
using social networking tools to enhance digital humanities tool adoption.

Darren James Harkness
Athabasca University

There is a common problem among digital humanities tools:
they are not being used in great numbers, and get little attention outside of
the conference and publication circuit.
Innovative tools are being developed, but - with notable
exceptions such as the Orlando Project - no user communities seem to form
around them.It is a problem whose
solution seems to be elusive amongst digital tool makers.As Dan Cohen writes,“most scholars have not yet figured out
ways to take full advantage of the digitized riches suddenly available on their
computers.” This paper suggests a
possible solution, based on existing social networks and community formation in
blogging networks.

The power of blogs and social networking tools to create
communities is well documented.
Social networks have been used within rural communities1,
ethnic communities,2 and academia.3In my MA research, I found that
communities regularly form in and around blogs and LiveJournal
sites, and act as a positive force in the development of those sites.4
Furthermore, it develops a stronger sense of understanding between the blogger
and her audience.

The sciences have adopted the use of social networking tools
with great success.The most
recent example of this is NASA’s use of Twitter to document findings from the
Phoenix Mars Lander.5 The public
response has been outstanding; MarsPhoenix has over
38,000 followers as of November 12, 2008,6
and inspired hundreds of its followers to create epitaphs for the lander when it finally shut down due to cold.7As a direct result of this success,
NASA recently expanded their use of Twitter8
to include the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Landers,9
Mars Science Lab,10 and Cassini

Aside from increased public exposure, one of NASA’s great
successes in adopting social networking tools is that it has created a much
better understanding of its projects.
Lack of understanding, as Claire Warwick et al suggest, is a key in understanding why there is a lack of
adoption among digital humanities tools.12I have found this in my own work with
digital humanities tools, such as the MONK project; documentation is scarce,
and information on a system is traded through emails with programmers and
project managers. Lisa Spiro summarizes the issues well: “in my conversations
with researchers who aren’t necessarily interested in doing digital
scholarship, just in doing their research better, I learned that they weren’t
aware of digital tools and didn’t know where to find out about them.”13

Entry into digital humanities tools is currently difficult
for those outside the field (and often even for those within it) and serves as
a roadblock for adoption.  We
can take a page from our colleagues in the sciences and make use of social
networking tools to create a better understanding of how our tools work. 

1 Gilbert,
Eric, Karrie Karahalios, and Christian Sandvig. (2008). The Network in the Garden: An Empirical
Analysis of Social Media in Rural Life. ACM CHI 2008, April
5-10, Florence Italy.

2 Byrne, Dara. (2007). Public Discourse, Community Concerns, and
Their Relationship to Civic Engagement: Exploring Black Social Networking
Traditions on BlackPlanet.com. JCMC, 13 (1). [Special
Issue of JCMC on Social Network Sites, Eds.: danah boyd and Nicole Ellison.], Byrne,
Dara. (2008). The Future of (the) 'Race': Identity,
Discourse and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres. In A. Everett
(Ed.), MacArthur Foundation Book Series on Digital Learning: Race and Ethnicity
Volume (pp. 15-38). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

3 Hewitt, Anne
and Andrea Forte. (2006). Crossing Boundaries: Identity Management and
Student/Faculty Relationships on the Facebook. Poster
presented at CSCW, Banff, Alberta., See also

4 Harkness,
Darren James. (2008) The Effect of adding a zero: the blog and identity.Master's Thesis.
University of Alberta, Department of Humanities Computing.

5 MarsPhoenix Twitter
. http://twitter.com/MarsPhoenix

6 Johnson,
Bobbie. “Mars Phoenix: Nasa vows to carry on
twittering across the universe” Guardian
. November 12, 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/nov/12/twitter-phoenix-mars-nasa

7 Madrigal, Alexis. “R.I.P. @MarsPhoenix:
The Twitter Epitaph Contest “ Wired
. October 30, 2008. http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/10/rip-mars-phoeni.html

8 Terdiman, Daniel. “Mars Phoenix Lander
completes its mission” Cnet news November 10, 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/nov/12/twitter-phoenix-mars-nasa

9 MarsRovers Twitter

10 MarsScienceLab Twitter

11 Cassini
Probe Twitter Account http://twitter.com/CassiniSaturn

12 Warwick,C., Galina,I.,
Rimmer,J., Terras,M., Blandford,A., Gow,J., Buchanan,G. (Forthcoming). “Documentation and the users of
digital resources in the humanities.” Journal of Documentation 65(1), .

13 Spiro,
Lisa. “Doing Digital Scholarship” Digital
Scholarship in the Humanities
(blog) http://digitalscholarship.wordpress.com/2008/08/11/doing-digital-scholar...