Webometric Thoughts

February 3, 2009

Stupid Twitter: Don’t researchers deserve more than a second-class service?

Filed under: API,Twitter,academia — admin @ 9:16 am

I have never particularly seen the point of Twitter; it’s the background noise I can do without. However, as an all-thing-web-2.0 researcher I recognise that there needs to be further investigation of how people are using it. Unfortunately Twitter doesn’t seem to think so; yesterday they turned down my request to be upgraded from the extremely limited 100 API requests per hour.

After visiting Birmingham Social Media Cafe last Friday, and noticing the prevalence of Twitter names, I thought it would be interesting to get an overview of the Birmingham Social Media Cafe Twitter network: Had clusters formed? Did these clusters reflect different interests?…the usual sort of academic questions. In no time I had collected the Twitter IDs of 50 members of BSMC, and written a program that would check which of the members were following one another (using Twitter’s ‘friendship exist’ method).

Unfortunately, to test every combination of names requires the sending of 50*49=2,450 requests. So even this extremely small scale study would require the program to run over 24hrs!! Last time I had collected data using Twitter’s API there seemed to be no such limits. Whilst Twitter do offer the opportunity to be placed on a ‘whitelist’ that allows you 20,000 requests per hour, “…we only approve developers for the whitelist”, and seemingly by their negative response they mean the distinctly commercial type of developer.

As the explanation link suggests, I was turned down because, as a researcher, I should be asking for the second-class data-mining feed:

It returns 600 recent public statuses, cached for a minute at a time. You can request it up to once per minute to get a representative sample of the public statuses on Twitter

This is the service Twitter have decided is most appropriate for “researchers and hobbyists”, albeit one that would fail provide the sort of network information that I am interested in. A distinctly second-class service in comparison to the one offered to commercial developers.

I can understand if online services such as Twitter don’t want to go out of their way to help academics, but it is rather disappointing that we are penalised for doing public research rather than chasing money. Whilst I will eventually be able to find a 24hr slot to run this particular program, it’s a shame that I won’t be able to run more large scale studies.

[Update: within hours of this post the Twitter API was updated, but no specific improvements for academics]

November 3, 2008

Academia.edu: Direct marketing

Filed under: academia — admin @ 9:34 am

I first mentioned Academia.edu, a social network site exclusively for academia, back in September. At the time I said that a SNS specifically for academia was a good idea, although the site itself was slow and not particularly user-friendly. I didn’t give the site another thought until this morning, when I found an email in my inbox, sent to all the university staff, inviting me to join academia.edu.

Academics are easily contacted via email, and if you describe your product in an academic enough manner you will quickly find a ‘helpful’ member of staff willing to send it to every member of a university. Would a Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, or LinkedIn invite have been forwarded as quickly? Despite the fact they are more user-friendly, and in the case of LinkedIn arguably more useful as academics look to engage with the wider community.

What really annoyed me, however, was the way the network tried to sell itself.

Some professors on Academia.edu include:
– Richard Dawkins – http://oxford.academia.edu/RichardDawkins
– Stephen Hawking – http://cambridge.academia.edu/StephenHawking
– Paul Krugman – http://princeton.academia.edu/PaulKrugman
– Noam Chomsky – http://mit.academia.edu/NoamChomsky

What does their inclusion have to do with the network’s use to me? Does Dawkins have some great insight into social network sites that means I should follow his example? Would he appreciate me contacting him via academia.edu to give a critique of his ‘God Delusion’? Obviously they are irrelevant, and any academic should recognise them as such. It obviously doesn’t help academia.edu’s case that each of these particular professors are vastly over-rated in the public-psyche.

September 17, 2008


Filed under: Hoff,Social Networking Sites,academia — admin @ 6:20 pm

Academia.edu is a new social network(ing) site for academics (TechCrunch). Should you add this to your busy SNS life? To a limited extent.

The academic community would definately benefit from a dedicated SNS, after all, our needs are very different from the general user and the business user. However, I found Academia.edu to be extremely slow and not particular user-friendly.

In its current state, spending hours on your Academia.edu profile could very easily be wasted. If they improve on the speed and the user-friendliness, however, it could definately be a useful site. Solution: just put up a basic profile for now, and wait to see if it improves and how much interest it generates. If you really are desperate to waste a lot of time on another SNS, then jump into the Hoff’s; taking pointless SNS to their logical extremes.

January 28, 2008

Scientific Articles v. Blog Posts

Filed under: Google Analytics,academia,blogosphere — admin @ 12:25 pm

Both scientific articles and blog posts share the currency of recognition. However, whilst citations are rather dry affairs that are relatively few and far between, blogs get far more interesting critiques from a far wider audience. It’s a shame that scientific articles aren’t more like blog posts.

The sad truth is that my off-the-cuff comments about the web and the progress of my allotment (http://plot13.blogspot.com/) receive far more readers than any of my scientific articles. Over the last few months the number of unique visitors to my Webometric Thoughts blog, according to Google Analytics, have been steadily increasing (Nov-434, Dec-633, Jan-807(so far)). Whilst these figures would barely register in the blogosphere, they are far higher than could ever be hoped for in the academic world where you generally find yourself questioning whether even the referee bothered reading the article fully.

Even when the articles are read, and you are given a citation, they generally refer to some obscure generalisation you have made, barely worthy of a citation: it is more to do with the citer building authority for their own paper by showing how much they have read. In comparison a blogger does not benefit from referencing your post, and has the freedom to discuss it as little or as much as they wish. Therefore coming across a blog reference can be much more rewarding (I just came across my personal favourite today).

It would be great if the academic world could combine the informality of the blogosphere with their traditional publishing activities. Unfortunately most academics see blogs as a drain on their time rather than an opportunity to broaden the reach of their research and get more useful feedback. Admittedly my eclectic mix of posts has done little to further the blogging cause in academia, but surely there are some academic bloggers out their which truly show the potential of blogs.

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