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Sunday, September 28 • 10:41 - 11:00
"Online conversation and information management on Twitter: Preliminary Findings of Interviews with Digital Humanities Scholars"

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Introduction: Social media has come to play an important role in how scholars communicate (Rasmussen, 2012; Gruzd, 2011). DH scholars, those who use “computational tools to do the work of the humanities” (Unsworth, as quoted in Gold, 2012, p. 67), have been identified as early adopters and avid users of social media (Kirschenbaum, 2010; Ross et al., 2011). Ross et al. (2011) have described how Twitter plays a role during DH events as a form of backchanneling. It has also been shown that Twitter can be used to amplify DH scholarly communication (Howard, 2009), and that the use of Twitter to share your own work will result in a climb in its readership (Terras, 2012). This paper examines Twitter use by DH scholars from a uses and gratifications (U&G) perspective, investigating (a) how digital humanities scholars are using Twitter and (b) what gratifications they obtain from its use. The U&G approach provides a useful theoretical lens to study the use of Twitter by scholars. While the U&G approach has been utilized to study college students’ use of social media (Quan-Haase & Young, 2010) and specifically Twitter (Chen, 2011), it has not been applied to the study of scholars.

Methods: We conducted 49 semi-structured interviews with DH scholars to understand the scholars’ use of the social media tool, Twitter. Participants were recruited at DH conferences and events.

Preliminary Findings:

Twitter uses and gratifications
1. Maintaining awareness: Several participants noted using Twitter to maintain awareness in their field, keeping up with the work of other DH scholars. Some also remarked how easy it was to use Twitter in this respect; for example, allowing one DH scholar to “just slot it in.”


2. Back-channeling: Several participants noted their increased use of Twitter during conferences – both for those able and unable to attend in-person. Through Twitter, for example, presenters could communicate with their audience and get real-time feedback.

Twitter unfulfilled gratifications
1. Scalability of ideas and information: Participants commented the difficulty of scaling ideas to fit the 140-character format and its impact of stifling conversation and reliance on links to more information. Some spoke of tweet crafting as a skill and the need to develop strategies for providing enough context to ensure meaning.

2. Information management: While Twitter’s ‘favorite’ button may be used as a tool to collect tweets, some DH scholars expressed a need for more sophisticated information management tools to organize material located through Twitter. 

Conclusions: We confirmed the importance of Twitter for our interviewees for both maintaining awareness and backchanneling during DH conferences. Moreover, we identified two unfulfilled gratifications of Twitter that point to opportunities for training and the development of tools to better support DH scholars.

Chen, G. M. (2011). Tweet this: A uses and gratifications perspective on how active Twitter use gratifies a need to connect with others. Computers in Human Behavior, 27(2), 755-762.

Gruzd, A., Staves, K., & Wilk, A. (2012). Connected scholars: Examining the role of social media in research practices of faculty using the UTAUT model. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 (6), 2340-2350, DOI: j.chb.2012.07.004

Gruzd, A., Wellman, B., & Takhteyev, Y. (2011). Imagining Twitter as an imagined community. American Behavioral Scientist, 55(10), 1294–1318. doi:10.1177/0002764211409378

Kirschenbaum, M. (2012). What is digital humanities and what is it doing in English departments? In Gold, M. K. Debates in the digital humanities (pp. 1-8). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Gold, M.K. (2012). Day of DH: Defining the digital humanities. In Gold, M. K. Debates in the digital humanities (pp. 67-71). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Quan-Haase, A., & Young, A. L. (2010). Uses and gratifications of social media: A comparison of Facebook and instant messaging. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 30(5), 350-361.

Rasmussen Neal, D. (2012). Social media for academics. Sawston, UK: Chandos.

Ross, C., Terras, M., Warwick, C., & Welsh, A. (2011). Enabled backchannel: conference Twitter use by digital humanists. Journal of Documentation, 67(2), 214-237. doi: Doi 10.1108/00220411111109449

Terras, M. (2012). I, Digital: Personal collections in the digital era. Journal of the Society of Archivists, 33(2), 217-220. doi: Doi 10.1080/00379816.2012.722533

avatar for Lori McCay-Peet

Lori McCay-Peet

PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University, Canada
avatar for Anabel Quan-Haase

Anabel Quan-Haase

Professor, Western University
Looking forward to hearing about novel methods in the study of social media, new trends, and social activism. I am also curious about interdisciplinary teams and how they work. Any success stories, best practices or failures?

Sunday September 28, 2014 10:41 - 11:00
TRS 1-129 Ted Rogers School of Management

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