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Tracking the dynamics of social communities - Visualising altering word clouds of Twitter groups

Tracking the dynamics of social communities - Visualising altering word clouds of Twitter groups

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Published by Wolfgang Reinhardt

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Published by: Wolfgang Reinhardt on Sep 24, 2009
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Conference ICL2009 September 23 -25, 2009 Villach, Austria1(6)
Tracking the dynamics of social communities – Visualisingaltering word clouds of Twitter groups
Wolfgang Reinhardt 
University of Paderborn, Institute of Computer Science
Key words
microblogging, technology enhanced learning, informal learning,visualisation, dynamic social networks, dynamic topic networks
Twitter has gained a lot of attention in the last three years. It is used in various usecases from discussing at conferences, taking personal notes or live coverage of  prominent events. Communities in Twitter are forming through the usage of a commontag that is part of the message. This paper presents an application for monitoring and visualising the dynamics in such communities, especially dynamics in the writtencommunication of the community and presents approaches to make this application part of a mashup of services in a Personal Learning Environment.
Nowadays learning takes place more and more within the World Wide Web. Technologies,concepts and applications commonly known as Web 2.0 allow broad user interaction, usergenerated content, and mobile learning. Never before learning has been more mobile,pervading and informal than today [5]. Communities of Practice [15] as well as Communitiesof Interest [16] are using the Web for communication, coordination and monitoring of theiractivities. The recent popularity of Social Network Sites (SNSs) like Facebook 
, mySpace
, orstudiVZ
has lead to massive networking of users and organisations. SNSs provide untoldpossibilities for user interaction and have been promoted as central to the Web 2.0. Usualfunctionalities of SNSs include: a user profile page, a list of friends, private messaging,groups, media uploading and commenting [7]. With blogs, microblogs, image communityplatforms (e.g. Flickr
), or social bookmarking sites (e.g. Delicious
) object-centered sociality[2] became a mass phenomena. Users not only connect to each other, they connect throughshared objects [7].Social networks are representing social structures made of nodes that are tied by sometype of interdependency. Social networks emerge whenever people are communicating witheach other, working together, exchanging data, entering friend- or relationships and in manymore cases. Social network analysis (SNA) has emerged as a key technique in modernsociology. SNA uses different metrics in order to make claims about the social structure of thenetwork, central nodes or the closeness of nodes. If the nodes in such a network do notrepresent people but artefacts (like pictures, blog entries or videos) we talk about artefact
 http://www.facebook.com/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19)
 http://www.myspace.com(last viewed on 2009-08-19)
 http://www.studivz.net/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19)
 http://www.flickr.com/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19)
 http://delicious.com/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19)
ICL 2009 Proceedings - Page 783
Conference ICL2009 September 23 -25, 2009 Villach, Austria2(6)
networks, wherein the same metrics can be applied. Assuming we could connect socialnetworks with artefacts networks, preserving the context and semantic relations between usersand artefacts, we could obtain
(AANs) [3]. AANs providecomprising information about the linking between users and artefacts and thus supply deeperunderstanding of how communities use artefacts for object-centered sociality. Furthermore itis from research interest to analyse the dynamics of both social and artefact networks, in orderto understand how communities emerge, evolve and break up.In this paper the following research question is addressed: “
 How can we track and visualise the dynamics of written communication within a community?”
The main focus is thecentre of attention of the investigated community. We developed an application to persist andanalyse communication from the microblogging service Twitter
and present a prototypicalvisualisation of the dynamics in communities.
Microblogging and PLEs
In this section we introduce the concept of microblogging and show use cases for itsapplication in various domains. Besides this, informal learning in PLEs and mashups arediscussed.
2.1 Microblogging 
Templeton [8] characterizes microblogging as “
a small-scale form of blogging, generallymade up of short, succinct messages, used by both consumers and businesses to share news, post status updates and carry on conversations
” and Owyang [9] describes the differencebetween blogs and microblogs as follows: “
[...] long form blog posts like this seem so muchslower and plodding compared to how quickly information can come and go in Twitter. [...] Information within Microblogging communities [...] encourage rapid word of mouth – of both positive and negative content 
”. In a nutshell, microblogging offers a platform for the fastexchange of thoughts, ideas and artefacts.Twitter is the most commonly used service for microblogging and gained a lot of attention in the last three years (e.g. during the inauguration of President Obama). WithTwitter the user is allowed to send messages with a maximum of 140 characters. Thesemessages, so-called tweets, can be public or private, can be directed to one or more Twitterusers (identified by the @ sign) and can deal with certain topics (identified by the # sign). Byusing a hashtag in tweets it is easy to aggregate all tweets dealing with the same topic (e.g. aconference, brand, course or political party). Java et al. [6] discern four main types for usingmicroblogging services: I) Daily Chatter, II) Conversations, III) Sharing information and IV)Reporting news. Templeton [8] uses three categories to itemise the possible usage types of microblogging: a) Microsharing, b) Micromessaging and c) Micrologging. There are manifoldreasons why and use-cases for a service “
we didn’t know we needed until we had it 
” [11], thatis supposed to be “
” [12] and addictive.
2.2 Microblogging in the context of PLE mashups 
Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) denote systems that help learners to control andmanage their learning in an individual way. Typically the supported learning processes arerather informal and unstructured. Informal learning is characterized as a process that does notfollow a specified curriculum but rather happens by accident, sporadically and naturallyduring daily interactions and shared relationships. Or as Holford et al. [19] put it: Informallearning is defined as “
 Learning resulting from daily life activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support)
 http://twitter.com/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19)
ICL 2009 Proceedings - Page 784
Conference ICL2009 September 23 -25, 2009 Villach, Austria3(6)
and typically does not lead to certification. Informal learning may be intentional but in most cases it is non-intentional (or “incidental”/ random)”
. Experience shows that the majority of real learning is informal [18]. In the focus of PLEs is the learner that selects, arranges,presents, analyses and shares web resources, learning objects and tools in a way that fits hispersonal learning style [1,21]. The
part of PLEs can be the selection of specificcontent (news feeds, blogs, scientific papers as well as pictures or chats) or the design orcomposition of the learning environment.PLEs are a rather technical than didactical approach to learning and the differentapproaches to PLEs distinguishes themselves mostly in the way of the respectiveimplementation. On the one hand it is possible to extend existing Learning ManagementSystems (LMS) so that users can create their individual space and cooperate with other users(e.g. through shared calendars or private chats). On the other hand PLEs can serve asindividual portals that integrate external services via widgets or portlets. Microblogging andespecially Twitter or its open-source counterpart Laconica
can be easily integrated to PLEsgrace of their open API. Twitter provides widgets than can be easily integrated in PLEs likeiGoogle
or Elgg
and thus support communicating, networking and sharing. Other relevantparts of the individual’s learning process, especially the reflection of communicationprocesses and the analysis of the content are rarely supported by existing approaches.
Design of the Application
The following application was designed to support the reflection of group communication andto outline the main topics of communication in a group. In its current version the applicationis a stand-alone application that accesses data from Twitter and analyses the content with anexternal analysis application. In this section we discuss the analysis application and present aprototypical visualisation of dynamics of the communication as well as other statistical datagenerated from the Twitter messages sent.
3.1 The analysis application 
The main task for the analysis application is to inspect the communication on Twitter from aCommunity of Interest (expressed by the common usage of a hashtag). As result it should bepossible to track the changes within the community structure (size, number of messages, othertags used) as well as the visualisation of attention points within the tweets. To do this,snapshots of the community and its messages should be taken regularly and undergo ananalysis. With the help of these analyses the dynamics of personnel and topic networks shouldbe perceived and visualised. Thus the requirements are amongst others:
Take snapshots of the development of the community on a regularly basis.
Analyse the contents of the tweets and gain statistical data.
Aggregate the textual contents of all daily tweets and extract important terms.
Prepare data for the visualization of the dynamics in the resulting word clouds.
Prepare data for the visualization of the members of a community.
Prepare data for the visualization of other topics the community is interested in.
 http://laconi.ca(last viewed on 2009-08-19)
 http://www.google.de/ig(last viewed on 2009-08-19)
 http://elgg.org/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19)
ICL 2009 Proceedings - Page 785

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