Conference ICL2009

September 23 -25, 2009 Villach, Austria

Tracking the dynamics of social communities – Visualising altering word clouds of Twitter groups
Wolfgang Reinhardt1
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University of Paderborn, Institute of Computer Science

Key words: microblogging, technology enhanced learning, informal learning, visualisation, dynamic social networks, dynamic topic networks Abstract:
Twitter has gained a lot of attention in the last three years. It is used in various use cases from discussing at conferences, taking personal notes or live coverage of prominent events. Communities in Twitter are forming through the usage of a common tag that is part of the message. This paper presents an application for monitoring and visualising the dynamics in such communities, especially dynamics in the written communication of the community and presents approaches to make this application part of a mashup of services in a Personal Learning Environment.

1 Introduction
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, user generated content, and mobile learning. Never before learning has been more mobile, pervading and informal than today [5]. Communities of Practice [15] as well as Communities of Interest [16] are using the Web for communication, coordination and monitoring of their activities. The recent popularity of Social Network Sites (SNSs) like Facebook1, mySpace2, or studiVZ3 has lead to massive networking of users and organisations. SNSs provide untold possibilities for user interaction and have been promoted as central to the Web 2.0. Usual functionalities of SNSs include: a user profile page, a list of friends, private messaging, groups, media uploading and commenting [7]. With blogs, microblogs, image community platforms (e.g. Flickr4), or social bookmarking sites (e.g. Delicious5) object-centered sociality [2] became a mass phenomena. Users not only connect to each other, they connect through shared objects [7]. Social networks are representing social structures made of nodes that are tied by some type of interdependency. Social networks emerge whenever people are communicating with each other, working together, exchanging data, entering friend- or relationships and in many more cases. Social network analysis (SNA) has emerged as a key technique in modern sociology. SNA uses different metrics in order to make claims about the social structure of the network, central nodes or the closeness of nodes. If the nodes in such a network do not represent people but artefacts (like pictures, blog entries or videos) we talk about artefact
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http://www.facebook.com/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19) http://www.myspace.com (last viewed on 2009-08-19) 3 http://www.studivz.net/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19) 4 http://www.flickr.com/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19) 5 http://delicious.com/ (last viewed on 2009-08-19)
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networks, wherein the same metrics can be applied. Assuming we could connect social networks with artefacts networks, preserving the context and semantic relations between users and artefacts, we could obtain Artefact-Actor-Networks (AANs) [3]. AANs provide comprising information about the linking between users and artefacts and thus supply deeper understanding of how communities use artefacts for object-centered sociality. Furthermore it is from research interest to analyse the dynamics of both social and artefact networks, in order to 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 the centre of attention of the investigated community. We developed an application to persist and analyse communication from the microblogging service Twitter6 and present a prototypical visualisation of the dynamics in communities.

2 Microblogging and PLEs
In this section we introduce the concept of microblogging and show use cases for its application in various domains. Besides this, informal learning in PLEs and mashups are discussed. 2.1 Microblogging Templeton [8] characterizes microblogging as “a small-scale form of blogging, generally made 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 difference between blogs and microblogs as follows: “[...] long form blog posts like this seem so much slower 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 fast exchange 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). With Twitter the user is allowed to send messages with a maximum of 140 characters. These messages, so-called tweets, can be public or private, can be directed to one or more Twitter users (identified by the @ sign) and can deal with certain topics (identified by the # sign). By using a hashtag in tweets it is easy to aggregate all tweets dealing with the same topic (e.g. a conference, brand, course or political party). Java et al. [6] discern four main types for using microblogging 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 manifold reasons why and use-cases for a service “we didn’t know we needed until we had it” [11], that is supposed to be “time-suck” [12] and addictive. 2.2 Microblogging in the context of PLE mashups Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) denote systems that help learners to control and manage their learning in an individual way. Typically the supported learning processes are rather informal and unstructured. Informal learning is characterized as a process that does not follow a specified curriculum but rather happens by accident, sporadically and naturally during daily interactions and shared relationships. Or as Holford et al. [19] put it: Informal learning 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)
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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 his personal learning style [1,21]. The personal part of PLEs can be the selection of specific content (news feeds, blogs, scientific papers as well as pictures or chats) or the design or composition of the learning environment. PLEs are a rather technical than didactical approach to learning and the different approaches to PLEs distinguishes themselves mostly in the way of the respective implementation. On the one hand it is possible to extend existing Learning Management Systems (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 as individual portals that integrate external services via widgets or portlets. Microblogging and especially Twitter or its open-source counterpart Laconica7 can be easily integrated to PLEs grace of their open API. Twitter provides widgets than can be easily integrated in PLEs like iGoogle8 or Elgg9 and thus support communicating, networking and sharing. Other relevant parts of the individual’s learning process, especially the reflection of communication processes and the analysis of the content are rarely supported by existing approaches.

3 Design of the Application
The following application was designed to support the reflection of group communication and to outline the main topics of communication in a group. In its current version the application is a stand-alone application that accesses data from Twitter and analyses the content with an external analysis application. In this section we discuss the analysis application and present a prototypical visualisation of dynamics of the communication as well as other statistical data generated 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 a Community of Interest (expressed by the common usage of a hashtag). As result it should be possible to track the changes within the community structure (size, number of messages, other tags 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 an analysis. With the help of these analyses the dynamics of personnel and topic networks should be 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.

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3.2 Prototypical Tool for Visualisation The first prototype for visualising the dynamics of Twitter communities is built using the Adobe Flex Framework10. It uses the application programming interface (API) of the analysis application and is visually divided into two areas: the visualisation of user-related data and the visualisation of community-related data. Each of these areas is divided in three subareas: I) Recent tweets, II) Statistics and III) Graphs. In this paper we will focus on the analyses and visualisations for communities. Exemplary we choose the community that used the hashtag #edumedia09 and wish formed before, during and after the EduMedia 2009 conference in Salzburg, Austria from 04. – 05.05.2009. Subarea I shows the recent tweets for the selected tag. The user can select how many of the recent tweets he would like to see. Subarea II holds multiple tabs. Currently the following statistical data are evaluated: number of tweets, tweets containing an URL, conversational tweets (containing the mention of an user) and the number of users who used the tag. By use of the slider under the statistical data one can go back in time to see the data from the past.

Figure 1: Users that used the tag #edumedia09

Figure 2: Dynamic word cloud from #edumedia09 (showing the contents from 2009-05-05)

The second tab in subarea II shows the users, which used the specific tag (cf. figure 1). User names in bold font indicate that the analysis application monitors these Twitter users. The user list is sorted with respect to the number of tweets the users sent using the monitored hashtag. From this view it becomes obvious that the users mebner, Networking_Lady and e_trude were the most frequent users of the tag edumedia09. The third tab of subarea II visualises the most important terms from the tweets sent. Therefore we are using a simple word cloud that shows the more important words larger than the less important. By use of the slider under the extracted terms one can go back in time to see the data from the past. With the play button it is possible to automatically browse through the daily summaries of the tweets sent. Figure 2 shows the dynamic word cloud extracted from the tweets containing the hashtag edumedia09 from 2009-05-05. Another requirement for the visualisation was to provide an easy view on the dynamics of the personnel network of the community. As we were facing problems in getting data and visualising large networks, we decided to visualise the respective shares in communication for each user of the community. We used a stacked area chart for visualisation, where each member of the community has its own colour for the whole time period. The x-axis is separated in weeks and the y-axis shows the relative share of messages for the user. As shown in figure 3, at the beginning of the shown period only a few users (namely wollepb and
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mebner) were using the hashtag edumedia09. After the start of the conference on 2009-05-04 the user mebner still had a reasonable part in the communication, whereas the user wollepb nearly stopped using the tag. On the other hand another user (Networking_Lady) started to use the tag very frequently and accounted for a relevant part of the communication even after the end of the conference.

Figure 3: Stacked area chart for visualisation of users using a specific tag (here: #edumedia09)

4 Conclusion and Outlook
This paper provided an example of how the dynamics of communication within a community of interest can be tracked and visualised. We presented an analysis application for communication on Twitter that helps understanding how the centres of attention in group communication change over time. Furthermore the prototypical visualization helps to realise the main statistical data about monitored users and communities. The presented toolkit solicits for the subsequently inspection of communication within a Community of Interest, because the word clouds and statistical data are updated only once a day. The live coverage of an event with the help of the presented toolkit does not seem to be useful. Regarding future developments, some approaches seem to be very promising: grace to the API of the analysis application we will work on further visualisation and applications that integrate the results of the analysis in other technical environments such as wikis, blogs or PLEs. Therefore we will open the API to other developers and develop widgets to be included in PLE platforms like iGoogle or Elgg. With the integration of other web services for keyword extraction and semantic analysis, we will expand the mashup basis in the analysis application. With the implementation of another term extraction tool, that is capable doing semantically analysis of texts, we will try to extract named entities and moods from the single tweets and establish Artefact-Actor-Networks [3] from the communication. The connection to social network sites like Facebook or the integration into cooperative software development platforms [20] will allow to incorporate the visualisation of written communication in Twitter in other environments. This will make the communication processes more transparent and comprehensible.

References:
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[1] Schaffert, S,; Kalz, M.: Persönliche Lernumgebungen: Grundlagen, Möglichkeiten und Herausforderungen eines neuen Konzepts [Personal Learning Environments: Principles, options and challenges of a new concept]. In Handbuch E-Learning, 5(5.16), 2009. [2] Knorr-Cetina, K.: Sociality with Objects: Social Relations in Postsocial Knowledge Societies. In Theory, Culture & Society, 14(4), pages 1-30, 1997. [3] Reinhardt, W.; Moi, M.; Varlemann, T.: Artefact-Actor-Networks as tie between social networks and artefact networks. Submitted for CollaborateCom 2009. [4] Ebner, M.; Maurer, H.: Can Microblogs and Weblogs change traditional scientific writing? In Proceedings of E-Learn 2008, pages 768-776, 2008. [5] Ebner, M.: Introducing Live Microblogging: How Single Presentations Can Be Enhanced by the Mass. In Journal of research in innovative teaching, 2(1), pages 108 – 119, 2009. [6] Java, A.; Finin, T.; Song, X. and Tseng, B: Why we twitter: Understanding microblogging usage and communities. Proceedings of the Joint 9th WEBKDD and 1st SNA-KDD Workshop, 2007. [7] Ahmadi, N.; Jazayeri, M.; Lelli, F.; and Nescic, S.: A survey of social software engineering. In 23rd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Automated Software Engineering – Workshops 2008, pages 1–12, 2008. [8] Templeton, M.: Microblogging Defined. Available at http://microblink.com/2008/11/11/ microblogging-defined/, last viewed on 2008-12-02, November 2008. [9] Owyang, J.: Retweet: The Infectious Power of Word of Mouth. Available at http://www.webstrategist.com/blog/2008/11/23/retweet-the-infectious-power-of-the-word-of-mouth/, last viewed 2008-11-24, November 2008. [10] McGiboney, M.: Keep on Tweet’n. Available at http://www.nielsen-online.com/blog/2009/03/20/ keep-on-tweetn/, last viewed on 2009-05-24, March 2009. [11] Stone, B.: Interview at Colbert Nation. Available at http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbertreport-videos/223487/april-02-2009/biz-stone, last viewed 2009-05-24, April 2009. [12] Barrett, T.: Twitter - A Teaching and Learning Tool, Available at http://tbarrett.edublogs.org/2008/ 03/29/twitter-a-teaching-and-learning-tool, last viewed on 2009-05-22, March 2008. [13] Ullrich, C. et al.: Why Web 2.0 is Good for Learning and for Research: Principles and Prototypes. In Proceeding of the 17th international conference on WWW, 2008. [14] The Twitter Experiment – Bringing Twitter to the Classroom at UT Dallas. Available at http://kesmit3.blogspot.com/2009/04/twitter-experiment-bringing-twitter-to.html, last viewed on 2009-05-24, April 2009. [15] Wenger, E.: Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press, 1998. [16] Department of Defence: Community of Interest (COI). Available at http://metadata.dod.mil/mdr/ns/ ces/techguide/community_of_interest_coi.html. last viewed on 2009-05-24. [17] Prensky, M.: Digital natives, Digital immigrants. On the Horizon, NCB University Press, 9 (5), pages 1-6, 2001. [18] Cross, J.: Informal Learning – Rediscovering the Pathways that inspire innovation and performance. Pfeiffer, 2006. [19] Holford, J.; Patulny, R. and Sturgis, P.: Indicators of Non-formal & Informal Educational Contributions to Active Citizenship, In Proceedings of the CRELL conference Working towards Indicators on Active Citizenship. Availbale at http://crell.jrc.ec.europa.eu/ActiveCitizenship/ Conference/05_Surrey_final.pdf, last viewed on 2009-05-24, 2005. [20] Reinhardt, W.: Communication is the key – Support Durable Knowledge Sharing in Software Engineering by Microblogging. In Proceedings of Conference on Software Engineering 2009, Workshop Software Engineering within Social software Environments, 2009 [21] Nelkner, T.; Reinhardt, W.; Attwell, G.: Concept of a Tool Wrapper Infrastructure for Supporting st Services in a PLE. In: 1 International Workshop on Learning in Enterprise 2.0 and Beyond, 2008.

Author:
Wolfgang Reinhardt, Dipl.-Inform. University of Paderborn, Institute of Computer Science Fürstenallee 11, 33102 Paderborn, Germany wolle@upb.de

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