Quarterly Learning Report

We’ve blazed through a quarter of 2015 already, so the long Easter weekend provided a rare opportunity to take stock. Given that my last blog entry was sent from balmy Chile a while back, it seems like a good idea to offer some updates here too. So, below is a project-by-project summary of what I’m working on and what’s on the horizon…

Big Data project: we’re continuing to publish and present findings from our Sloan Foundation-funded project. I presented ‘Three Challenges For Valid Big Data Research’ at the excellent Herrenhausen Conference in Hannover two weeks ago, picking up a Best Poster prize for my effort and meeting plenty of researchers doing fascinating work in this space. While there, I recorded an extended interview with Daniel Messner for his Coding History series, giving me the chance to explain my presentation more fully. I also attended the CSCW Data Ethics workshop during a whirlwind 48 hours in Vancouver, which featured a fantastic array of researchers undertaking a high-level discussion of the ethical issues around big data research. Looking ahead, the final outputs of the project will be primarily policy-oriented, as we’ll be presenting at various policy-themed conferences in the summer.

Web Archive project: the curtain has officially fallen on our AHRC project with the Institute of Historical Research and the British Library – but again, there’s plenty of work still to be done. A book featuring a wide range of web archiving research is forthcoming, and I’ll be contributing a chapter to it, distilling the lessons learned by the eleven humanities researchers on the project who were working directly with the project. I’ll also be presenting the project with colleagues at the International Internet Preservation Consortium conference in Stanford in a couple of weeks, and am looking forward to the web archiving conference being held at Aarhus University in Denmark in June.

Digital Citizenship and Surveillance project: I’ve recently began work on an exciting multi-institution project funded by the ESRC, on the state of digital citizenship in light of Edward Snowden’s mass surveillance disclosures. We at the OII are focussed on the policy side – asking what policies exist around surveillance and what might be changed going forward. An early task was to serve as a rapporteur for a high-level discussion of these issues at Wilton Park – the report should be available soon.

Open Data project: Our two weeks of research into open data communities in Latin America was truly eye-opening, and has already yielded a series of blog posts reflecting on our findings. We’ll be turning these and other thoughts into a more comprehensive report later in the year, but not before we’ve visited other places in the EMEA region to get a broader sense of what promotes the innovative use of open government data.

Connected Life conference: We recently closed the Call for Presenters for this student-run conference in Oxford in June and have been blown away by the response, suggesting that we should be able to put together a fantastic program. The next steps include peer-reviewing the submissions, finalising the speakers and opening registration for the conference.

Politics online: Besides all this, I continue to nurse my longstanding interest in how politicians use the Internet to interact (or not) with citizens and the media. I recently gave a radio interview to Monocle 24 discussing the specific case of an American diplomat who has abandoned Twitter. I’m also conducting preliminary research into how British politicians are utilising digital media to improve their public image online, as the election hots up this side of the pond. Needless to say, I’m following presidential murmurings in New Hampshire with a great deal of interest too.

What’s next: as might be clear from the above, there’s plenty that will be keeping me busy for several months here at the Oxford Internet Institute. However, I’m excited to say that starting in September, I’ll be joining the Comparative Media Studies & Writing school at MIT, to undertake a two-year program mixing study and research. There’s lots of good reasons for my excitement (life in Boston, proximity to New Hampshire politics, and the prospect of rowing on the Charles River, to name a few) but what is most vivid right now is the applied, hands-on focus of the program. I’m really looking forward to testing what I’ve learned over what will be three years in Oxford in a new – and famously independent-minded – academic environment.

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