Big Data – What’s New(s)?

The following is a slightly edited version of a talk I gave at the Data Power conference in Sheffield this week, presenting work by myself and Ralph Schroeder.

The question of what drives news coverage far pre-dates the Internet and the rise of social media, and over the decades – or indeed the centuries – of mass media, myriad explanations have been offered in answer. Continue reading “Big Data – What’s New(s)?”

Social media and public opinion: what’s new?

I’m currently writing up a paper for submission to the Internet, Politics and Policy 2014 conference to be held by the OII in September. My paper – which draws substantially on interviews conducted as part of the Sloan Foundation-funded project of which I’m part – asks whether and to what extent the measurement of public opinion has been transformed by the new availability of socially-generated sources of big data, such as social media postings and search queries, and the tools which allow us to analyse them. Continue reading “Social media and public opinion: what’s new?”

Nick, Nigel, and the Neapolity: The Fragmented Future of British Party Politics

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Here are some predictions that I make with a fair degree of certainty. An indifferent British electorate will shrug its collective shoulders and award Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party the second highest vote total in this May’s European elections. Buoyed by this win, Farage will force his way onto the stage for the party leader debates in 2015. And in the subsequent general election, for the first time in history, four parties will each take more than 10% of the vote nationwide. After trialling an alternative arrangement between 2010 and 2015, the era of big-party government will be over. Continue reading “Nick, Nigel, and the Neapolity: The Fragmented Future of British Party Politics”

Why social data isn’t always a reliable indicator

From XKCD

“What social data can tell you: pretty much everything” proclaimed Azeem Azhar, founder of PeerIndex, in a popular post on LinkedIn earlier this week. We can perhaps forgive Azhar the hyperbolic lead-in, but hisarticle as a whole indulges in untrammeled evangelism for social data which obscures much of the nuance and uncertainty regarding what exactly this new source of data can actually tell us about society. Continue reading “Why social data isn’t always a reliable indicator”

“Twitter says…” – Can big social data tell us about public opinion?

coffee house

“Like Noah’s ark, (there was) every kind of creature in every walk of life. They included a town wit, a grave citizen, a worthy lawyer, a worship justice, a reverend nonconformist, and a voluble sailor.”

The above description comes from a history of English coffee houses in the seventeenth century¹, but might just as well apply to the twenty first century’s sites of caffeinated conversation: online social networks. With the rapid uptake of the Internet and the more recent rise to prominence of social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of millions of ordinary people – the witty, the worthy, and the decidedly neither – are now connected not only to the web, a source of news, but also to social networks, a source of views. Continue reading ““Twitter says…” – Can big social data tell us about public opinion?”