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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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1.7 Interdisciplinary networks

Described image
Figure 6  Connections

If I analyse my own Twitter network (using the free service [NB This service is no longer available]) it reveals that the geographic spread of my followers is mainly across the following countries: United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Germany, Canada, France and China.

By analysing the biography details people provide the top professions amongst my followers are consultant, technologist, PhD student, lecturer, manager, teacher, librarian and author.

Amongst these I can identify a number of communities and networks, some of which will intersect. These include the following:

  • Bloggers – many of the people I follow are those I already had an online connection with via blogs, and Twitter was an extension of this.
  • The Open University – I have acted as an advocate for Twitter in the Open University and see it as a means of knowledge sharing within an organisation.
  • Cardiff – I live in Cardiff, Wales, and there is an active Twitter community, which often meets face to face.
  • UK Higher Education – As well as bloggers and Open University people there is a large contingent of peers in other universities, funding bodies, libraries and so on.
  • Journalists and media – a number of journalists and media consultants use Twitter regularly.
  • Tottenham Hotspur – I support Spurs and a number of people I follow for this reason, but also there is a wider group for whom football is an interest (who are also members of the other networks).

There are a number of subgroups in this also; for example, Canadian bloggers form a coherent network of their own, and many individuals will occupy more than one category. One can view these many different groups and subgroups as networks that will become more or less active, and distinct, according to external events. For example, during the general election in the United Kingdom, this geographic grouping became more significant because there was a unifying theme. This is seen particularly with large, synchronous events such as the televised debates during the election.

Huberman, Romero and Wu (2009) have investigated interactions on Twitter and find that despite many followers the number of people a user interacts with (i.e. sends replies to) is relatively small. This reflects findings in Facebook and is interpreted as the existence of Dunbar's number (1992). While this may well be true for the more stable relationships, the use of functions such as hashtags and retweets allows for a finer grading of online acquaintance. I can read, or retweet, someone else's posts without ever interacting with them, and they may reciprocate, without engaging in direct conversation; yet these people form part of a valuable network.