UCL Social Networking Sites & Social Science Research Project
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    ‘What is social media?’ – a definition

    By Daniel Miller, on 1 May 2013

    Photo by Muffet (Creative Commons)

    Photo by Muffet (Creative Commons)

    Having described our project as the Global Social Media Impact Study, we realised there was just one little thing we hadn’t actually done. This was to define, at least for our purposes, what we mean by the words ‘social media’. Our studies are ethnographies, there is pretty much nothing we would not wish to include. This includes polymedia, the study of how all our various forms of communication interact with each other. But we also wanted to flag the degree to which we are concerned with new kinds of social communication. Our project talks about social networks or social network sites but sometimes these are hard to define. We don’t really focus on what sociologists mean by social networks since we may end up largely working on groups such as kinship while that tradition is more focused on ego-cantered networks that at least according to Rainie and Wellman may replace more traditional groups. While SNS includes Facebook and QQ (but does it include Twitter?) and is a bit too narrow and technical as a definition of social media.

    So at least for present purposes let me suggest another meaning for the words ‘social media’. Our primary concern is with the development of communication media that goes beyond the dyadic, being open to a group of persons. Social media helps draw attention to the development of a series of practices of communication which lie between traditionally dyadic forms such as the phone call or indeed most webcam conversations, and on the other hand public broadcasting as in most traditional media. Social media could imply that the communication is social in the sense of going to a larger group, but social also in that it helps create and maintain relationships rather than the one-way communication of broadcast media. We don’t want to be pedantic or overly semantic. It doesn’t matter a whole lot that we can’t really find precise boundaries for such a definition. Take WhatsApp. This app includes both dyadic texting but also group texting. If we are focusing on social media then our prime concern is with the latter, but obviously we would also take note of the former as part of polymedia. In conclusion as long as we don’t worry too much about precise boundaries, it might be useful to have at least a rough idea of what the words social media might imply about the ways communications have changed over the last two decades. An orientation to the social as opposed to merely the personal seems to keep us close to the intuitive semantics of these words, and that is surely a good thing.

    Small (random) thoughts on Big Data

    By Shriram Venkatraman, on 12 December 2012

    Photo: hisperati (Creative Commons)

    A casual search for the definition/description of Big Data can throw up results that define/describe this phenomenon in various ways. Though most agree on size (as the term itself implies), there are other dimensions applied to this term, that seem to be on the increase based on the nature of the industry that defines this. Definitions range from using 3V models to 4V models; single dataset to multiple datasets; single database with multiple datasets to multiple databases with multiple datasets; size of each dataset from gigabytes to exabytes (very relative); nature of each of this dataset; complexity not only in terms of types of data sources but also with respect to the relationships that these data points share; speed (or velocity) at which the data is produced, so on and so forth. Other than the dimensions of size and complexity, it looks like the definition of Big Data is as big as the data itself.

    From a universal perspective, most of these definitions that speak about the size of the dataset proclaim that humanity creates 2.5 exabytes of data every day. However, one has to remember that this is only tracked data defined based on the technological storage capacity. So, what happens to the untracked data? So are these exabytes of data our data generation, or production that can be tracked by technology? Though, this will definitely grow in size as technology advances with data storage capacity, can technology reach out to every nook and corner of this world? It seems like a major portion of Big Data description is limited to the digital space alone.  Though, the definition of Big Data seems to grow in a non-linear fashion, the growth of Big Data itself seems to be linear based on its dependency on digital and or technological growth.

    Data can be processed and does have the potential to turn into information, and information can be broken into data – so processing of this information is, in a way, producing more data, which is again processed to produce more information which is data again – in a way becoming a vicious cycle of production, storage and processing.

    It will definitely be interesting to see what comes out of Big Data research; it might produce big definitions, bigger philosophies and biggest profits too.