Monday, 27 May 2013

On Changing the Rules of Digital Humanities from the Inside

There has been a lot of talk recently about how my field – Digital Humanities – has to change. We are too insular. We’re excluding those who want to partake in it. The structures that have been built within the discipline preclude the type and means of research which we claim to do.  Issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and class raise their heads. There are a few online resources that exist which sum up these feelings: see “Toward an Open DigitalHumanities” google discussion document and, more recently, the Open Thread on “The Digital Humanities as a Historical“Refuge” from Race/Class/Gender/Sexuality/Disability?” over at Postcolonial Digital Humanities.

I’m not denying that there are issues in Digital Humanities. One need only look at the recently published program for DH2013 and cast your eye over the authorship of the accepted papers to see that this year’s Digital Humanities presenting cohort is around 65% male, 35% female. But what I would say, speaking on a personal level and not representing any authority here, is an obvious point which I don’t hear often voiced. Most people “within” Digital Humanities – that is those within the ADHO committee structures, those helping to run the conferences, those helping to allocate student bursaries and prizes, those helping to review papers and manuscripts, and heck, even the cool kids on twitter, are people who want Digital Humanities to be as open and as great as possible. This whole field has been built on the hard work of many academics who have given up their free time to try and entrench the use of computing in humanistic study into an academic field of enquiry, and it wouldn't exist without them, even if the form it exists in is currently imperfect. I would say, from where I sit on various committees, that people want to keep DH growing, and growing healthily. So if there are things wrong with DH, then do give concrete examples, or propose concrete solutions, so they can be taken forward. They're listening - we're listening.

There are things that have really frustrated me within DH, and it is only recently that I’ve started to actively question and pursue them, to get them to be changed. For example, in 2006 I first noticed that the TEI guidelines encouraged the use of ISO5218:2004 to assign sexuality of persons in a document (with attributes being given as 1 for male, 2 for female, 9 for non-applicable, and 0 for unknown). I find this an outmoded and problematic representation of sexuality, which in particular formally assigns women to be secondary to men, and so, in one of the core guidelines in Digital Humanities, we allow and indeed encourage sexist structures to be encoded. I was shocked to hear this – and have often brought it up when discussing entrenched issues in DH about gender balance. In a recent conversation on twitter about this topic, Stephen Ramsay summed up the issue:

James Cummings responded to our tweets, asking why, if it bothered me (and others) so much, hadn’t anyone submitted a feature request to TEI about it? And you know, it had never occurred to me that there would be an easy route to question this sort of stuff. He pointed me to where to submit a request, which I did here.  The discussion which follows is really very interesting – look out for the “you cant possibly be offended!” argument, or the “but we’ve always done it this way!” response. Also look out for very vocal support from Gabriel Bodard, in particular, who helped steer the discussion forward to ensure that at
“the TEI Council meeting in Brown, 2013-04, we agreed to change the datatype of person/@sex, personGrp/@sex and sex/@value from ISO 5218 to data.word, so as to allow the use of locally defined values or alternative published standards to be used in these attributes.” 
Women are secondary in the TEI rules no more! Hurrah! – and all it needed for that to happen was for someone to raise the issue in the correct forum, and explain the issue to those who did not understand it, until they finally did.

I’m Program Chair for DH2014 and issues of diversity and equality are currently on my mind as we discuss and choose plenary speakers for the Lausanne conference. It was recently pointed out to me, though, that the ADHO conference protocols don’t allow issues of diversity to be taken into consideration when choosing plenary speakers, originally saying
“Keynote speakers are decided by the International Program Committee in consultation with the Local Organiser, and should ideally represent a range of disciplines, interests, and geography.”
This isn’t good enough, as it means that you cant say “We’ve got a man to be one of the speakers, how about having a woman for the other one?” without being at risk of being accused of breaching protocol. I’ve recently chased an amendment round the ADHO committee structures, which means the ADHO conference protocols, since last week, state:
"Keynote speakers are decided by the International Program Committee in consultation with the Local Organiser, and should ideally represent a range of complementary disciplines, interests, and geography, with consideration given to issues of gender equality, and economic, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity." 
Perhaps a small deal, focussing on the choice of a couple of speakers a year at our international conference, but pointing to the fact that the ADHO constitution needs to be looked over, to see where we can enshrine issues of gender equality, and other issues of diversity, within our communities. We need to make the rules that people have to abide by. We can make the rules, and we can change the rules. What rules would there help to be?

Of course, changing rules and guidelines wont make everything change overnight, and I wouldnt like to naively claim they will solve everything, but they are a start. I guess what I’m saying here is that, in general, folks “within” Digital Humanities are doing their best, and open to discussion and improvement, and are not willfully obstructive to those of a different gender, race, or economic class, etc. Criticism is helpful, and if there are things that need changing, or unconscious biases that need rectifying, then point them out, tell us. Tell us where concrete things are that we can act upon. We all want Digital Humanities to be the best it possibly can be, and I, for one, don’t mind changing the rules from the inside, in the time that I remain there. 

28/05/13 Addendum to the original post:  for an ADHO led initiative on diversity see GO::DH. I'd also like to encourage anyone who is interested in discussing change to consider standing for election to one of the ADHO organisations - we always need volunteers who want to roll up their sleeves!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

On Throwing Your Klout Around

I am @melissaterras. I have just shy of 4500 followers on twitter, a blog which garnered 100,000 readers last year, and a current Klout score of 64. I tend to take this kind of thing with a grain of salt: I hang out on social media because I enjoy it and it has also proved useful and beneficial to my career. I’m aware I’m not Justin Bieber and that my stats – while above average - are not particularly big shakes.  But over the past few weeks a few things have happened which have made me think about digital identity, responsibility, and where academic use of social media crosses into the “real life” arena.

Case 1. I travel a lot with work, usually using Opodo to book tickets. A few weeks ago I found myself locked out of “My Opodo” and couldn’t access it to check itineraries, tickets, or print boarding passes, etc.  I tried getting in touch with customer services, spending hours on the phone, emailing, tweeting and asking for help. Nothing. With an upcoming trip, and growing frustration (spending an hour on hold to Opodo is never in the plan of my day) I posted a few disgruntled tweets about their shocking customer service, which, retweeted by some followers, had the potential to reach over 10,000 users within a matter of minutes. My mobile rang. Opodo – a firm reknowned for not answering customer complaints in a timely fashion- had phoned me to help resolve the problem.

I’ve seen it reported that Klout scores andtwitter follower counts are now being paid attention by customer services, but while I can provide various concrete examples of why having a digital profile has helped my academic career, this is the first time I can point to something which has actually helped resolve an issue I have had with a commercial entity. I’m simultaneously aghast that it would take an above average twitter following to help you get on a departing flight, and relieved that it helped me to get an increasing pressing travel issue sorted out.  What about those not-so-valued customers that didn’t manage to get the issue resolved in time?

Case 2 is where I now am aware that writing something online could cost a local business tens of thousands of pounds in business. I’m not happy with the project management company who looked after a build at our home, as the ceiling is now leaking, and they are ignoring any enquiries we are making to help have this sorted.  It would be easy for me to name them here, linking to their website, and within a couple of days if you googled for them my blog post would appear above their own website in the rankings, due to the fact that my blog is tapped into more existing networks than theirs.

It would seem that, at the moment, the easiest tool at my disposal to use is my digital identity. Indeed, it is probably the only leverage I have to stop the growing discolouration of our new dining room ceiling. But that makes me uneasy, as I know how difficult it would be for them to claw back in a negative customer comment once it has been broadcast online, and we are happy in general with our build and are sure this is a minor issue to resolve. Should I be throwing my klout around, if it will negatively affect others in the long term?  

I’m left thinking of the increasingly intertwined nature of customer service, digital presence, and moral responsibility. Whilst I was playing at this, this stuff got real.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

What People Study When They Study Twitter

So, keeping good to my Open Access promises - my latest co-authored paper to go up in preprint, which will be out in print sometime this year in the Journal of Documentation - hot off the presses! Just as it goes up in preprint behind a paywall on the journal pages! is a jointly authored paper with Shirley Williams, from the University of Reading, and Claire Warwick, from UCLDIS. And here it is:

Williams, S and Terras, M and Warwick, C (2013) "What people study when they study Twitter: Classifying Twitter related academic papers". Journal of Documentation , 69 (3). Free PDF Download From UCL repository.

In this paper, we identify the 1161 academic papers that were published about Twitter between 2007 (when the first papers on Twitter appeared) and the close of 2011. We then analyse method, subject, and approach, to show what people are doing (or have been publishing!) on the use of Twitter in academic studies, providing a framework within which researchers studying the development and use of twitter as a source of data will be able to position their work. Oh, we also provide the list of the papers we found, so you can have a look-see yourself.

And the story behind this one? Shirley was introduced to Claire and myself by the late (and much missed) Prof. Mark Baker at Reading, when we undertook the Linksphere project.  Now, I've written about Linksphere elsewhere - it was an ambitious project which really didnt take off due to a variety of factors - but the good things to come out of it were our RA, Claire Ross, and meeting Shirley. We published a paper on the use of twitter by academics at conferences when the Linksphere project was going. A year or so after the project finished, Shirley was granted a research sabbatical, and asked Claire and I if we would be interested in carrying on that work with her. Kicking around a few ideas, we wondered whether it would be possible to round up all the published work on Twitter - what are people using it for? And then to analyse it, to see if we can classify how people are using it, what the datasets are, what the methods are, and what the domains are. Wouldnt it be nice to have a bibliography on the use of twitter in research papers? And so away Shirley went, working with Claire and I, and building up this nice framework in which we can look at twitter based research.

The paper was accepted into the Journal of Documentation last summer, and this month went up in preprint at the Journal of Documentation website, and is now out in Open Access from UCL's research repository, before it even hits the Library shelves. Which is how it should be, non?