#ITAwien @ knappenhof

I spent the first days of the week in a wonderful hotel in the middle of Austrian nowhere; or more specifically: in the hotel Knappenhof, close to Reichenau half-way on the Rax. A picture describes the place the best, I guess.

The reason for this trip to the countryside was my first “ITA Klausur”, which annually takes place in June. The major task of our intense three-day meeting was a kind of self-discovery in times of budget cuts and precarious futures. The SOS ÖAW initiative speaks for itself. Despite these challenges – or maybe even because of them – we had very productive discussions on mission statements, PR work, academic work flows and policy advice, evaluation criteria of scientific and consulting achievements, discrepancy between long-term measures and short-term goals, integration of different employment contracts, perspectives and needs, and – last but not least – the very nature of technology assessment and its role in academia, society and the policy realm. We finally made a list of different tasks and identified measures how to reach them in due time.

Even though a lot of work lies ahead of us the atmosphere and general “vibes” were really positive and motivating. The ITA culture of communication seems to be pretty inclusive, democratic and well balanced. Having just started my job in March, and hence still being an ITA “novice”, I felt very welcome and integrated. The Klausur was a really good opportunity to gain insights in both ITA dynamics and the nitty-gritty of technology assessment! (Hopefully the weather will be better next time!)

issue mapping online / london

That’s how issue mapping looks like when new media scholars from Goldsmiths, Sociology/ London and the Digital Methods Initiative/ Amsterdam meet. Rather than lectures and passive entertainment the workshop consisted of hands-on projects carried out on site and actual work. As always, a highly enjoyable exercise! Compared to the Digital Methods Summer School annually taking place in Amsterdam more “issue experts” – from the Open Society Foundations, for example – were involved this time. Their practical knowledge and expertise in certain issue areas clearly stimulated the discussions since issue mapping requires both software tools/ visualization techniques AND background knowledge on the object of study – be it climate change, ageing or privacy. Only the combination of “digital methods” and “issue expertise” produces new insights and findings in my opinion (even though we didn’t carry out the Turing test to proof this hypothesis 😉 )

The workshop was organized by Noortje Marres & Carolin Gerlitz – both from Goldsmiths. It is well documented on the website issuemapping.net (including the workshop agenda, readings and a box of tools and tactics for “Issue Mapping Online”). A second workshop is planned for the fall; not least to think about future projects and further software developments; since issue mapping means constant experimentation with and refinements of the methods at hand.

“Black Box Suchmaschine” Video Archive

Yesterday we had a great event at the Museumsquartier in Vienna: our “Themenabend Black Box Suchmaschine” (see program below). For those who missed the event and can’t wait to watch it online (or parts of it 😉 ) we archived the video stream here:

Thanks to Axel Kittenberger for the technical support & the stream! & everyone, who participated and made this evening a great contribution to the politics of search, modes of ordering knowledge, privacy and regulation (which triggered a heated debate, as you can see towards the end of the video)..

Finally, René König presented the newly formed network Re:Search – a mailinglist established in co-operation with the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam (Geert Lovink). Subscribing to the list is only the first step, further activities will follow – Blog posts on the Society of the Query Blog, events, a publication hopefully! So stay tuned 😉

workshop “studying digital cultures” / lund

I just returned from a great workshop on “studying digital cultures” organized by Jutta Haider, Sara Kjellberg, Joost van de Weijer & Marianne Gullberg (from HEX, the Humanities Lab, and the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences). They invited me and Kim Holmberg (Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi University/ Finland) to present tools and methods to study digital cultures. Drawing on our own work we presented, explained and discussed the tools we used and for what purposes.

Referring to his dissertation work Kim presented tools, which have been developed by Mike Thelwall, the SocSciBot and LexiURL in particular. Since I’ve been reading quite some of Thelwall’s publications I found it highly interesting to learn more about the technicalities involved in these link network visualization methods. If you’re willing to invest some time to understand the various tools (and have a PC since the tools don’t work on macs) you could do some pretty neat stuff with them (including YouTube searches with LexiURL). The advantage of these tools is that they are free to use; the downside of LexiURL is that it only includes Bing searches. Besides serious research tools Kim also showed us some fun stuff including the Twitter Sentiment Analysis Tool or the We Feel Fine websites, that enables you to explore human emotions (both didn’t seem to work properly though, but try it for yourself).

© photo credits: digital cultures blog

Compared to the methods Kim presented the tools developed by Richard Rogers and his team are user-friendly and easy to use. Both the Issuecrawler and related tools, such as the Issue Discovery tool or the Google scraper, are ready-made software packages that allow the user to create link network visualizations by clicking on a number of settings (which make them appealing to social sciences and humanities scholars with limited technical skills and less appealing to people, who want to modify/ adapt the tools for their own research purposes, as I’d assume). To really understand what you see on the Issuecrawler link network maps, however, also requires a certain understanding of the software and the algorithm it incorporates, which I tried to explain during the workshop by walking participanst through the software. The log-in for the Issuecrawler is easy to get and 10 crawls are for free. After that individual terms of use may be negotiated depending on whether researchers have funding or not. For more advanced users I suggested Gephi.org, a network visualization tool free to use with great capacities (ask Bernhard Rieder for details, he knows all about it). Finally, we played around with Wordle, a tool that creates beautiful issue clouds out of text (with one mouse click).

After the presentations participants tried to make use of the tools for their own research purposes. It was a mixed crowd with different research interests, which was fun. Further, Joost van de Weijer showed us the Lund Humanities Lab, which appeared to be really different from the Umeå HUMlab since it mainly focuses on eye tracking, motion tracking and similar technologies (it was impressive to see their “experiment” rooms!). All in all we had a great time and a delicious dinner after a long day of digital work 😉 Thanks again to the organizers for having made this event happen & all the participants for having shared their ideas with us! Finally, I want to thank Olof Sundin, who gave me the opportunity to speak about digital methods in his methods seminar, and Karolina Lindh, who let me and Mike Frangos stay at her gorgeous apartment in Lund. You guys really made my stay – as always – a great pleasure! Take care & hope to see you again soon!!!