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Derp and social research

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Facebook made the headlines earlier in the year when news broke that they were manipulating the newsfeed of users as part of a piece of scientific research to explore how users would respond to such tampering.  Whilst that gained a lot of adverse publicity, there is a groundswell of partnerships between social networks and the academic world who are keen to make use of the vast quantity of data posted onto social networks on a daily basis.

Earlier this year for instance, Twitter teamed up with Gnip, an organization that touts themselves as the source for open social data, to offer  selected research institutions access to Twitter data from 2006 to the present day.  The pilot program, known as Twitter Data Grants, hopes to boost research by giving academics access to such a wealth of data.  In the first few months of the pilot, Twitter revealed that it has already received over 1,300 research proposals from around the globe.

The latest project of this ilk is the rather unfortunately named Derp (or The Digital Ecologies Research Partnership to its friends).  The partnership will see data from Reddit, Imgur and Twitch made available to researchers from institutions such as MIT and Harvard.

It came about “as a result of Imgur talking with a number of other community platforms online trying to learn about how they work with academic researchers,” says Tim Hwang, the image-sharing site’s head of special initiatives.

“In most cases, the data provided through Derp will already be accessible through public APIs,” an announcement says. “Our belief is that there are ways of doing research better, and in a way that strongly respects user privacy and responsible use of data.

“Derp is an alliance of platforms that all believe strongly in this. In working with academic researchers, we support projects that meet institutional review at their home institution, and all research supported by Derp will be released openly and made publicly available.”

An example of the kind of thing they’re hoping to do was covered on the blog earlier this summer.  It was a study conducted by Stanford researchers that used data from Reddit’s Random Acts of Pizza subforum to test how people best secure favours from colleagues.  They identified several key criteria for a successful request, including the narrative used and how you communicate your need.

The move offers the research community a nice way of accessing data from outside of the main social networks.  Derp hope to change that and offer “a single point of contact for researchers to get in touch with relevant team members across a range of different community sites.”

“We envision that this will lower the friction to investigating these sites in more depth, and broaden the scope of research happening within the academic community,” they continue.

What’s more, the group also hope to make it much easier to analyse data from multiple networks. “By bringing a number community sites together under a single cooperative effort, we intend to lower the friction to doing so, as well as better enable the sites themselves to coordinate with one another on supporting researchers.”

It’s an interesting project that will hopefully ensure the academic community can continue the flow of insightful research.

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