Seminar: Professor Jean Burgess - 27 Apr 2017

Twitter: A Platform Biography

Time: 1-2pm, Thursday 27 April

Venue: North Lecture Theatre, Room 239, Old Arts (map)


The contemporary digital media environment is dominated by a relatively small number of proprietary platforms. One of the biggest challenges facing digital media scholars is finding methods to study these platforms - not only through the data they generate; but as complex sociotechnical institutions, especially as they change over time. In this presentation, I propose and demonstrate a solution to this problem: the Platform Biography approach, developed as part of a study with Nancy Baym at Microsoft Research. In building a platform biography of Twitter, we draw on archival materials, platform data, and user interviews. In telling the story of Twitter, we focus on the changing characteristics of and struggles over three of its most distinctive and defining platform features: the @mention, #hashtag, and Retweet. In this presentation, I present the methods and findings of our project. I use them to show how the dual struggles between social network-oriented models and media-centric business models for the platform on the one hand, and different understandings and values of sociability, intimacy, and publicness among users on the other, have provided a constant baseline underscoring the history of Twitter. These conflicts and trade-offs continue to play out as Twitter in turn struggles to survive - and the core mediating features of the platform, including but extending beyond the @mention, the #hashtag, and the Retweet, are the battleground.


Jean Burgess (@jeanburgess) is Professor of Digital Media and Director of the Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). Her research focuses on the uses, cultures and politics of social and mobile media platforms, as well as new and innovative digital methods for studying them. Her co-authored and edited books include YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture (Polity Press, 2009), Studying Mobile Media: Cultural Technologies, Mobile Communication, and the iPhone (Routledge, 2012), A Companion to New Media Dynamics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), and Twitter and Society (Peter Lang, 2014). Two new books are coming soon - the SAGE Handbook of Social Media (in press, 2017  - with Alice Marwick and Thomas Poell), and Twitter: A Biography(NYU Press, under contract, 2018 – with Nancy Baym). She has worked successfully with a range of government, industry and not-for-profit organisations to address the practical challenges and opportunities posed by digital and social media; as well as to deploy advanced social media analytics to understand and engage with the concerns of their communities. She collaborates widely with colleagues across QUT and around Australia, as well as with leading researchers in Germany, Brazil, Sweden, the UK, Canada, the USA, and Taiwan.