Twitter at the Big Three: Global Network Stats

Every year in the break between Fall and Spring academic semesters, tens of thousands of scholars from across the world descend on an American city for several caffeine-fueled days of panels, receptions, job interviews, and social networking. Actually, this happens more than once, as members of the American Historical Association, the Modern Language Association, and the American Library Association all meet in January. And while most of their social networking happens face-to-face, some of it happens on Twitter where enterprising digital humanists armed with Martin Hawksey’s TAGS can collect conference tweets and analyze them for fun and profit.

Posts in this (intended) series include (and will be linked as they are published):

  1. Global Networks Stats
  2. Bipartite Network Analysis
  3. Directed Network Analysis
  4. Preliminary Conclusions (TL;DR)
  5. The Methods Post

So without further ado, here are some initial stats about the networks I constructed from the three official conference Twitter hashtags: #aha17, #mla17, and #alamw17.

The AHA network is the smallest at 2,826 nodes (people who either tweeted or whose twitter handle showed up in another person’s tweets) and 6,945 edges (connections generated by said tweets). These edges have been weighted so that if Person A mentions Person B 14 times in tweets, the edge from Person A to Person B has weight 14. If Person A mentions Person C only once, the edge from Person A to Person C has weight 1. The average degree is 2.5 (number of edges divided by number of nodes) but when weight is factored in (edges are multiplied by their weight before added and divided by number of nodes) the average weighted degree is 3.9.

There are 74 connected components (subnetworks with no connection to the rest of the network), with the largest connected component containing 90% of the nodes and 96% of the edges in the overall network. This component has diameter 10 (the shortest distance between two people furthest away from each other) and average path length 4.3 (average of the shortest distance between every pair of people in the network).

The MLA network is slightly bigger and slightly more connected:

  • nodes: 3,538
  • edges: 10,178
  • average degree: 2.9
  • average weighted degree: 5.2
  • connected components: 70
  • largest connected component contains
    • nodes: 94.2%
    • edges: 97.8%
  • diameter 12
  • average path length 4.4

The ALA network is the largest and most connected:

  • nodes: 7,851
  • edges: 20,505
  • average degree: 2.6
  • average weighted degree: 3.9
  • connected components: 99
  • largest connected component:
    • nodes: 96.1%
    • edges: 98.9%
  • diameter: 14
  • average path length: 5.4

So what happens when we put it all together?


Green edges = #aha17 hashtag. Red edges = #mla17 hashtag. Blue edges = #alamw17 hashtag.

Merging the three networks together creates some overlap of nodes (people on Twitter during more than one conference) and edges (people tweeting to the same people at more than one conference) but the three networks remain largely discrete. The force atlas 2 layout I employed in Gephi created more overlap of the AHA and MLA conferences than the ALA conference, but in general disciplinarity is the rule of the day.

While some of this is likely an artifact of most scholars’ inability to physically attend multiple conferences (the AHA and MLA, in particular, occurred at the same time in Colorado and Pennsylvania respectively), scholars have the ability to interact via Twitter with conferences they aren’t attending. The co-occurrance of the AHA and MLA could have – theoretically – increased connectivity between the two conferences if similar themes and conversations arose at both then connected via social media. Alas, I don’t have the 2015 metrics (the last time these conferences didn’t co-occur) to do a comparison, but if anyone has them and wants to share I’d love to see them!

In general, the merged “Big Three” network stats clearly derive from their constituent conferences’ stats:

  • nodes: 13,489
  • edges: 37,308
  • average degree: 2.8
  • average weighted degree: 4.5
  • connected components: 203
  • largest connected component:
    • nodes: 95%
    • edges: 98.3%
  • diameter: 16
  • average path length: 5.9

One of these numbers, however, immediately jumped out at me as not like the others: the number of connected components. If only the largest connected component of each conference network had been able to connected in the Big Three network, there should have been 74+(70-1)+(99-1)=241 connected components. Instead, 38 of the small components in the conference networks appear to have merged with another component (either the largest connected component or another small component).

This is encouraging to me as it implies that there is an interdisciplinary scholarly community that emerges on Twitter, not just in the dense “center” of the network but also in the disconnected “margins.” In is not (yet?) clear whether this interdisciplinary community is generated by digital humanists, librarians, geographical proximity, common interests, or – most likely – some combination of factors, including some I haven’t considered.

Regardless of the cause, something is going on. In the interests of exploring it, next time I’m going to restructure my data as a bipartite network to see if anything else interesting emerges.


Conferences and Invisible Disabilities

For two decades, if you suggested that I was disabled, I would have given you a strange look and a skeptical, “okaaaay?”

Sure, I have asthma and have to take meds twice a day (okay, six times a day during flare-ups) but that is as normal to me as brushing my teeth twice a day. And yes, I am intimately familiar with the emergency departments of six different hospitals, but that’s because I’ve moved a lot. And sure, there are a lot of things I haven’t been able to do because of my asthma, but I’m not the kind of person who wants to hang out in a bar or go clubbing on a regular basis or attend academic conferences-

Yeah, I hope I just made you do a double-take.

What do the History of Science Society; the North American Conference on British Studies; and the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing have in common? Besides being awesome professional societies (or I wouldn’t belong to them!), they have all held conferences that I attended where I suffered severe respiratory distress because of the asthma-unfriendly cities they chose for their conferences.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. When my co-collaborators and I decided we wanted to present our work at SHARP and then I realized the conference was in Paris, I nearly burst into tears because dear God, I didn’t want to have to suffer through an asthma attack on purpose. It took me four weeks to recover from that conference in Paris last summer. I almost didn’t apply to present at the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations conference next summer because it’s going to be in Montreal, which isn’t quite as bad as Paris, by which I mean it’ll probably “only” take me a week or so before I can breathe normally again.

So this is a plea for conference organizers to add more items to a checklist that, I appreciate, is already pretty long! But if you want your conferences to be truly accessible, you need to take into account the invisible, as well as visible, disabilities.

  1. Do you know what the air quality is like in the city you’ve chosen for your conference? Hint: if it’s a city where cigarette, cigar, and/or marijuana smoking is socially acceptable, it’s not going to be good. Also, think about vehicle and manufacturing exhaust, and the likelihood of wildfires. No, you can’t work miracles – cities are cities – but you should be aware of the situation, know when you’re choosing a venue that will potentially hurt people attending your conference, and keep your attendees informed about potential air quality issues.
  2. Is the hotel you’ve chosen strictly non-smoking? Because, let’s face it, any hotel with smoking rooms is going to cross-contaminate the non-smoking rooms, even if it’s just via the laundry.
  3. Is your meeting venue attached to your hotel? Or will attendees have to go outside, running the “smoker’s gauntlet” that inevitably springs up right outside hotel doors? Because not everyone can hold their breath and run – and frankly, we shouldn’t have to.
  4. Does your hotel AND meeting venue have year-round climate control? Yes, that means air conditioning in the summer, even in northern climates. Because asthmatics can’t just “open a window” and the lack of climate control leads to issues with humidity and mold growth, air circulation, and other asthma-attack-inciting conditions.

That’s it. Four things to keep your conference attendees from having to choose between their careers and their health. Because we all like to breathe.

I Tweet Therefore I Am Paying Attention

While I’m not on Twitter daily, I am a very active conference tweeter. I’m one of those people sitting by the electrical outlet with my laptop, hastily typing as the speakers present. To give you a better sense of the dichotomy between my everyday and conference tweeting, I present a screenshot of my July Twitter analytics:


Can you guess when SHARP 2016 occurred?

I’ve had a few people ask me about conference tweeting. What am I doing? Why? And – most importantly – how can I listen and tweet at the same time?

Conference Tweeting 101

The idea is straightforward. As you listen to a speaker, you extract the main ideas, themes, questions, and illuminating examples. You then tweet these things, ideally each one in a single tweet but breaking it across multiple tweets is also an option if the idea is especially complex.

Because all good academics cite their sources, the format of these tweets tends to be something like “Name: idea expounded here #conferencehashtag” or “idea expounded here @speakersTwitterHandle #conferencehashtag”  Session hashtags sometimes emerge at more Twitter active conferences, to separate out the conversations happening around each panel.


Whenever possible, it’s best to include the speaker’s Twitter handle because this means they will be automatically notified of your tweet (and be able to see other Twitter users’ interest in their ideas). They will also be included in any conversations that happen because someone responds to your tweet. HOWEVER for that to happen, the speaker needs to tell the audience what their Twitter handle is.

Pro Tip: if you have a/v and want your talk to be tweeted, it’s best to include your Twiter handle at the bottom of every one of your conference slides.

The Benefits of Conference Tweeting

… are legion. Because I want to keep this short, I’ll stick to my top two.

You can’t be in more than one panel at a time, assuming you can even afford to attend the conference in the first place. Conference tweeting allows you to “peek” into other panels, spot synchronicity of themes across multiple panels, and virtually attend far more scholarly events than even the most generous professional development stipend could allow.

Social network visualization

Furthermore, conference tweeting is a fantastic way to network – to find people with like interests and spark conversations that begin online, continue in receptions, and last after that conference ends. I’ve had collaborations and future conference panels emerge organically from these conversations, in a way they never would have if I’d sat alone in the back of a conference room then quickly escaped that reception full of strangers

The Concentration Question

This is the question I get asked most often and I’ll give a longer version of my usual response. We train all our academic careers to take notes while listening to lectures and other auditory events. In fact, this is a skill I’ve practiced so long, I have to take notes in order to actively listen to a talk. If I’m not taking notes, I tune out. And for me, conference tweeting is a form of note-taking.

When the Internet connection’s bad, I still take notes in a text document, but I vastly prefer note-taking via Twitter. First, I almost never go back to look at my old notes but I do continuously reenage with old tweets either because someone’s liked/retweeted something or because I’m analyzing datasets of old conference tweets.

Image of conference tweets archive

Tweets Captured with TAGS v6.0 ns

Second, Twitter functions as essentially a communal note-taking platform, enabling me to see what other people are getting out of the same talk. Third, the public nature of this note-taking leads to immediate conversations with other conference tweeting, in which we dissect, analyze, and expand on the ideas we’re hearing together.

So the next time you’re sitting in a conference next to me or anyone else who has Twitter open in the browser, you’ll know: I tweet therefore I am paying attention.

Hello, World!

# begin program

def DeliverGreetingsUntoTheInternet():

print “Hello, world! “

print “¡Hola, mundo! “

print “Bonjour, le monde!”

print “Salve, munde!”

# end program

As is traditional, the first post on this blog had to be “Hello world!”

To anyone who stumbles upon this page at some point, consider yourself greeted. As your reward for clicking into a “Hello, World!” post that could have been filled with lorem ipsum, here is a word cloude generated from my ancient accountability blog that I maintained during part of my graduate school dissertation research sojourn.


2009 Word Cloud