To tweet or not to tweet at Sunbelt?

Last week, over 800 researchers from sociology, anthropology, communication, information science, computer science, statistics and business school got together in a small Italian town Riva del Garda (north of Verona) to attend the annual conference on the International Network for Social Network Analysis. Although they all came from different fields, the attendees share their passion for social networks analysis. At the conference, I presented my latest research from three separate research areas: mining Twitter networks, analyzing co-authorship data and studying conversations in the blogosphere with collaborators from Canada, the USA and Korea.

Considering the social networking orientation of this conference, I expected to see many papers on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. But interestingly this was not the case. All together there were only four papers on Facebook. Also in total there were only three sessions on Twitter, and prominent Twitter researchers such as Danah Boyd were noticeably missing from the program. And for those with a conspiratorial mind, one of the most frequently heard comments put forth by many of the attendees was about how small the room for the Twitter session was compared to the room given to the other sessions. Is this because Twitter and Facebook are “so” last year?

I doubt it, even as we speak, the populations of Twitter and Facebook are growing steadily. It is hard to believe that network scientists are purposely ignoring these popular and fast growing online social networks. More likely, the scant focus on Twitter and Facebook at this conference probably has a lot to do with the European location of the conference this year. While ubiquitous in the US and Canada, Twitter and Facebook have yet (if ever) to capture minds and hearts in Europe where online users tend to favour their own home grown social networking services like in Germany or in Russia and Ukraine.

Also, as a result of the huge amount of buzz around these sites, it’s very easy to forget that studies on Twitter and Facebook and even online social networks in general are still very young and comprise only a small proportion of all studies on social networks. And it should be noted that research on social networks existed long before the recent appearance of online networking sites . Who knows, maybe in a few years when research in online social networks is more mature (and includes more work on incorporating existing and developing new social network theories, and not just relying on sample observations), then maybe Sunbelt will have just as many papers on Twitter as it does on citation and co-authorship networks. :) In short, although I didn’t get the normal dosage of Twitter; it was actually a very refreshing change since most recent North American i-type conferences have been very Twitter/Facebook-heavy (and system-centric in general).