The Center for Computational and Data Science brings you a second Seed Funding Highlight!

The Center offers funding for proposals that align with our mission: working to advance theoretical or applied research in the social sciences using advanced computational approaches, including human language technologies and data science. The goal of seed funding is to support pilot research that will lead to future grant proposals or research publications, as well as to support dissertation research that advances CCDS goals.

We are excited to showcase the research of iSchool Assistant Professor Jeff Hemsley! Jeff received a PhD from the University of Washington’s Information School in 2014. Prior to that Jeff graduated with a BS in Economics with a minor in Math and Statistics. Jeff’s previous work experience includes working in the software industry for nearly 18 years. He held positions as a software engineer, a manager, a project manager, and as a test engineer.

Jeff Hemsley’s research interests center on understanding information diffusion – or viral events, particularly in the context of politics in social media. Jeff writes that “What has inspired me about studying viral events is that they can bring alternate perspectives and the grievances of marginalized groups to the attention of wider audiences.” Jeff explained that having fake news that goes viral and so I am also motivated by finding and flagging this kind of information.”

Jeff is the co-author of the book Going Viral (Polity Press, 2013), which was the winner of ASIS&T Best Science Books of 2014 Information award and selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2014. The book explains what virality is, how it works technologically and socially, and draws out the implications of the process for social change.

Jeff enjoys using statistical methods in his work as well as exploratory data analysis (EDA). EDA is an approach that is useful for searching for patterns, structures and the unexpected in data. The tools of EDA include descriptive statistics, tables, and data visualizations. Jeff specializes in data visualization and teaches classes here in the iSchool on the topic.

The Research:

The seed funding Jeff received supported work looking at virality on a niche social media site called Dribble. Dribbble is a niche social networking site for artists and designers with over 600,000 users. Virality is a much-studied topic on popular social media sites, but has rarely been explored on niche sites. Using a mixed-method approach, Jeff and his team explore virality from a user-centric perspective. Interviews with informants confirm that viral-like events do exist on Dribbble, though the events that spread are different. With the interviews, Jeff’s team identify the measures and possible driving factors of viral-like events. Then they use computational work to collect and analysis hundreds of thousands of user profiles and user-generated content records to produce results. While the events that spread are different than on other platforms, Jeff’s work suggests that the measures and mechanics that drive these events are similar. This similarity reflects the same fundamental human behavior underlying social phenomenon across different platforms. Jeff’s results are supported by regression modeling using variables identified by the research’s informants. This work contributes to social media studies since smaller sites like Dribbble are rarely studied, particularly using mixed methods approaches, as well as to the body of research around information diffusion and viral events.

The Impact:

Jeff’s work utilizes mixing quantitative and big data work with qualitative interview work. Given the Center’s focus on computational techniques, Jeff’s research epitomizes the CCDS mission.

Jeff and his team used the seed funds in multiple ways: to compensate interview informants; to pay for transcription costs; and to help cover the costs of a copy editor for a paper that Jeff’s team submitted to a journal. Furthermore, the seed funding Jeff received provided an opportunity for a PhD student to gain experience in conducting interviews.

Jeff plans to further pursue this area of research beyond niche social media sites. Like Dribbble, some academic sites – like Research Gate – are also niche sites. Jeff and his team wonder how viral events, or viral-like events, are similar or different on these kinds of sites. Music sites may also provide a future opportunity to utilize this type of research.

When asked for recommendations on applying for CCDS seed funding for others that may be interested, Jeff had three pieces of advice. First, he recommends having a clear plan for how the funds will be used. Second, have a justification for why the work is important. And finally, be clear about what you hope will result from the work: e.g. where you plan to publish or if you plan to submit a grant.

Thank you for your insights Jeff, and we look forward to hearing more about this exciting research!