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Saturday, 19 September 2015

Meeting the Share Wars team

After blogging yesterday about a book I had just finished on how news is used in social media, 'All Your Friends Like This: How Social Networks Took Over News', which was published recently, I went along in mid-afternoon to be at a talk in Redfern organised by the MEAA, the journalists' union, where the three guys behind the book would appear.

To recap: the Share Wars project involved making a piece of bespoke software - the Likeable engine - to match the number of views of news stories published on English-language media websites against data about the use of the same news stories that is held by social media companies Facebook and Twitter. After analysing millions of instances, the team (in the pic, from left: Andrew Hunter, Hal Crawford and Domagoj Filipovic) defined a new taxonomy of social media use they called NIT, which stands for:
  • Newsbreaking
  • Inspiring
  • Teaming
The taxonomy describes the purposes for which people use news stories in social media. You can read my review in yesterday's blogpost. More detail on the taxonomy is available in the book; it includes a second level of categories - or sub-categories - in addition to those shown above.

It was useful for me to meet with the team because it helped me to build better insight into some of the points they wanted to make in the book. Dom Filipovic arrived a bit later than the other two men, so I didn't get a chance to talk with him.

One point that became clearer to me after listening to their talk was that teaming - the final category in the taxonomy - constitutes the biggest segment in the pie, with over 60 percent of stories in it. This means that most stories are shared on social media in order for the sharer to make a point, and build community among his or her followers, using the news story. "Are you with me or against me," as the Share Wars team succinctly put it.

Another point that was clearer after hearing them speak was that they wanted in the book after describing the taxonomy to interrogate the assertion they had made that the ubiquity of social media, and its emergence as one of the primary ways people receive their news, would result in an overall higher quality media effort in society. That social media would be good for the news. Hence the chapter on the business of fake news stories, for example.

And just to go back to the beginning for a minute, the team initially decided to create the Likeable engine because they had found that the taxonomies that had been already defined by other people did not adequately explain some of the behaviour they were seeing through the commercial analytical software they were using to examine the reception of their news stories at ninemsm (where Crawford is now editor-in-chief).

A further point is covered right at the end of the book, which is that the Likeable engine is currently being used by researchers at the University of Sydney to conduct even more detailed analysis of how news stories are used in social media. The three men in the Share Wars team, I also learned, own the copyright for the source code of the Likeable engine, which has its own website.

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