Twitter: A Platform Biography


Twitter: A Platform Biography

North Lecture Theatre
Old Arts


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T: 0400 132 006

Talk entitled Twitter: A Platform Biography, by Professor Jean Burgess, Director of the Digital Media Research Centre, QUT

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.


  • Professor Jean Burgess
    Professor Jean Burgess, Director of the Digital Media Research Centre