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Friday, May 29, 2015

On the Hugo Awards: Two Scholarly-ish Projects to Come (An Announcement)

As you may well be aware, I am currently working on two projects related to the Hugo Awards.  I know I've mentioned both of these at some point, though the second is certainly the most visible of these projects.  I'm also sure you know that the Hugo Awards have been enormously controversial this year, earning mainstream attention in major newspapers and entertainment sites such as The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Boing Boing, and so on.  That conversation is still happening; one need only look at File 770 to see it.

A lot of us in SF/F circles heard of the rumors circulating about the Hugos in the weeks prior to their announcement.  I heard many rumors from some of my friends, and many more circulated (or were revealed as truth) through RP/SP circles and through those with far more industry clout than myself.  Since last year's Hugo Awards were also controversial, I had the feeling that these rumors were going to indicate a blow-up that we hadn't yet seen.  And so I turned to a friend of mine for help:  Aaron Beveridge.

Aaron is one of the co-creators of MassMine, along with Nicholas Van Horn. MassMine was created with the intent of helping academics acquire meaningful data from social media platforms (specifically, Twitter).  Their program is pretty complicated, so I'll let you go to the website and learn all about it (there's a video and everything!).  Aaron, it turns out, is one of those enthusiastic individuals who believes, as I do, that collaboration is critical to academic work, and so it didn't take any effort at all to convince him to help me collect data and put together the projects below.

This post serves as an official announcement for the projects that Aaron and I are working on.  These include the following:

1. MassMine-ing the Hugo Awards:  Social Media Reactions and What the Data Tell Us

That's not so much a working title as just a title I'm giving this project until we actually write it.  I asked Aaron to start mining Twitter a day or so before the Hugo Awards finalists were announced because I knew from rumors that it would be controversial.  And, boy howdy, it was controversial.  Aaron mined Twitter for roughly two straight weeks and has already begun compiling charts, connections, etc.

What we intend to do with this information is write an academic paper about the data:  what it tells us about the Hugo Awards and the people involved (literally or in conversation with it), how that data ties to the existing (and past) conversation, and so on.  This will be a pretty complicated work, but it is a project that we both believe in because we think it is important (not just to academia but to sf/f at large).

We're also going to write less-academic essays concerning the data and hope to publish them online in an appropriate venue (Strange Horizons, perhaps).

Additionally, we have already discussed running a second MassMine crunch for the days immediately preceding and the weeks immediately following the announcement of the Hugo Awards winners.  Given the controversy already surrounding the awards this year, we can't imagine any scenario in which there won't be some kind of controversy over the winners; for that reason, we think the conversation (and the data we can get from it) will be equally informative about what people are saying, who is saying it, and how the data points connect.

We don't have a set timetable for completion as yet, but we do hope to have something about our data out by the end of the year.

2. The Hugo Awards:  Perspectives from Non-U.S. Fandom

You may recall that I ran a survey of non-U.S. fans to get their perspectives on the Hugos.  The survey included questions about their voting "habits," how they perceived the Hugos as an entity (its American-ness, importance, etc.), and how they perceived the current debate over the Rabid / Sad Puppies controversy (more particularly, what they thought about the RP/SP's actions).  I intended the survey as a general (and anonymous) information grab, though I certainly speculated about the responses I would receive.  The survey garnered almost 400 responses and has confirmed a lot of the things I suspected before I even created the survey.

At the moment, Aaron and I are working on an essay for Strange Horizons (who have expressed interest) which will analyze the information provided in the survey.  Aaron is collating the data into useful charts and so on, as he is a big data guy, and I'm, well, an English grad student who doesn't work with data on a regular basis.  Together, we're going to work on an essay explaining the results (a la the previous project) and submit it to Strange Horizons.  You can also expect us to incorporate some of these results in the 1st project, since they are intimately related.

Both of these projects will take time.  In the case of the 1st, it'll take a lot of time because of the amount of data we're working with and the amount of data we still want to collect; it'll also take time because academic publishing is slow as molasses (for good reason, given that so many rely on the peer review process).  We'll do our best to do write-ups on the data as we work towards publication.  At the very least, you know these projects are coming.

We hope they will spark a lot of conversation, too.

If you have any questions about either project, feel free to leave them in the comments.  Aaron and I will address them to the best of our ability!

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  1. Anonymous9:11 AM

    Interesting initiatives, Shaun; I will be following progress.

    1. Thanks! It should be a lot of fun.

  2. Anonymous3:45 PM

    I love small group dynamics and look forward to your results.