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Computer Science, Undergraduate, Ethnomethodological Study, Queen Mary, University of London.

  1. Read the task in Box 1.
  2. Download each of the pdfs and read them. Keep these open so you can refer to them as you watch the video.
  3. Watch the video.

Step 1

The Task

Computer Science, Undergraduate, Ethnomethodological Study, Queen Mary, University of London.

This ethnomethodological study is part of a larger assignment looking at uses of Twitter, and applying a range of theories and frameworks which have been discussed in lectures and readings. The first part (10 marks) is a task analysis, taking a conventional Computer Science approach by looking at Twitter from a design perspective. The second part is the ethnomethodological study (20 marks). The final part is an Activity Theory analysis (20 marks) which goes beyond conventional task analysis to take Twitter users’ motivations and individual contexts into account.

The ethnomethodological task requires the student to think about a computer-based task, not in terms of program design or the designer's intended use, but in terms of how people actually use Twitter.  The main requirement is to show an ability to observe how people use a particular Twitter convention, e.g. hashtagging, and to demonstrate an understanding of how this use varies depending on the people involved, their context, their intentions and how they understand the convention.  Understanding real use is an important skill for a designer.  The best studies demonstrate that the way people use and understand a tool is not fixed, and that new uses emerge as activities change.

Step 2


Ethnomethodological Study of Retweets

Retweeting is how Twitter users share interesting tweets from the people they are following. So if a person was following someone who posted an interesting tweet, they might want to share this with their followers.

There are many different reasons why a user may want to retweet something, some involve:

  • Commenting on someones tweet by retweeting and adding new content, often to begin a new conversation
  • Recognising or referring to less popular people or less visible content
  • Saving tweets for future personal access

The above motivations for posting retweets illustrate their different individual and collaborative uses, for example, saving tweets for personal access and recognizing less popular people are primarily individual activities. These are individual activities because they do not expect any input from other users, such a case would be if a celebrity was to retweet what a fan said, they do not expect any reply from the fan. This is in contrast to the collaborative nature of commenting on someone’s tweet by retweeting it; the user expects some reply from the originator of the tweet if they are intending to start a conversation.

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Part 2: Ethnomethodological Study (Retweets)

Ethnomethodology is the study of the common methods that individuals reason about, understand and approach everyday problems and tasks (Garfinkel, 1967) [1]. Ethnomethodology focuses on the social context of tasks and behaviour, as shown in this analysis of the convention of Retweeting on Twitter, which is a socially emergent convention as a direct result of social behaviour.

Retweeting is a convention that emerged by use of the varied syntax, purposes, uses and social- groups that are involved with the concept; now a convention. Twitter’s developers recently added a Retweet function with limited functionality and flexibility; it was not originally a part of Twitter (Boyd et al, 2010) [2]. Retweeting is structurally a method of rebroadcasting a message local to a user’s own timeline and list of followers such that their own followers can see a Tweet that they may not otherwise. There are several social-purposes of Retweeting (in relation to social-networking site, Facebook).

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Ethnomethodological Study: Convention of Hashtagging

The hashtag evolved from what use to be a feature that allowed users to track topics and certain people, to a convention that now has several purposes. Members of Twitter use hashtagging differently. This all depends onthier primary use for Twitter, as well as the timeline. As an example, a user moght only ve a member of Twitter to keep track of any announcements regarding events that are occurring. In this case, the hashtag has a very small ipact on the user’s timeline, since the majority of the time spent on Twitter will be reading event information. For event tracking, users only need to search for the corresponding hashtag once, since they can always choose to ‘follow’ the event from then onwards.

Members also use hashtags for topics related to specific people. Celebrity-related hashtags are very popular since members often want to know about the latest happenings regarding a specific celebrity. As an exaple, on can type in #KimKardashian to find all tweets posted by members, with the same hashtag. The individual activity of typing a hashtag to find a topic soon results in a large, collaborative activity where many other may also be reading the same tweets.

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Step 3

Step 4

Download the transcript for this video.

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