In the age of social media the dominant mode of engagement is distraction. Whilst appearing oxymoronic, distracted modes of engagement have such terms as ‘partial continuous attention’ and ‘ambient awareness.’ Distracted engagement is also measured. Klout scores and similar are often called ‘vanity metrics’ because they measure success or ’success theater’ in social media. The notion of vanity metrics implies at least three projects: a critique of metrics concerning their capacity measure unobtrusively or only encourage performance. The second is a corrective interface project, for users are continually distracted by number badges calling to be clicked, and there is a movement afoot (initiated by John Seely Brown) for so-called ‘encalming technology’. The talk, however, focuses on the third project, i.e., how one may rethink the metrics. In the talk I make four moves. In an application of digital methods, which seeks to repurpose online devices and their methods for social research, I propose to repurpose Klout scores and other (media monitoring) engagement measures for social research. Building upon ‘alt metrics’ for science, I propose another alternative metrics project. To do so, I call for a change of networks under study by social researchers, that is, a shift from the social network to the issue network. The change of networks (so to speak) enables an alternative metrics for the social (and social issue engagement), which I call critical analytics. Critical analytics would seek to measure ‘other’ modes of engagement (than vanity) such as concern, dominant voice, commitment, positioning and alignment, and thereby gives digital methods a further conceptual and applied research agenda.
Richard Rogers is Chair of the Department of Media Studies and Professor of New Media & Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam. He is Director of the Digital Methods Initiative, the research group in the Faculty of Humanities responsible for over 60 analytical tools for web data, the most well-known of which is the Issuecrawler. Rogers is author of Information Politics on the Web (MIT Press, 2004), awarded the best book of the year by the American Society of Information Science & Technology (ASSIST), as well as of Digital Methods (MIT Press, 2013), given the outstanding book award from the International Communication Association (ICA). He is co-editor of Big Data & Society and the Journal of Web Science. He is currently working on a new book project, Critical Analytics.