ISCRAM2016 Highlights Day 1

For those of you interested in any form of disaster management ‘The International Conference for Crisis Response and Management’ is the place for you. This year it’s taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the gorgeous Copacabana beach.

This post will summarise a handful of paper presentations which I was able to attend on the first day of the conference proceedings, and provide you links to these papers.

The day began with a keynote talk from José Holguín-Veras, an academic who has spent his career advising organisations on how best to manage disasters. He discussed the top ten lessons from large disasters and catastrophes, and how these had implications for resiliency and the ISCRAM community.

The message that stuck from this presentation was that common sense should not be overlooked in disaster logistics. Buying and shipping bottled water to a population that had been struck by disaster is the least effective gesture, and instead charities and organisations need to be more realistic: sending the amount of money it cost to buy and ship that water could have bought nearly twice as much from a nearer region.

Following this the structure of the day was then broken up into three main sessions, interspersed with breaks.

monday programme

In the first session I attended a series of talks in the track ‘intelligent decision support in the networked society’ or IDSS. This began with the topic ‘Adoption of big data in crisis management toward a better support in decision-making‘ (Fertier et al., 2016; presented by Frederick Beneben). This took some well-used approaches for big data management and produced and improved methodology for processing, thus resulting in a system that allowed for more informed decisions.

A paper of particular interest to myself was entitled ‘Communication and Tracking Ontology Development for Civilians Disaster Assistance‘(Hassan & Chen-Berger, 2016). In this, the authors develop generalised use of the semantic Web to apply during disasters. Ontologies, it turned out, were very popular across the tracks at the conference this year.

In the later afternoon sessions there were several talks that I enjoyed.

Firstly ‘#geiger 2: Developing Guidelines for Radiation Measurements Sharing on Social Media‘ (Segault et al., 2016; presented by Frederico Tajario). This looked at using Twitter metadata to reduce risk from radiation incidents, which seemed very relevant to a developing world that has seen several nuclear disasters in the past few years such as Fukushima in 2011.

Finally,  ‘An Emotional Step Towards Automated Trust Detection in Crisis Social Media ‘ (Halse et al., 2016; Presented by Andrea Tapia) tackled with some really big issues of the trustworthiness of online information. An original and more sociological approach was taken in this paper, and instead Tweets were analysed and categorised by associated emotion rather than a measure of credibility.

Day 1 was diverse and thoroughly interesting. But, as ever, one cannot attend everything.







Social Media and Disasters

Recently a paper that I wrote was accepted to the International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM). Reading through the schedule for presentations and key notes for the conference this week has filled me with a child-like sense of excitement and enthusiasm for the field that I work in. There is something quite nice indeed about looking forward to talking about research rather than to be going to Brazil for a week.

This post will be a little bit of an introduction to what I will be talking about while at ISCRAM, beginning with a discussion about ‘disaster social media’:

In the past decade social media has played an increasing role in disaster situations, primarily offering a means of two-way, reliable and accessible communication (Huang et al., 2010). Social media use during disasters may be conceptualized into two broad categories: disseminating information and receiving communications, or as a management tool (Lindsay, 2011). The effective use of both categories may lessen the effects of a disaster (Rodríguez et al., 2007).

Examples of social media include Facebook, Twitter, and blogs such as WordPress (which I’m sure you know about what with currently reading it an’ all…). Uses of social media channels during a disaster range from individuals passing on warning information, to governments distributing real-time updates during an event (Blaikie et al., 2014). The effective use of social media in such situations has led to an increased adoption to management strategies, and to improvements in its applications (Huang et al., 2010). It represents a radical change in communications where information can now be accessed from any location, at any time, and with little or no authentication. As such, developing effective disaster communication systems and their integration into disaster management strategies has been a priority for many disaster bodies (Blaikie et al., 2014).

However, the impact of social media in disaster situations is still reliant on a number of underlying factors. Two such factors often fail to be included in existing conceptual frameworks, and subsequently remain overlooked when applying analysis to disaster events (Smith, 2012). It is proposed that the first factor is accessibility to the Web, and by implication to social media, which directly impacts the effectiveness of online disaster management strategies (Smith, 2012). Secondly, the reliability of online information shared on social media has strong links to the level of risk an individual is subject to (Cottle, 2014).

These are the two issues I’ll really be focusing on in detail because they entail a great deal of underlying social factors, which is a particular problem area for a lot of research that create systems and tools to analyse disaster social media. After all, how can one infer anything from social media without first understanding the wider sociological implications?

We need to understand the ‘social’ part of disaster social media.


Society and the Web

I recently read a little short science fiction story entitled ‘A Mild Mannered Uprising of the Dead’, which was recommended by someone in my department. In the story the dead are able to communicate and live on through online systems, run by a social media company called

Their online existence is facilitated by the development of a virtual environment in which each deceased person may purchase and furnish a house or dwelling. This is done via the medium of their living relatives funding the deceased with Teshie dollars (similar to bit-coins).

The concept of ‘ghosts’ interacting and communicating with the living through a virtual reality comes across as simple and almost obvious to the reader. The notion of extending social media just one step further seems inevitable within the story. This is emphasised by the very ‘human’ description of the processes, and the explanation of the ideas published in media from the developer, Quartey.

The story uses many forms of narrative, including media exerts from announcements and developments of the company, to personal complains and conversations of the ghosts and their living relatives. The story however, is focused on the ability of the human race to adapt and utilise the technology around them to change social constructs, and to change the perception of people using it.

As the dead register their complaints they begin to call out the moral corruption of the living, name names who have committed wrongs, and highlight the fact that human nature is now so thoroughly centred around greed for money when it should focus on improving citizens lives., as a medium for well-mannered ghost complaints about the state of the economy and governmental dealings, inadvertently caused a revolution that would not have worked anywhere else. It’s summed up by “giving shape and structure to those family ties and turning them into strong weapons of shame.”

I cannot help but wonder, is this the future of society and the Web? Will we be able to live on through the personalities that we sculpt out for ourselves in the online world. Will these even take on more dimensions and subtitles as social media develops alongside it?

As more people are becoming digital natives in our day and age it seems rational to predict new terminology for such times. Digital migrants will eventually become a minority. Natives will be gradually overtaken by those who are exposed to the online world even earlier. Web 3.0 will raise the next generation, but what shall they be called?

Demography in the Information Age

Do you know what your digital footprints are telling us about the online world? How can we measure human population over the Web?

Demography may be the answer.

 During the ‘Information Age’ Demography is a fundamental basis for understanding the new dynamics and reflections of an online world [1]. The discipline is the study and measurement of human populous, including mortality and fertility rates, human behaviors, and cultural trends [1]. With the rise of the Web, and by extension new Web phenomena such as privacy issues, social media, and new tools, Demography has a huge new range of online resources at its disposal [2].

Ultimately, everything that you share with the Web is telling us how and why the Human race is changing [2].

 Social media in particular has become a treasure trove of statistics and demographics, but what’s the point of analysing digital footprints if they have no real-life impact? This thought intrigued me as the only online demographics I had seen were either governmental statistics, eccentric academics predicting the decline of the human race, or the occasional opinionated Politics student stickin’ it to the man on Facebook.

Web-based tools, online business strategy and online privacy issues all go beyond traditional Demography, and as such reflect the impact that the Web has had on the discipline.


  1. Google Analytics

With the establishment of the Web, human behavior has changed and with it so has technology [3].

As traditional demographics exist to make sense of behavioral changes in population, the Web is a perfect example of cultural change that has shifted behavioral norms [2]. The socio-technical nature of the Web has been built on top of heterogeneous networks, as such actors and networks are continually developed upon by surround social aspects such as behavioral norms and business connections [2]. Building on new business enhancements, the Web has seen the rise of technologies designed to provide tailored individual demographics – this is basically now allows anyone to step into a demographer’s shoes [3].

Demography isn’t reserved for academic and scientific research anymore [2] [3].

Google Analytics consists of a series of reports regarding a website’s visitor information such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Personal Interests
  • Location
  • Re-marketing value
  • Home-ownership status
  • Previous purchasing history
  • Marital status

Google Analytics is a fantastic example of modern Demography on the Web, as not only does it churn out tonnes of data, but it also shows that businesses are placing much higher importance on understanding their website visitors, and thus the heterogeneous networks the Web operates on [3]. I suppose it’s easier to take that as a compliment rather than considering yourself as a series of stats on a company computer.

Web tools such as Google analytics have opened up the game for companies to exploit the online market, and represent how new technological artefacts are shaped by social forces both online and offline  [3]. Business enhancement strategies are now littered across multiple platforms as advertising to Web users is one of the most profitable frameworks on the Web [4].


  1. Business enhancement

The Web is a huge business opportunity where companies can market directly into your home, and even your hand [3] [4].

 Spanning hundreds of years, traditional business enhancement techniques used to focus primarily on resource management and marketing [1]. Although this is still the case, the emergence of the Web changed business structure radically by opening up a whole new online market that did not depend on location (unlike traditional Demography) [1].

There is a now a wealth of articles, blogs and free advice journals that are encouraging companies to utilise online demographics, especially from social media, in order to tailor their businesses strategies. For example:

  • 189 million people use Facebook only on their phone
  • The fastest growing demographic on Twitter is the 55-64 year age bracket
  • Every second two new members join LinkedIn
  • Social media has overtaken porn as the top activity on the Web
  • Even though 62% of marketers blog, only 9% of companies employ a blogger [4]

Based on the examples above, new demographics suggest embracing the changes and opportunities much in the same way traditional demographics highlighted new areas of expansion [4].  This also reflects the areas in which social aspects are shaping future technologies through the Web. Such a positive expansion for a business however may result in negative consequences for Web users [5]. I’m sure none of us are exempt from the use of AdBlock, or outrageous news articles declaring that our online identities have probably been stolen and re-named to generate perfect feedback. I hear mine is probably called Alan, and is looking for a lovely semi-detached house near Exeter.

  1. Privacy Issues Online

Thanks to online business enhancement, companies are now using selling more and more data to third parties [5].

 Building on the success of online demographics which companies have used for business enhancement strategies, there are some key limitations that have arisen concerning data protection on the Web [5]. These include:

  • The emergence of Banners (clickable parts of a Web page used to show adverts for products. Often these are tailored to an individual based on cookies)
  • Companies paying increasing amounts for advertising space
  • The subsequent dominance of advertising as the top profit generator on the Web
  • Higher value placed on personal information (As certain user demographics are more likely to buy certain products)
  • The subsequent selling of personal information to third parties interested in increasing advertising to certain demographics
  • A general lack of enforcement of the Online Data Protection Act [5]

The levels of data harvesting are incomparable in scale to traditional Demography projects, and are now used for a much wider range of applications, with many more parties handling and analysing the data [5]. Despite a range of online actors, only one or two will be dominant within a network, subsequently making data handling an important consideration for issues such as privacy.

Closing thoughts

Online Demography, although having roots in traditional demographic measures and assessments of population, has become an entirely different branch of the discipline.  The complex economics of the Web and certain technologies that it features are therefore dependent on this new branch of Web demographics and statistics [3].

If online demographics are used by businesses to market products, tailor adverts, and sell information on, should there be some form of regulatory framework in place to restrict the publication of statistics and demographics?

 Certainly, in traditional Demography this used to be the case. However with the growing realisation that making figures freely available had valuable impacts on community, Demography began to change during the UK Governmental reforms in the 1980s [1]. The benefits of making governmental study results available include allowing multiple people to cross-check results, easier identification of anomalies, using figures to perform further analysis on a subject that wasn’t taken into consideration in the original study and corroborating conclusions that studies claimed [1] [5].

The publishing of demographics and statistics, whether on the Web or not, marks a new era of open sourced data and accessibility [2]. Ultimately this will be one of the aspects that helps to shape the science of the future, and so individuals like you and me should be rallying for it [2]. Instead of questioning the morality of providing statistics, we should be directing our attention to the online business and marketing campaigns: after all the Online Data Protection Act rarely comes into play [5].

I suggest a ‘transactional’ privacy mechanism. This can be applied to personal information of users, allowing them to decide what personal information about themselves is put on sale, while being able to get compensation for it [5]. As a result your digital footprint, while still being able to provide vital demographic information that can explain how and why we are changing throughout the Information Age will also limit the effects of advertising of the online world. This will provide us with the power to have control over our own image on the Web [3] [5].



[1] E. Boserup, Population and technological change: A study of long-term trends,, 1981.
[2] T. Correa, A. Hinsley and H. Gil de Zuniga, Who interacts on the Web?: The intersection of users’ personality and social media use, Computers in Human Behavior, Vol 26, Issue 2, Pp. 247-253, 2010.
[3] B. Clifton, Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
[5] C. Riederer, A. Chaintreau and B. Krishnamurthy, For sale: your data: by: you, In Proceedings of the 10th ACM WORKSHOP on Hot Topics in Networks (p. 13). ACM, 2011.

MOOCs: Sustainable Pride or Pain?

Can higher education be sustainable if it is hosted solely on the Web? Has the paradigm shift in education affected other academic norms? Can you make sense of the silly over-the-top image of books coming out of a laptop? 

Analysing changes the Web has made to higher education may provide the answer.

Traditional face-to-face higher education remains reliant on Cartesian reductionist and Newtonian paradigms [1]. Basically, this means that many higher educational institutions (HEIs are lagging behind companies who operate online when it comes to the issue of a completely sustainable society and education [1]. For HEI’s the problems usually take the form of outdated curriculums, lag time in current research implementation, reduced academic accessibility and limited institutional outreach [1].

So, why has the Web constituted a paradigm shift in higher education? More importantly, is the shift sustainable on a National scale?

The rise of the Web has had considerable cultural and behavioral changes to human societies. It’s resulted in a multitude of new software and technologies which has expanded to include all disciplines. An example of the technological paradigm shift can be recognized by the emergence of MOOCs in 2011 [2].

Originally produced by Stanford University, MOOC’s, or massive online open courses, have become a tautology both in education and on the Web [2]. As you can imagine, that sort of popularity has resulted in a storm of articles and posts debating whether MOOCs may be a phase, whether they may pose a threat to academia, or even whether they have any positive learning outcomes at all [2].

MOOCs are all very well as online education, but where does that fit into sustainability of higher education? In order to answer this we must look at three aspects that make up the paradigm shift in education.

Technological Shift

Education has been undoubtedly influenced by the Web, and in some cases outsourced to it.
The underpinning of the educational paradigm shift is ultimately due to the effects of the Web and the new services, tools and accessibility it offers [3]. Although traditional higher education has incorporated use of the Web, developments in technology and software throughout its existence, the Web can now host an entirely online education [3].

MOOCs as an example of this mark a new era for the ‘outsourcing’ of learning environments, based on a series of technological developments shown in figure 1 below [3]. As a technological platform by design they have been shaped by social aspects, and as a result shape social aspects in return.

Figure 1 – A timeline of adaptive educational technologies beginning in 1990 [1].

Sustainability of MOOCs has been continuously contested, much in the same way changes to traditional higher education have been [3]. In my opinion I consider this a natural societal response – not questioning something that may impact a generation seems a bit stupid. Evidently MOOCs have impacted technological shift in education in a number of ways:

  • Development of new platforms
  • Increased user accessibility
  • New methods of supporting online social networks
  • Increased connectivity
  • Beneficial re-structuring of online learning environments

[3] [4]

Educational paradigm shift has therefore come as a result of shifting higher educational resources to the Web rather than simply as a result of the creation of the Web itself. By extension, MOOCs are not solely responsible for the paradigm shift either, but would not exist without the presence of the Web and fundamental online learning environments and technology. MOOCs as a socio-technical artefacts have many underpinning influences, but do not however have a dominant actor.

So, it’s more accurate to argue that it’s continued development of online resources, technology and integration that creates sustainable higher education. MOOCs are simply a product of this, which have contributed to a cultural shift.

Cultural Shift

Technology itself is used by individuals. As such social aspects shape the use and effectiveness of any given technology.

 In order for technological shift, there must also be a cultural shift regarding the use of new types of online education [1]. There are many debated theories about what these are, and no one single cause that explains why MOOCs took off in the way that they did [2]. Instead there are multiple push and pull factors which include:

  • Change in classroom social structure
  • Free to join
  • Offering a resource which requires nothing in return
  • A structured way to learn about a personal interest
  • 24/7 available content
  • No locational or social barriers
  • A plethora of different disciplines and topics
  • Academic standing from highly rated HEIs

[3] [4]

A dominant cultural theory that intrigued me was that of the Hype curve, shown in Figure 2 below. This speculates that it’s actually our own psychology that hypes up the expectations and benefits of MOOCs and online education when compared to traditional face-to-face study [4]. Online education might be perceived to be better than it actually is simply because it’s something new and different [4].


Figure 2 – A Hype curve proposed to describe the expectation of MOOCs from 2012 onwards [4].

After all, traditional education has employed the use of many online resources such as journals and videos, and technologies such as interactive whiteboards for decades – yet the perceived benefits of these have only decreased over time. I certainly cannot remember having using an interactive whiteboard that worked, or did not have any whiteboard marker on it by mistake.

In order for sustainable education HEI’s must keep learning environments engaging and accessible. Sustainability, then, is in the hands of the people who write curricula.

 Academic Shift

Academics are the architects of the MOOC environment, but are they really pioneers of the educational paradigm shift?

 Much in the same way as traditional education, academics have ultimate control over the learning materials and content of an online course [5]. A significant change with the introduction of the Web is that academics have greater accessibility to resources, more teaching materials, no locational boundaries and significantly less contact/teaching time with participants [5]. As a MOOC participant myself, I’ve often found myself stuck in a situation where I can’t simply email the person who runs the course for clarification. Although many students argue that to be the case even in face-to-face environments.

With such limited contact time and such huge sizes of MOOC classes, there is a question as to whether MOOC classes run by one or several academics can be sustainable in the long run.

 The use of the Web in the technological and cultural shift is beginning to affect academic thought and organisation [5]. In 2011 a study of 184 participants who ran MOOCs were surveyed at the beginning of their course – roughly 40% stated that they thought the course would be successful [5]. This leapt up to 80% in the second survey conducted after 6 weeks [5]. Academics, in a similar way to traditional higher education, are much more likely to tailor their courses further once they’ve been convinced that an online course can be sustainable.

Closing Thoughts

A paradigm shift in traditional education includes the ability to utilize online resources, course accessibility, innovative new learning environments and new technologies. Despite this, there is little significant difference between online and offline education in terms of the above three shifts (technological, cultural and academic), as many of the changes that occur today are a result of continued development in these areas.

MOOCs can never fully substitute a traditional face-to-face education: speaking as someone who is lucky enough to have had partaken in both traditional an online courses.

I believe that there are too many barriers for MOOCs to overtake traditional education, but certainly there is room for it to compliment it, and to be developed in such a way where online courses become more interactive and ‘classroom-like’. As the shifts previously discussed continue to evolve, education will as well. The sheer number of contributors and participants in education is an aspect that is only increasing with accessibility to the Web – and ultimately as long as this continues, there will always be sustainable education.


[1] R. Lozano, R. Lukman, F. Lozano, D. Huisingh and W. Lambrechts, Declarations for Sustainability in Higher Education: Becoming Better Leaders, Through Addressing the University System, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol 48, Pp. 19-19, 2013.
[2] M. Vardi, Will MOOC’s Destroy Academia?, Communications of the ACM, Vol 55, Issue 11, Pp. 5, 2012.
[3] K. Masters, A Brief Guide To Understanding MOOCs, The Internet Journal of Medical Education, Vol 1, 2011.
[4] G. Van Dusen, The Virtual Campus: Technology and Reform in Higher Education, ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, Volume 25, No. 5, 2014.
[5] S. Kolowich, The Professors Who Make the MOOCs, Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol 59, Issue 28, 2013.

Civilization 5: Beyond Earth

Over the past couple of years I have accrued over 300 hours playing Civilization in its many instalments. As of a few weeks ago, Civilization 5: Beyond Earth was released. Much excite.

This post is going to quickly outline some initial features of the new game, in the same sort of geographical sense in which I’ve discussed the previous games. Obviously, this presents an interesting new angle to reading the map as we’re now based on a range of new alien worlds in which we must colonise to preserve our species.

This bridges on a very interesting type of geography that has been aiding planetary identification and space missions for half a century: Astro-Geography. It was actually a physical geographer who first theorised (and then proved) that Mars once had flowing water by identifying features cut into the geology that could only have been formed by water-based erosion.

In Beyond Earth there are, as you would expect, alien resources. These range in perplexity and uses throughout the game.

There is also a new type of obstacle aside from the native alien species. This is called Miasma, and is a toxic gas that gathers in certain areas making them impossible to use during the early stages of the game. Miasma is named after the classic ‘night-air theory’ which theorised that diseases and pollution were caused by pools of travelling gas. The research tree enables you to eventually be able to clear miasma from tiles, or to launch orbital satellites that can disperse it for a set amount of turns.

Miasma is generated by the game to cover random tiles, however it does tend to group in sections based on the planetary formation. For example, it tends to cover lowlands such as plains and marsh lands. It also favours xenomass, as this has the potential to spawn alien nests. Therefore, tailoring your civilization’s expansion to tiles that are free of the gas is a good tactic to employ until you’re able to combat it, but be wary of taking up too much land along mountainous areas as these only really have the benefit of heightened defence and not much else resource-based.

Another excellent example of resource development is the ability to build geothermal wells and other new types of energy reactors. This hinges on the Kardeshev theory of civilization progression, another theory originally based on human geography and population increase. Hoyt and Burgess initially postured that as a result of the human race being unable to sustain enough food for such steep population increase, we would begin to seek and invest in new technologies (i.e. interstellar travel).

The Kardeshev scale is a way of measuring a civilization’s technological advancement in 3 categories: Type I is able to utilise all natural energy resources on its home planet, type II can utilise both home planet energy and it’s immediate star, and type III can harness all natural energy from it’s galaxy. This makes the ability to harness natural resources on a whole new alien planet an interesting insight into your civilization, and one that is incredibly exciting to a geography nerd like myself, know that we probably won’t even make Type I in my life time.

Consequently the new types of reactor and energy sources are definitely a good early game strategy, and I advise unlocking engineering on the research tree as soon as possible. Harnessing geothermal’s may take a little longer as its located way over on the Ecology branch, but certainly worth it, especially as there are branches which incur improvements to your existing geothermal wells. In terms of physical geography, they appear close to mountainous or hilly regions, which indicate plate boundaries.

In addition, it features some technology currently available in this day and age, such as hydroponics and solar satellites. I found these quite nice to use, as it gives you some little roots back to earth, and implies that the green technologies we currently research and in invest will continue to be used and improved on in the future (these technologies in the exact same form though may be wishful thinking though).

In conclusion, I think it’s an excellent progression to Civ 5 and its expansions, and gives the player their own chance at deciding their civilizations future. The technology branch can be difficult to read but after a few games you get the hang of it. The technology is interesting, and the graphics mirror that. Basically, if you’ve ever enjoyed any space-based games such as Alpha Centurai, Sins of a Solar Empire, or Endless Space its well worth a try.

P.S Siege worms are dicks.




UoS Web Science MOOC

As part of one of my iPhD modules Ive been encouraged to join and take part in a MOOC that is run by my department (Web and Internet Sciences, and also Electronics and Computer Science).

For those of you who are unaware, MOOC’s are massive online open courses that focus in a singular subject area or aspect of a discipline, and are free to join. They offer teaching, further reading, discussions and assessment of the knowledge learnt: which once completed may provide you with a certificate of completion.

MOOC’s have become massively popular throughout the past 5 years, and are continuing to grow both in number available, and also in the number of participants. They can be completed at any time, from any location, and usually feature 2 – 6 hours of teaching material per week. The Web Science MOOC run by the University of Southampton was released in 2013, and quickly became one of the most popular on the Futurelearn site.

The Web Science iPhD course run at the University has experienced similar expansions of interest, which has resulted in numerous changes to the 2014 course: these range from a new Web Science Institute, increased DTC funding, to a higher global ranking of the top course for Web Science in the UK.

Whilst completing the MOOC myself I’ll be writing some blog posts as I go along which will compare the online course to the face-to-face one I will be experiencing at the University. I will also go into a bit more detail about why MOOC’s are a revolutionary educational change to the web and to the many Universities and institutions globally.

A great example of the changes MOOC’s bring is questioning why current education costs so much in the UK. If MOOC’s are free, why cant higher education be switched to online courses? In what ways would this affect academia?

Firstly, here are a few things Ive noticed now that Ive completed week 1 of the MOOC:

– The introductory videos are presented and summarised in much the same way as the face-to-face lectures. Although shorter, they succinctly address the key issues, and give the participant the option of further reading to expand on this knowledge. The only difference with these is that the interaction between lecturer and student is not the same: in the face-to-face introductory lectures there was much more audience participation, humour, general interaction and group discussion. Obviously this is a lot hard to do over the web, but I was surprised at the amount of encouragement people receive to comment and discuss on posts, but also the willingness and number of people who complied with it. It certainly made me feel like part of a community rather than taking part in a solitary pursuit of knowledge.

– Much like in the face-to-face lectures there are clear avenues of support which are discussed well. Having completed several MOOC’s prior to this one I feel that it is better structured, with clear areas and people designated for support, rather than one and two sole host lecturers coping on their own with all kinds of issues.

– The first few hours of video material and text explanations really encourage the participant to play around with some of the ideas that they have been told about. I was pleased to see areas of week 1 dedicated to discussion already. I feel that it gets the ball rolling straight away, but also is a great way to learn about other people’s views of the web before the have gotten really stuck into learning about the course. Comparisons of opinion taking into account human factors such as age, gender and citizenship are certainly intriguing and is a large area of discussion in Web Science academia.

– Some of the participants may not fully take on board that the people in the video lecturers are actually senior staff. Very senior staff in Dame Wendy Hall’s case. In fact, during face-to-face lectures I will rarely encounter some of these staff as they are too busy with being an important person. These are literally the people the set up a new institute, are leading academics in this area globally, and are the faces of Web Science nationally. It was nice to see that they have invested the time to talk about their subject and interests, and I look forward to hearing from them again in future weeks.

– So far the only general issue I have with the course is that the navigation could be improved upon. It would be handy to have an option to go back to the home page at the bottom of each page, and a bar that states how far and how many pages you had left complete for that week when on individual pages.

That’s about it for my initial thoughts of the course. The posts regarding the MOOC will hopefully be once every two weeks and are really only for me to track my thoughts and to form some discussions and arguments I can mould into coursework later on. Youre all more than welcome to discuss things with me as well, Id be interested to hear anyone’s opinion on the course.

I advice you all to sign up for the MOOC as well – it can be found on the Futurelearn site here and is free. Increase your knowledge!

Minecraft and Social Constructs

I’ve been meaning to discuss the idea and applications of social constructs of Minecraft for a while now. When the game comes up in conversation I’m very used to friends and colleagues not only telling me a bit about what they have achieved through Minecraft, but also that they find there are social constructs and a sense of community at play in addition. Kids reaaaally seem to like it.

This post will untangle the idea of social constructs within the game by looking at qualitative and social analysis from research groups that are aiming to define how and why participants regard the game as providing an affinity of space. It’ll also discuss some ideas about how traditional social constructs are now being translated through servers.

A basic theory within the idea of social constructs is that of affinity of space. This speculates that certain spaces, whether they are physical – for example within a city – or virtual, can offer certain traits. These range from the positive such as welcoming and nurturing of social connections, to exclusive and elitist.

There are a number of studies that have published strong evidence for Minecraft being a positive medium for affinity of space, and also in education, creativity and other desirable applications. The interesting aspect is why the game has advanced in virtual social constructs where others have not.

Certainly in MMO’s and RPG’s there will always be some kind of social order – after all we are still individual human beings controlling what happens in a virtual environment. In social orders participation is the first key, as there must be participation to develop a functioning social structure. Further aspects required include:

– Personal contribution

– The sharing of information

– Social support and guidance

– Discussion with other members

– Individual assignment and completion of tasks to fulfil larger planned goals

An excellent representation of social structures within Minecraft can be illustrated by Pellicone and Ahne (2014) who applied qualitative analysis on forum threads to generate visualisations of structures that may also be present within the game. An example is shown below in Figure 1.

Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)
Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)

Additional theories of online structures, most notably Butler (2000), argue that structures similar to figure 1 are applicable to larger volumes of games. He argues that the presence and usage of servers are most likely to have a defining role in this as they allow for greater levels of communication and delegation of resources, therefore resulting in more complex social structures.

This ties in neatly with the affinity of space theory, connoting that servers are constructive and encourage positive space and social interactions. Dedicated players are usually content in their constructs. Dave is happy to farm, Brian enjoys doing magic, Larry likes to build. No-one is sure where Colin went. They work together for a common cause, and usually because a social connection has been formed between them in the physical world.

However, in addition to the immediately visible contours of the affinity space, there also exists a broader community of people who identify as Minecraft players, with some further identifying with the elite level of producer found within the larger Minecraft meta-game (Maccallum-Stewart, 2013)

Minecraft unfortunately is not exempt from the way that a perceived gamer culture often results in unwelcoming attitudes towards those who fall outside of that culture (Pellicone and Ahne, 2014). The difficulty is identification of gamer culture norm’s in comparison with Minecraft norm’s. Norm’s in themselves are defined by the actions and interactions translated into the virtual environment, which provide a level of anonymity for players.

A critical aspect of the social structures within Minecraft is whether the game or indeed any social orders within it can overcome physical social inequalities (for example race, gender, income, upbringing) of players. This is pretty difficult thing to analyse on a scale that is representative of the whole Minecraft gaming community, but it’s certainly a focal point for social-based research in the future.

Assessment whether there is a connection between the overcoming of social inequalities and the production of positive space within Minecraft can certainly be inferred. The game features very few negative aspects that would impact the development and sustainability of social networks, which in turn lend to the continual production of affinity of space.


The Human Face of Big Data

I’m imminently about to start my PhD in Web Science, beginning with the MSc. I’m a big ball of nervousness, excitement and the feeling of actually having the energy to do research that I’ll be interested in. One of the bi-products of this however, is that far more people are asking me about my course.

Generally I give them a brief description of how the web has effected things, and will continue to effect things. Often, this confuses people.

I used to get this a lot with my degree in Geography too. People say things like ‘All I remember about geography is Oxbow lakes LOL, what do you actually study? Colouring?’.

This really grated me for a long time, because geography is the study of how everything relates to one another. By the time I had finished my degree, when someone asked what I studied in particular I simply used to repress an eye-twitch and shout ‘Everything! Geography is everything!’ and then skulk off to get a drink.

Consequently I’ve begun to explain things regarding my new MSc and PhD in a way you would justify learning a maths equation – by giving it a context in which it can be applied.

So here are some excellent examples of crossovers between Geography and Web science that I’m interested in researching further. The first one is human-based, the second one physical-based, and the third is a little bit about my other posts:

‘The Human face of Big Data’ is a term used to describe and explain the human nature behind data. It addresses the growing desire to understand what data can tell us about ourselves, and why we use it in the way that we do. It is commonly used in the study of Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and how human usage can reveal insights in to real-life trends that make up who we collectively are: our cultures, our mindsets, who we favour or disfavour, and much more.

For instance, analysing billions of Tweets helped two researchers record new insights about public health issues and the way disease is spread. Further to this, they were able to tailor specific health warnings, targeting selected sites that the data indicated to them were the sites of choice most individuals would encounter. As a result of the increased connectivity of our culture, metrics and city structures, people were able to spread information regarding health warnings far faster via social media than they would have relying on previous methods (i.e. by watching the news, or by word of mouth).

Additionally the same analysis and smart application of data can be done with physical hazards as well: change out ‘disease’ for a ‘natural hazard’, for example an earthquake, and the same kind of responsiveness of social media can be recorded to similar effect.

The interesting development with using social media as data streams is that one can ask how and why a population may be affected by these notifications. How can the data be used in prediction systems and 3D modelling of communities. It also lends to the development of maps, virtual realities and other visualisations to adapt to different mediums and scholarly discourses.

Producing the most detailed and applicable results is another substantial task, as one is effectively waiting for a natural disaster to occur in order to collect the data. Once this happens the applications it may be used for are endless, and there are certainly other big data sets other than social media that may help to answer, or build on, the same hypotheses.

If you have read any of my other posts you will realise that there is also a pretty cool crossover between geography and the gaming industry. Again, big data is used in game development in order to analyse, assess and tailor games to target audiences.

However, the gaming industry is one of the leading developers of Geographical Virtual Environments (geoVE’s), usage of real geographic data in game play, new methodologies of recreating virtual city-scapes, combined with ever improving graphics.

Great examples of this can be seen nearly continuously over time as games evolve with softwares. Assassins Creed, Skyrim, Civilization, and Grand Theft Auto to name a few are leading not only in real reflective city-scapes, but also in the virtualization of mapping and other geographic data.

The modification of geoVE’s and VR’s (virtual realities) will be a key-stone in the future prediction of disaster management systems. They aim to do this via transforming the visualisation of a predicted event and tailoring responses to it.

By hosting geoVE’s using gaming platforms and online big data storage, a more accurate and intricate representation of city metrics, human nature and city infrastructure can be mapped out in a way never before achieved.

Certainly, having more information from multiple sources which are able to update instantaneously would be a viable and productive goal in real-time disaster management.

Hopefully this has given you more of an idea of the areas I will be studying, and some of the content that is to come on this blog. Keep Reading!

Featured image Copyright of ‘The Human Face of Big Data’ Rick Smolan 2012-13.


Counter-Strike and DOTA2

Have you ever wondered why professional gamers (Pro-gamers) are dominated by young males? Have you ever considered why they have little age difference, or difference in nationality?

This post compares pro-gamers using the examples of DOTA2 and Counter-Strike, and assesses in what ways they are similar, and how this may be explained using human geographical statistics. So let’s begin…

Counter-Strike is a first person shooter game first released in the year 2000, and was rapidly developed into a series of games with versions ranging from 1.0 to 1.6. Tournaments of Counter-Strike have been running for nearly 13 years, and offer competitive gamers the opportunity to win large sums of money. According to, the list of top ten pro-gamers of all time by prize money won are as follows:

  • 01. $858,872 – ‘f0rest‘ – Patrik Lindberg (Sweden), 26
  • 02. $798,506 – ‘cArn‘ – Patrik Sättermon (Sweden), 29
  • 03. $777,772 – ‘dsn‘ – Harley Orvall (Sweden), 28
  • 04. $631,251 – ‘NEO‘ – Filip Kubski (Poland), 27
  • 05. $626,251 – ‘TaZ‘ – Wiktor Wojtas (Poland), 28
  • 06. $609,106 – ‘RobbaN‘ – Robert Dahlström (Sweden), 29
  • 07. $597,092 – ‘Loord‘ – Mariusz Cybulski (Poland), 27
  • 08. $593,528 – ‘kuben‘ – Jakub Gurczyński (Poland), 26
  • 09. $531,921 – ‘zonic‘ – Danny Sørensen (Denmark), 28
  • 10. $508,571 – ‘walle‘ – Dennis Wallenberg (Sweden), 27

There are three immediate points we can recognise: all of these pro-gamers are male, all originate from Europe, and all are aged mid to late 20’s.

Similarly to Counter-Strike,  DOTA 2 (Defence of the Ancients) has had increasing availability of prize money and was also produced by Valve Corporation. The game is an online multiplayer battle arena, which was released in 2013 as the sequel to the original DOTA. According to, the top ten pro-gamers of all time by prize money won are as follows:

  • 01. $280,600 – ‘Dendi’ – Danil Ishutin (Ukraine), 23
  • 02. $278,100 – ‘Puppey’ – Clement Ivanov (Estonia), 23
  • 03. $277,300 – ‘XBOCT’ – Alexandr Dashkevich (Ukraine), 25
  • 04. $266,490 – ‘LightOfHeaveN’ – Dmitriy Kupriyanov (Russia), 25
  • 05. $240,000 – ‘Ferrari’ – Luo Feichi (China), 23
  • 06. $231,500 – ‘Zhao’ – Chen Yao (China), 23
  • 07. $229,000 – ‘Faith’ – Zeng Hongda (China), 21
  • 08. $221,700 – ‘YYF’ – Jiang Cen (China), 26
  • 09. $216,000 – ‘ChuaN’ – Wong Hock Chuan (Malaysia), 21
  • 10. $204,000 – ‘ArtStyle’ – Ivan Antonov (Ukraine), 24

Once again all of the top 10 are male, but are on average younger than the top ten Counter-Strike players, aged early to mid 20’s. Additionally there are players from Russia, China and Malaysia, which challenge dominent European title holders.

Despite the addition of Chinese, Malaysian and Russian pro-gamers and a shift in age range, little is different between both games top 10. What makes these pro-gamers the best at their respective game then?

Do different nationalities think differently or have different traits? Why do only male players dominate the top 10 in each game? Why are they so closely similar ages?

The first part of these questions can be answered by the availability of the web, and percentage of population that use the internet in the countries of origin of the pro-gamers. The table below illustrates global statistics of internet usage and population statistics (2013).


The table above shows that the number of individuals of the population who have access to the internet was 566,261,317 in 2013. This means that nearly 69% of the population has access to the internet.

It is reasonable to conclude then that the ease of access to the internet is not the singular defining characteristic of pro-gamers, as both North America and Australasia record similar and higher percentages of population usage.

Another theory that had weight throughout the early 21st century was that male pro-gamers became dominant due to the effects of gaming addictions. This would manifest itself in a way that allowed the individual to concentrate solely on the game they were playing for long periods of time.

It also speculated that males were able to concentrate on singular aspects for a longer duration than women, who were argued to be better at multi-tasking. Thus, a reasonable assumption for how male players thought differently, and were able to excel in that particular game.

In 2012 this theory was contested by a research paper by Han et al (2012) who used MRI scanning to monitor brain activity between Pro-gamers and persons with online gaming addictions (POGA’s). In this they discovered that there were considerable differences between the two groups: concluding that a gaming addiction did not differ wildly from any other type of addiction, whereas pro-gamers showed heightened levels of problem-solving regardless of gender.

Alongside this there are countless other studies, especially in psychology, that produce evidence for the balance of genders in problem solving. To put it simply, males are not scientifically proven to be better at games.

One of the bigger issues that may account for the gender divide in pro-gaming is the the difference in embodied work. Women are far less likely to be recognised in a competitive gaming environment, especially in games that are heavily dominated by male gamers, fans, marketing, and judging panels.

Certainly recent ethnographies of the female role in competitive gaming has highlighted the different expectations of female gamers based on Bryce and Rutter’s (2005) call to change the perceived roles within the community.

Taylor et al. (2009) summarise that the dominance of young male gamers is not a result of a specific set of traits held only by certain people, but as the perceptions and preconceptions maintained within a community that most commonly reads female participation in sexualised terms.

Heightened marginalisation of females in pro-gaming tends to focus around games with higher violence and objectification. As such, games like Counter-Strike and DOTA2 not only disparage women, but have a self-sustaining community whose perceptions are difficult to change.

Do you think this type of communal thinking can be changed surrounding DOTA2 and Counter-Strike? How do think it could be done? Why do you think marginalisation exists in the first place?