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Project background: Social Feed Manager

Daniel Chudnov, Director, Scholarly Technology

Not long after I joined GW Libraries I read about the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism study "How Mainstream Media Outlets Use Twitter" researched in part by Kimberly Gross of GWU's School of Media and Public Affairs, part of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. This work caught my interest because I had been swimming in Twitter data in my prior position, where I had supported the Library of Congress project to preserve all public tweets. Before I came to GW, I enjoyed working on that large project because of its long-term impact, but it was clear that in the short term our team was unable to respond to the hundreds of requests for access to historical Twitter data from researchers all over. And here was a GW researcher getting important work done with some of the same data - I had to know more.

I reached out to Professor Gross and learned quickly upon meeting with her that her data collection techniques were essentially manual - she and her research assistants were copying and pasting tweets one at a time. We agreed this wasn't a sustainable model, and I offered to develop a small app that would automate the collection process using Twitter's public API. After making some progress on this app and reviewing it with Professor Gross, it became clear that there were many more opportunities to put a tool like our app -- rudimentary though it was at the time -- to use in other research contexts on campus. She introduced us to colleagues doing similar work and all of a sudden we had several new connections with faculty and graduate students to support their research and studies.  This aligns well with a key role libraries have always served, in our case connecting people at GW with information resources and facilitating their use.  In this case we are automating data collection from Twitter, or Weibo, or YouTube, but that's just a new take on the kind of relationship we've always worked to build in research libraries.

Not long after this, our colleague Mark Phillips, assistant dean for digital libraries at the University of North Texas, visited GW Libraries to talk about web archiving and pointed out to us that this project, which we called "Social Feed Manager" (that's what it does, after all - find it on github at https://github.com/gwu-libraries/social-feed-manager), was something that other institutions like his could put to good use. Mark encouraged us to apply for an Sparks Ignition Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. We took this advice to heart, sent in a proposal, and were lucky to be awarded a grant from IMLS (#LG-46-13-0257) in the summer of 2013. As the first grant we've received for software development, we're still pretty excited about it. More importantly, in the months since, we've made several improvements to the app, put it to use with more researchers and students here at GW, and started to see its adoption at other institutions.

As we wrote in the proposal abstract (attached here as a PDF), with this grant "we will develop our prototype Social Feed Manager application into a well-documented tool that can be implemented and used at diverse cultural heritage institutions." We've been making progress toward this goal and we plan to tell you a lot more about it, so please stay tuned to this channel, as they say, and don't hesitate to get in touch.

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