The Mark Ledden Blog

…audio, video, web and general tech ramblings.

Social Media as a Research Tool

What do you get when you cross social media with research into soundscapes?

Don’t worry it’s not a joke. The answer is something we’re yet to find out but recently I had a glimpse into the work being done on the Sound Around You project. Nearly all of the data for this project is coming straight from the hands and ears of the general public.

The project’s aim is to collect as many samples of peoples listening experiences as possible, and what better way to do this than to let anyone who is willing to take part do so by simply using the one thing we’re never without, our mobile phone. Software was developed which anyone could download and then use to record what they hear. This was then sent off with the answers to a very short questionnaire.

While being my favourite bit about the project, the use of mobile phones isn’t the only slice of genius. Awareness of the project has been raised through the use of social media. Everything from the big three (MySpace, Facebook and Twitter) to specialist sites such as Amazee were called upon.

This generated plenty of interest and brought in a huge amount of data not only from around the UK but across the world. The sheer volume of samples coming in helps fight against errors in the data, as there is literally no control over the recording process and no knowledge of the participants aside from the six answers from the questionnaire.

This may go totally against the grain with the traditional approach to scientific research where only total control over the conditions brings accurate and usable results but I don’t think you can discount what is being done here by any means. In the field of acoustics, subjective studies or at least the importance of subjective data is becoming more prominent. After all objective data can only tell us so much. This venture into subjective studies brings a crossover of the old school, fundamental approach to science and the newer approach which uses elements of psychology and social science. Hopefully we’re heading towards a happy medium.

On a side note it would be really cool to see a Facebook application work in the same way as the mobile phone software; Users could upload their own recordings which would then be sent off, along with some basic data on the participant such as age, gender and location. I can see a lot of privacy issues with this idea but most people don’t seem to mind handing over all kind of rights when they use games and various one-use applications on Facebook so why would this be any different?

This project could be seen equally as an experiment as well a research project. These are new technologies and this is the first time they’ve been used in this way but I’m sure it wont be the last. It’ll be interesting to see the outcome of this project and where the research goes in the near future.

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