I began this project as an exploration into public attitudes and perceptions towards the Open Access Movement. My intent was to look more specifically at how Canadians were discussing and promoting open access to historical data and research. However, as I sought to explore public opinion by looking at discussions on social media, I realized that the geospatial information would prove problematic. As the geospatial data can be turned off, it is difficult to determine the accurate frequency of Canadian locations in a dataset. Moreover, as “history” is both an academic discipline and a noun, searching for this specific word would not provide me with accurate results. With that said, I decided to use Twitter to search specifically for #OpenAccess and #SSHRC to try to get a sense of how Canadians are talking about SSHRC open access policies, and how society is talking about open access more generally. In this way, I hoped to highlight popular sentiment towards open access models, and get a sense of whether or not the general public is supportive of open initiatives.
After reading about the Open Access Movement, I was very interested in exploring what thoughts people had on the subject. Originally, I considered looking at journal articles to find scholarly work that spoke to open access principles. Realizing that this method would exclude students and the general public from the conversation, I reconsidered my options. As scholars, institutions, and students use Twitter to promote and share ideas, I realized that Twitter would be an important source of data for this project. As I believe that hashtags provide the most concise amount of data, I focused more on understanding their patterns as a way to mark trends in public opinion. Using visualization tools, such as Voyant, RAW, and Palladio, I attempted to visualize patterns in my datasets. Highlighting the terms and hashtags found in my datasets, I intended to provide more context for the data, so as to paint a clear picture of public sentiment.
Limitations & Challenges
While attempting this project, I came across several issues which made this project difficult to complete. While I was eager to learn how to use twarc to extract tweets, I could not get twarc to run on my machine. The twarc results for searches OA, open access and SSHRC were found by Dr. Graham, who was kind enough to run the twarc searches for me, and then send me the results to help me move my project forward. While Twitter can provide a rich source of data, I found it very difficult to sort through and clean the data. Beginning the project, I did not take into account that tweets include special characters and various languages, which can make a tweet’s text field more challenging to clean. Originally, I was more interested in looking solely at hashtags and geospatial data to map where Canadians are discussing open access. Once I received my dataset, I realized that it would be very difficult to get a sense of location frequency with the user location field, as the locations are not always specified. Once I started to clean my data and visualize the results, I realized that the #OA dataset had an overwhelming amount of data that referenced science, health, and disease. As a result, I decided to omit that dataset from my final project. While trying to work with the #OpenAccess dataset, several visualizing tools struggled to upload my data. As this dataset is rather large, I had to try to work with smaller specialized fields, and explore new visualization and text mining tools to try to move my project forward. As I was using many of these tools for the first time, I do believe that I made some decisions which may have skewed my results. Moreover, as I do not speak French, it was not possible for me to examine datasets specific to French speaking Canadians. My dataset did produce some French hashtags and terms, however, without an understanding for the French language I would not be able to properly examine the perspectives and attitudes of French Canadians towards open access.
The Open Access Movement is a very fascinating and ever-evolving initiative. As institutions, governments, and individuals increasingly adhere to established open access principles, I believe it is important to understand and share the benefits of being open. Equally important, the “how” for achieving open access must be clearly planned, and should directly involve the public. Researching the Open Access Movement, I have realized that collaboration and public opinion have been used time, and time again, to define and establish open access principles. While the “everyday” person may not be fully aware of, or interested in, open access initiatives I believe that it is important to keep the public informed, while also continuing to promote public involvement in open access activities. With that said, I do believe that Twitter is an ideal source for understanding conversations between government bodies, institutions, scholarly researchers, students, and the general public. Through Twitter, public opinion toward Open Access initiatives can be understood and incorporated into open access models. While my project represents a “snapshot” of public opinion towards open access and the SSHRC policies, I believe there is value in undertaking a broader study of this nature. Archiving Twitter would allow institutions and government bodies to understand, more generally, how open access has impacted society.