Alex Hern in The Guardian: “Academic researchers will be granted unprecedented access to the data of major social networks including Imgur, Reddit, and Twitch as part of a joint initiative: The Digital Ecologies Research Partnership (Derp).
Derp – and yes, that really is its name – will be offering data to universities including Harvard, MIT and McGill, to promote “open, publicly accessible, and ethical academic inquiry into the vibrant social dynamics of the web”.
It came about “as a result of Imgur talking with a number of other community platforms online trying to learn about how they work with academic researchers,” says Tim Hwang, the image-sharing site’s head of special initiatives.
“In most cases, the data provided through Derp will already be accessible through public APIs,” he says. “Our belief is that there are ways of doing research better, and in a way that strongly respects user privacy and responsible use of data.
“Derp is an alliance of platforms that all believe strongly in this. In working with academic researchers, we support projects that meet institutional review at their home institution, and all research supported by Derp will be released openly and made publicly available.”
Hwang points to a Stanford paper analysing the success of Reddit’s Random Acts of Pizza subforum as an example of the sort of research Derp hopes to foster. In the research, Tim Althoff, Niloufar Salehi and Tuan Nguyen found that the likelihood of getting a free pizza from the Reddit community depended on a number of factors, including how the request was phrased, how much the user posted on the site, and how many friends they had online. In the end, they were able to predict with 67% accuracy whether or not a given request would be fulfilled.
The grouping aims to solve two problems academic research faces. Researchers themselves find it hard to get data outside of the larges social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. The major services at least have a vibrant community of developers and researchers working on ways to access and use data, but for smaller communities, there’s little help provided.
Yet smaller is relative: Reddit may be a shrimp compared to Facebook, but with 115 million unique visitors every month, it’s still a sizeable community. And so Derp aims to offer “a single point of contact for researchers to get in touch with relevant team members across a range of different community sites….”