Using Social Media for research – Twitter vs. Reddit (a student experience)

An EPQ student studying quantum computing came to see me. Again. The first time he was curious about twitter to aid his research and a bibliography tool that might help him catalogue his resources. He was kind enough to review the latter for this blog.

A few weeks ago we met in the corridor and he had not managed to make his twitter enquires bear fruit. Another meeting in front of a web browser was had to try and steer the way toward something fruitful; he had yet to nail down a research question. We drilled twitter a bit and found a few leads, enough to make him make me feel like he now had something to pursue. A couple of days later another chance meeting carried with it a smile on his face. He had made a connection or two with other people out there somewhere. Reddit, ‘the front page of the Internet’ had turned up trumps for him and he mentioned a PhD researcher who had responded with promises of support. I remember my early days of reaching out to people on the web via twitter and blogs. They were not easy. It was emotional and I was naive.

Following this great news I asked the student if they might write another post to explain his journey. I received it attached to an email this evening. The email was full of apology and offers to rewrite it in favour of twitter. Of course I declined and thanked him for his courtesy. Twitter is an important tool to me and, however nauseous it may sound, I wanted his words about what he found useful out there on the web.

What comes next is his text, not mine. Thank you Seb.

Using Social Media for research – Twitter vs. Reddit

As part of a project at school, I’ve been trying to use social media as a tool to add depth to my research. The thinking was that social media would allow me to connect with researchers and their current work rather than just reading through countless journals.

With the help of Mr. Barnes (the owner of this blog) I started off with twitter. Although my topic of ‘quantum computing’ is quite specialized, I knew from researchers’ blogs that there was certainly an active community interested in the topic but it seemed that researchers just didn’t bother using twitter. Whilst a quick search for ‘quantum computing’ does turn up some useful tweets of news articles, these tend to be popular science articles which usually aren’t useful for research.

My post on reddit asking the question. 18 responses. Linked to in the next paragraph.
My post on reddit asking the question. 18 responses. Linked to in the next paragraph.

Having grown frustrated with twitter, I tried searching for quantum computing on reddit, a social news and entertainment website only to find there was a whole sub-forum dedicated to it, involving both recent news about the topic and questions from graduates and non-experts alike. Seeing the fantastic feedback that experts provided I decided to ask if anyone had advice for my project. I ended up getting several leads for further research with one person even teaching me rudimentary linear algebra and quantum mechanics after a brief exchange of messages on reddit.

It is apparent to me that the usefulness of social media is based on your intentions; you can start with a view to network and research or you can spend your entire time looking at pictures of cats. Not only is the reddit style of fielding an open question to provoke discussion useful to glean different perspectives, the sheer variety of expertise encountered through reddit is enormous – I’ve had questions answered by people who are merely interested in the topic to PhD graduates and researchers with grants from U.S. Defence contractors to build the next commercial quantum computer. Perhaps twitter does have some fantastic uses that I’ve yet to tap into, however it seems that reddit is exponentially better than twitter in that a single message can instantly provoke discussion and interaction in a concentrated community of people interested in your topic, rather than desperately trying to strike up a conversation with one person on twitter.

Using Social Media for research – Twitter vs. Reddit (a student experience)

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