What is COSMOS?

Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS): Social Media and Data Mining

COSMOS LogoCollaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS) is an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) half a million pound investment that brings together social, computer, political, health and mathematical scientists to study the methodological, theoretical, empirical and policy dimensions of “Big Social Data”.   Our objective is to establish a coordinated international computational social science response to this new form of data in order to address next-generation research questions.

Our empirical research programme is contextualized in terms of the ‘coming crisis of empirical sociology’ (Savage and Burrows, 2007), which is located in the increasing asymmetry between traditional social scientific methods and the power of transactional data generated through the internet. This has led some commentators to question the extent to which university-based sociology and social science can compete with the data rich resources built into the marketing and data generation strategies of the large multi-national corporations that hold and marshal much of this transactional data.

“Big Social Data”, generated in large part by Social Media interactions, are distinctive from corporate transactional data and ‘conventional’ social science data as they are naturally occurring or ‘user-generated’ and are largely accessible by researchers.   COSMOS technologies and digital social research tools capture “Big Social Data” at the level of populations in real/near-real-time.  This offers researchers the hitherto unrealizable possibility of studying social processes as they unfold at the level of populations as contrasted with their official construction through the use of ‘terrestrial’ research instruments (survey, interviews etc.) and curated and administrative data-sets.  The potential for systematic data mining and mixed method analysis in relation to key social science concerns and questions is now possible; COSMOS provides a means of operationalising the next generation ‘social computational tool kit’. It also provides a means of augmenting social science research training through the provision of new methodological tools and options for researchers conducting social inquiry in the 21st century.  This process is informed by our recent work on the political and ethical implications of Big Data, that focuses on the tensions between the ‘panoptic’ and ‘synoptic’ powers of digital observatories and the allied possibilities of a ‘signature science’.

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