Twitter Coverage of the ISMB/ECCB Conference 2017

Search all the hashtags

ISMB (Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology – which sounds rather old-fashioned now, doesn’t it?) is the largest conference for bioinformatics and computational biology. It is held annually and, when in Europe, jointly with the European Conference on Computational Biology (ECCB).

I’ve had the good fortune to attend twice: in Brisbane 2003 (very enjoyable early in my bioinformatics career, but unfortunately the seed for the “no more southern hemisphere meetings” decision), and in Toronto 2008. The latter was notable for its online coverage and for me, the pleasure of finally meeting in person many members of the online bioinformatics community.

The 2017 meeting (and its satellite meetings) were covered quite extensively on Twitter. My search using a variety of hashtags based on “ismb”, “eccb”, “17” and “2017” retrieved 9052 tweets, which form the basis of this summary at RPubs. Code and raw data can be found at Github.

Usually I just let these reports speak for themselves but in this case, I thought it was worth noting a few points:

ISMB/ECCB 2017 was tweeted extensively. My hashtag search retrieved 9052 tweets (the same search a day or so later – 8414, go figure) and there are sure to be some that were missed. July 23 saw more than 2800 tweets and one user tweeted more than 600 times. These are large numbers by comparison with many conferences.

Most of them managed to use the official meeting hashtag – #ismbeccb – but deciding on and sticking with a single hashtag always seems to be an issue. Of course, bioinformaticians know that naming things is hard.

Interesting evening activity. Tweets by day and time from conferences generally peak around presentations in the morning and afternoon sessions. ISMB/ECCB 2017 also has a couple of days with a large late evening peak. Perhaps this relates to an activity, or people gathering their thoughts in their rooms?

Communities of tweeters. I created two directed graphs from the Twitter data; one based on users who replied directly to other users, and one based on users who mentioned other users. Usually I load these into Gephi, colour by page rank, play around with layouts and generate a pretty, but uninformative graphic. This time I experimented with filters (to remove nodes with few connections) and community detection. It’s more art than (data) science, but there do seem to be some interesting subgraphs in the mentions network. Some of them may be based around special interest groups and their satellite meetings, such as BOSC and HitSeq. It’s likely that users in these groups are talking to one another and using group hashtags in addition to the main meeting hashtags.

Many retweets, a lot of likes, few quotes. Meeting tweets were retweeted extensively – a majority of tweets were retweets, and almost half were favourites, indicating high engagement. Far fewer quotes (retweets with additional comment) though; because the time and effort barrier is a little higher?

It’s still all about careers. About 20% of tweets had media attached, of which the most-liked was this one:

Best wishes to all of those young attendees trying to build their careers in bioinformatics. And a reminder from one who knows: there are always alternatives.