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:
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ISMB 2012 on Twitter: here today, gone tomorrow

In previous years, when FriendFeed was used as the micro-blogging platform for the annual ISMB meeting, I’ve written a post describing some statistical analysis of the conference coverage. Here’s my post from last year.

This year, it appears that the majority of the conference coverage happened at Twitter, using the #ISMB hashtag. Here’s what happened on July 18th when I used the R package twitteR to retrieve ISMB-related tweets for July 13/14:

library(twitteR)
ismb1 <- searchTwitter("#ISMB", since = "2012-07-13", until = "2012-07-14")
length(ismb1)
# [1] 383

383 tweets. Here’s what happened when I ran the same query today:

library(twitteR)
ismb1 <- searchTwitter("#ISMB", since = "2012-07-13", until = "2012-07-14")
length(ismb1)
# [1] 0

Zero tweets. Indeed, run the same query via the Twitter web interface and you’ll see only a very few tweets with the message “Older Tweet results for #ismb are unavailable.”

So far as Twitter is concerned, ISMB 2012 never happened. Or if it did, the data are buried away in a data centre, inaccessible to the likes of you and I. Did you ever hear anything more about that plan to archive every Tweet at the Library of Congress? Neither did I. I very much doubt that it’s going to happen.

I think Twitter is great – for broadcasting short pieces of information, such as useful URLs, in near real-time. For conference coverage which benefits from threaded conversation, longer comments and archiving, I think it’s rubbish.

On July 18 I did manage to retrieve 3162 Tweets for ISMB 2012, created between July 13 and July 17. I’ll write about them in a forthcoming post. All I’ll say for now is – lucky I was able to grab them when I did.

ISMB coverage on Twitter? It’s possible there was…

Peter writes:

I wonder if part of the drop off is live bloggers moving to platforms like Twitter? I can tell you it seemed like there were almost as many tweets for one SIG (#bosc2011) as for the whole of #ISMB / #ECCB2011, and I personally didn’t post anything to FriendFeed but posted lots on Twitter.

Well, there’s a problem with using Twitter for analysis of conference coverage. Let’s try searching for ISMB-related tweets using the twitteR package:

library(twitteR)
ismb <- searchTwitter("ismb", 1000)
length(ismb)
# [1] 30

oldertweets

If we can't archive, how can anyone else?

30? Are we using twitteR properly? Running the same search at the Twitter website gives roughly the same results, plus this unhelpful message.

I like Twitter – as a real-time communication tool. As a data archive? Forget it.

I can’t resist a word cloud: now using R!

wcloud

Top 1000 words in FriendFeed comments, ISMB 2008-2011

The wordcloud package is word clouds for R with a difference: they look great.

Of course, having just analysed online coverage of the ISMB conference, I had to run all 6 906 comments from the 2008-2011 meetings through some code. If you followed along via the Sweave code, I went as far as generating the data frame of comments, ismb.comments, then pulled the comment text into a new data frame using:

data.frame(ismb.comments$body)

It was then simply a case of following along with the excellent example code from the post Word Cloud in R, over at One R Tip A Day, limiting myself to the 1000 most-used words. Watch out, the TermDocumentMatrix() function from the tm package uses quite a lot of memory.

Result shown at right: click image for full-size version. I think that word in the centre says it all.

ISMB/ECCB 2009 reports

Great to see more reports describing the use of online tools to cover scientific meetings. Here are the publications, from PLoS Computational Biology:

Live Coverage of Scientific Conferences Using Web Technologies.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000563

Live Coverage of Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology/European Conference on Computational Biology (ISMB/ECCB) 2009.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000640

And here’s Ally a.k.a the robo-blogger on Social Networking and Guidelines for Life Science Conferences.

Looks like we’ve started a trend, long may it continue at future meetings.