Created with support from Dell and Saleforce.com's Radian6 unit, the listening center features six 42-inch monitors for team collaboration around an analysis, plus projection screens for sharing those visualizations with the whole class. You can see it in a Radian6 blog post and video.
Clemson University CIO Jim Bottum said he heard about what Dell was doing with social media monitoring and analytics during a visit to the computer maker to talk about a grant for technology innovation, and he proposed that the university establish "a program for creative inquiry research experience for undergraduates." He also thought there would be uses for graduate research and for the university's own business operations.
"What I saw there was opportunity--a case industry out ahead of academia in terms of organizing around a technology," Bottum said. When he brought this idea back to the university, he was pleased to discover he got interest from more than just the computer science department--management, marketing, psychology, and communications faculty were also interested. "To be relevant, IT organizations need to learn how to partner. I saw this as a good opportunity to put something out there and make it widely available," he said. "One of my jobs is breaking down silos and walls."
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The faculty member chosen to head the center, Jason Thatcher, teaches about telecommunications and social media, but his focus is less on technology than "the behavioral approach to why people use technology, or the perception of trust in websites," he said.
Thatcher said his students are studying the power of social media to predict stock trends ("they say they're beating the market, but we'll see how they're doing in a few months"), model how law enforcement and emergency response organizations might use social media, and study the conversations around campaigns for open seats in Congress.
"They're learning about things like, what does it take to search through billions and billions of pieces of text based data" and produce a meaningful analysis, Thatcher said. Although so far all the analysis is being performed, software as a service-style, on Radian6 servers, Thatcher said some of the research might also require downloading data for further analysis on the university's own high-performance computing systems.
Regardless of where the analysis is performed, Bottum said it's important to gain experience with its practical applications. "This is like the late '90s, when business intelligence tools were just starting to emerge."
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