SoMeLab awarded $997K for social media research

How can researchers use the vast amounts of data produced in Tweets, YouTube videos and Facebook posts to better understand social movements and significant cultural events?

A nearly $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will enable UW iSchool’s Social Media Lab (SoMeLab) to develop an open-source toolkit to help information and social science researchers analyze data generated through social media and apply what they learn to better understand the impact of social media on culture and society.

The project was the brainchild of three University of Washington Ph.D. students: Shawn Walker and Jeff Hemsley from the iSchool and Joe Eckert from the UW Geography department. Together with iSchool faculty members Karine Nahon and Bob Mason, the SoMeLab was established as an interdisciplinary space for studying interactive Internet tools and their roles in an increasingly complex information environment.

“Our initial work at the SoMeLab focuses on the role of social media in grass roots movements, but we want to understand the potential for these tools to fundamentally change how we live and work together,” says Bob Mason, SoMeLab director and principal investigator. “This project epitomizes the vision for the iSchool as an engaged, interdisciplinary, and collaborative research community.”

The INSPIRE award from the National Science Foundation will enable a team of researchers a three-year window to develop the tools needed to curate, analyze and visualize social media information as it is created, transferred between social media platforms and is transmitted across the boundaries of time and space.

Using an interdisciplinary approach that includes knowledge of social science, political science, communications, geography, information science, and emerging computing techniques, researchers will create a scalable and affordable approach that will be initially tested on Twitter data associated with “Occupy Wall Street” social movement.

This research, involving iSchool graduate and undergraduate students, along with faculty from the University of Washington and Clemson University, will both develop tools for social media research and demonstrate how these tools improve our capabilities for research in this social media space.

The National Science Foundation INSPIRE award is partially funded by the Human-Centered Computing Program in the Division of Information and Intelligent Systems in the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering, the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, and the multi-directorate Social-Computational Systems Program.

Information about the UW Information School Social Media Labs can be found at or by contacting