Tag Archives: networks

The Who dimension

My last post focussed on my progress in making sense of the Where dimension of the public discourse on coal seam gas, including how the Where intersects with the What. This post is about the Who. Somehow, I’ve managed to say almost nothing on this blog so far about the Who dimension of my data. Nearly all of what I’ve written has been about the What, Where and When. It’s time to rebalance this equation.

Until recently, the Who dimension of my data was represented only by a pool of Australian news organisations (at more than 300 sources, it was admittedly a rather large pool), as I was working just with the data I retrieved from the Factiva news database. Now that I have incorporated additional data that I scraped from the websites of community, governments and industry stakeholders (as discussed in my last post), the Who dimension has become a little bit richer. Before I start exploring questions about specific stakeholders and news organisations, or make decisions about which sources I might want to exclude all together, I want to survey the full breadth of sources in my data. I want the birds-eye view. But how to get it?

Who × When ÷ Where = Wha…?

In the previous post, I listed all of my stakeholder sources in colourful tables showing the production of content over time. Initially I thought that doing the same thing with 300 news sources would be ridiculous, but then I figured it might just be ridiculous enough to work. Through a creative deployment of Excel’s conditional formatting feature, I managed to make what you see in Figure 1. Each horizontal band is an individual news source, and the darkness of the band corresponds with the number of articles produced by that source per quarter. Within each state, the sources are grouped by region, although I haven’t indicated where these groupings begin and end (maybe next time!).

Figure 1. The temporal coverage of all news sources in my corpus.
Figure 1. The temporal coverage of all news sources in my corpus. Each horizontal band represents a news source, while the shading indicates the number of articles published per quarter.

For an experiment that I didn’t take very seriously, this viz actually isn’t too bad. It highlights several features of the data that are useful to know. Firstly, it shows that very few publications have been reporting on coal seam gas continuously since 2000. Nationally, there are The Australian, The Financial Review, Australian Associated Press, and Reuters News (these are not labelled on the graph, so you’ll have to take my word for it). In Queensland, there are the Courier-Mail, the Gold Coast Bulletin, and (to a lesser extent) the Townsville Bulletin. In New South Wales, there has been more-or-less continuous coverage from the Sydney Morning Herald, and somewhat patchier coverage from the Newcastle Herald. The long horizontal lines in Victorian part of the chart represent the Herald Sun and The Age. Continue reading

Adventures in harmonic space

Long, long ago, I studied music. In fact, when I finished high school, music was all I wanted to study. To be sure, I didn’t just want to study it: I wanted to compose it as well. 1 But I soon discovered that music theory was something worthy of study in itself, quite apart from the grounding it provided for composition. Music theory, especially the analysis of harmonies and harmonic progressions, provided a way to pop the hood on a piece of music (or even a whole genre) and learn what makes it tick. As if that weren’t exciting enough, I sensed that there were more profound truths waiting to be teased out of these harmonic structures. For if they offered clues about what makes music tick, then surely they said something about what makes us tick as well.

I never did pursue my vision of a grand unified theory of tonal harmony and psychoacoustics. I soon found that there were also other things worth studying, many of which came with the bonus incentive of career prospects. One thing led to another, and for better or worse, I ended up working for the government. And not as a music theorist. But to this day, I can’t help hearing a piece of music and thinking about what makes it tick. The theorist within me is always plugging away, even while the rest of me is just enjoying the tune.

Unsurprisingly then, when I started playing with network graphs about 18 months ago, among the first things I asked myself is what application they might have for music theory. The beauty of network graphs is that they can be used to represent just about anything. Any system or community of inter-related parts can be turned into a network of nodes and connections. So far on this blog I’ve used network graphs to explore the linkages among websites related to coal seam gas, and to identify clusters of documents containing duplicated text. On my other blog, I used network graphs to see how the names of different people and places featured across a collection of my posts.

In this post, I will use network graphs to visualise the relationships among chords within a piece of music. You could examine melodies in much the same way, by breaking them down to their individual notes and tracking which notes pair up and cluster together most often. But I suspect that there is more to be gained from visualising the harmonic relationships. Continue reading


  1. Eventually, years later, I did get around to writing some music. And I have finally published some of the results onto Youtube.
The bottom-right cluster. All of these documents except Submission 0655 draw on the same template.

Using Junk words to find recycled text

Newton’s third law of motion — that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction — would appear to apply to the coal seam gas industry in Australia. The dramatic expansion of the industry in recent years has been matched by the community’s equally dramatic mobilisation against it. As my previous post showed, there are literally dozens of organisations on the web (and probably even more on Facebook) concerned in some way with the impacts of coal seam gas development. Some of these are well-established groups that have incorporated coal seam gas into their existing agendas, but many others seem to have popped up out of nowhere.

Most of these groups could be classified as community organisations insofar as they are concerned with a specific region or locality. But to think of them all as ‘grassroots’ organsiations, each having emerged organically on its own accord, might be a mistake. As the website network in my last post suggests, many of these groups might better be thought of as ‘rhizomatic’ (or lateral) offshoots inspired by the Lock the Gate Alliance. Lock the Gate emerged in 2010 and quickly reconfigured the landscape of community opposition to coal seam gas. Its campaigns, strategies and symbolism provided a handy template upon which locally focussed organisations could form. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a community-based anti-CSG group without a link to Lock the Gate on their website.

The lesson here is that voices that appear to be independent may to some extent be influenced or assisted by a small handful of highly motivated (or well resourced) groups or individuals. Having observed this possibility in the network of anti-CSG websites, I recently encountered it again while sifting through a very different dataset that I am preparing for  textual analysis. The dataset in question is the 893 public submissions that the Parliament of New South Wales received in response to its 2011 inquiry into the environmental, health, economic and social impacts of coal seam gas activities. The submissions came from all kinds of stakeholders, including community groups, gas companies, scientific and legal experts, government agencies, and individual citizens. Of particular interest to me were the 660 submissions from individual citizens. Here was a sizable repository of views expressed straight from the minds and hearts of individual people, undistorted by the effects of groupthink or coordinated campaigns. Or so I thought. Continue reading

Seeing who’s who in the CSG zoo

As explained in the About page, I have recently commenced a PhD. Barely eight weeks in, I am still enjoying what I’ve heard described as the honeymoon phase, where all I need to do — indeed all I really can do — is immerse myself in new ideas, literature, software, and on-campus drinking outlets. You could also call it the pig-in-mud phase, since that is essentially what such activities equate to for someone like me. Milestones and progress indicators will come later (though soon enough I am sure!); right now my concern is to arm myself with knowledge and tools for the long road ahead, wherever that road may end up leading.

In broad terms, the task I have set myself is to use digital methods to explore and make sense of some social phenomenon, such as the discourse around a contentious issue. The case study that I have chosen to get me started is the recent expansion of the coal seam gas (CSG) industry in Australia. Coal seam gas (known as coal bed methane in the United States) has been used in Queensland to generate electricity for more than 20 years, but the industry has boomed since about 2008 as local gas companies race to get their gas into the global export market. This ‘gas rush’ has brought the industry into previously uncharted territories — first the prime agricultural areas of the Darling Downs in southern Queensland, and now several agricultural and pastoral regions of New South Wales.

To cut a long story short, a lot of people have become very concerned about coal seam gas. And while many of these concerns have been expressed through traditional, on-the-ground methods like marches and blockades, much of the debate around coal seam gas has unfolded, or at least been documented, on the web. A wide range of voices can be found, including those of individual citizens, grassroots action groups, seasoned lobbyists, government agencies, industry groups, research institutions, and of course, the news media. All of which makes the issue a perfect case study for my present purposes.

I should make clear, however, that I do have a personal interest in the topic. As a State Government employee, I worked for several years on a project about coal seam gas water management. I have also worked for about a year in a research centre at the University of Queensland that is concerned with both the impacts and the opportunities presented by coal seam gas. So I’ve become acquainted with a few small corners of the industry and how it is managed, and I have watched the debate around the industry unfold over a number of years. And while I have my own thoughts about the merits or otherwise of industry, I am not going to discuss them here. I am not concerned with who is right or wrong, but with how the debate around coal seam gas has developed. Who are the participants? How do they and their discourses interact? Which ideas and beliefs have shaped the debate, and how? Continue reading