In this interview, Prof. Ng and Prof. Tanja share their experience as recipients of a CSBS Small Grant for their interdisciplinary project, Mapping Global Geographies of Online Consumption: Comparing Usage of Websites, YouTube trends, and Twitter Trends over 100 countries.
Margaret Ng is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism. Prof. Ng is a media researcher with certified industrial training in data science and database tools. Her research examines technology use, social media, and information diffusion using large-scale, unstructured data and computational methods.
Harsh Taneja is an associate professor in the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising. Prof. Taneja is interested in how people consume media in an environment where they purportedly have plenty of choice. Within this broader question, his work focuses on global internet audiences, as well as how people consume news on digital media.
Tell us briefly about your research project.
We investigated how the Internet can help us understand how countries are similar or different in their patterns of cultural consumption. We focused on three different modalities of cultural consumption across 124 countries: the popular websites people visit, the trending topics on Twitter, and the popular videos on YouTube. We then examined factors that drive those similarities, such as common languages, being geographically close, and the size of the internet market. We found that countries next to each other or where people speak the same languages tend to have the most similar web use patterns. Global social media usage on both YouTube and Twitter is even more heterogeneous and language and location play a big role in how people use these platforms around the world.
In what ways did the CSBS Small Grant Program help you to connect with interdisciplinary collaborators at Illinois?
The CSBS Small Grant brought together two colleagues from different departments in our college, advertising and journalism. We each have unique skills: Margaret specializes in computational social science, while Harsh is an expert in media consumption. This funding enabled us to align our goals and work with the same commitment, bridging our diverse skill sets for a more comprehensive approach to our research.
What did the interdisciplinary collaboration allow you to do that you would not have been able to do on your own or with collaborators from your own discipline?
Our different skills and backgrounds enrich our work, allowing us to see a more comprehensive picture and expand our network of potential collaborators, which wouldn’t have been possible within our individual disciplines.
How did the initial CSBS Small Grant funding aid in your external funding efforts?
The initial CSBS Small Grant funding furnished crucial resources for our research, enabling us to publish our work in a prestigious journal. This boosted our standing within the academic community and has strengthened our position when applying for external funding. We have been able to identify a program at the National Science Foundation where we plan to apply for funding to expand our project in the near future.
What advice do you have for Illinois faculty and staff who may be interested in applying for a CSBS Small Grant?
Our most important advice is not to count yourselves out by assuming that your work might not align with the topics that past CSBS grant recipients have focused on. CSBS supports a broad range of research interests. Have conversations with your colleagues, share your ideas, and consider attending CSBS information sessions and workshops. So, initiate a conversation!