It seems ironic that the discipline dedicated to the study of humanity’s interfaces between society and technology should not take time to reflect on its own use (and non-use) of explicitly social technologies.
Social media are tools that facilitate information sharing, interaction and community-forming over the internet. For archaeology, they can and are contributing to all of these in both the professional and voluntary sectors of archaeology and heritage, and when used as a public engagement tool.

Archaeology, like many academic disciplines, frequently invests resources in the development of new data-generation tools (eg, scientific techniques) or data-management tools (eg, digital preservation) but rarely considers (methodologically or theoretically) its data-sharing tools, let alone the social factors entangled with these.

Social media forms have been termed ‘architectures of participation’ (O’Reilly 2004). As such they are often most rapidly embraced by those lacking traditional infrastructures to mediate their interests. Therefore, archaeologists, as a group with a number of well-established infrastructures (universities, units, publishing, conferences and so on) have been slower to make use of them than other sectors of society. The facility of social media to decentralise the power structures of these infrastructures has rarely been explicitly discussed within archaeology.
However, other thinkers have claimed that the change brought by social media (let alone the rest of the digital universe) is an order of magnitude more significant than the invention of the printing press (Shirky 2008). The geo-political effects of that piece of technology have been well documented but were only visible with hindsight. We would like to make a call-to-arms for archaeologists to be proactive and reflexive about the current revolution rather than allowing it to pass them by.

The session will draw on theoretical perspectives from Public Archaeology, big-data approaches and research into the interface between society and technology. We will then build on the theory with methodology and practice to help archaeologists from all backgrounds (especially technophobes!) understand how social media might affect their work.
The importance of developing and sustaining audiences, and measuring the impact of the use of social media as a tool for public engagement will be especially highlighted.

Morning papers will be followed by afternoon practical sessions led by experienced digital archaeologists. These sessions, held in either a computer cluster room or on participant's laptops, will provide a chance to explore social media tools in an archaeological context, and consult digitally-minded archaeologists about the ways in which web-based tools can help with their work. It is envisaged that follow-on support for this TAG session will be provided through a dedicated support network via email or Twitter.

O’Reilly, Tim 2004. The Architecture of Participation. O’Reilly Media Newsletter (available on-line:, accessed 19 May 2011).
Shirky, Clay 2008. Here comes everybody : the power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.