Intelligence People: Carl Miller of Demos

In the first of our new Q&A profile series, we meet Carl Miller, Research Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos

  • When did you first become involved in the ‘social intelligence’ sector?

It was in 2011. Myself and colleagues were watching the Arab Spring, and everyone arguing over how crucial social media was to those protests. We could see it would be an enormous agent of social change, but could equally transform how society was researched and understood. That’s when we set up CASM.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I actually was obsessed by ants as a young kid – especially during long summer holidays in Sweden. But if I couldn’t be an entomologist, plan B was a time traveller.

What, in your opinion, are the key benefits of social data analysis for organisations?

Often it is access to datasets that are nearly real-time. In social science, we’ve very rarely been able to study phenomena with a speed at allows us to intervene into the things that we’re researching. That often has meant that research has a retrospective utility, but not a contemporary one. But real-time data means real-time research; that, for me, is incredibly exciting.

What aspects of your work do you most enjoy?

I love my work! The bit I enjoy the most is getting out there, and talking about the research and investigations that myself and my colleagues do. Over the last year or so, I’ve started presenting programmes for the BBC, and to write more journalistically as well.

What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day work?

The pace of change: in the tech itself, the data it produces, how that data can be understood, and the whole wraparound societal norms that determine how it’s all actually used. You never, ever feel like the field has reached a settled state, which is a mixture of exhilarating and exhausting.

Which social data analysis tools do you use? Do you have a favourite?

We build our own! Ours is called Method52, which is basically an online research environment that allows users to construct data analytical architectures. As a team, we’ve always been conscious to avoid any baked-in functionality or a washboarding approach, in favour of giving researchers the flexibility to design a bespoke analytical approach given the data they’re working on and the research questions you have. So you begin with a blank canvas – kind of like the excel for social media research.

Do you think the ‘social intelligence’ community needs its own professional body?

Yeah, for sure. It also needs more commonly accepted methodological standards, and approaches to data use and the communication of its research.

  • Name a book you would recommend to others.

Apart from my own?! I’ve just finished Peter Pomerantsev’s ‘This is Not Propaganda’, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Name a social account that everyone should follow.

Apart from my own?! I really love @wtfviz on Twitter – it shares data visualisations that just make completely no sense. Horribly funny, and also some good examples of how data can obscure meaning as well as find it.

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to follow you on social?

It would be cool to be able to DM Julius Caesar.

Carl Miller’s book ‘The Death of the Gods: The New Global Power Grab’ is out now.

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Michael Feeley
Michael Feeley
Michael Feeley is Editor of The Social Intelligence Lab. More content by

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