Friday, January 7, 2011

Scary Twitter Research

As the one or two people who actually check out this blog know, I spend a lot of time scouring the Net and academic journals for appropriate stuff to talk about.  Well, I hit the jackpot on this one -- the scariest Twitter study ever imagined.  Why scary?  Because it goes so far in compiling data even I, a numbers geek who loves data analysis, finds this one a bit too much to contemplate.

Lemme hit you with some of the abstract below.  Warning ... it's dense.  Just skim it and you instantly see we're talking a whole different world of data gathering.

We have crawled the entire Twitter site and obtained 41.7 million user profiles, 1.47 billion social relations, 4,262 trending topics, and 106 million tweets. In its follower-following topology analysis we have found a non-power-law follower distribution, a short effective diameter, and low reciprocity, which all mark a deviation from known characteristics of human social networks [28]. In order to identify influentials on Twitter, we have ranked users by the number of followers and by PageRank and found two rankings to be similar. Ranking by retweets differs from the previous two rankings, indicating a gap in influence inferred from the number of followers and that from the popularity of one's tweets. We have analyzed the tweets of top trending topics and reported on their temporal behavior and user participation. We have classified the trending topics based on the active period and the tweets and show that the majority (over 85%) of topics are headline news or persistent news in nature. A closer look at retweets reveals that any retweeted tweet is to reach an average of 1,000 users no matter what the number of followers is of the original tweet. Once retweeted, a tweet gets retweeted almost instantly on next hops, signifying fast diffusion of information after the 1st retweet.

To the best of our knowledge this work is the first quantitative study on the entire Twittersphere and information diffusion on it.

Holy quantitative hell, Batman!  This scares even me, an SPSS guy who never met a multiple regression he didn't enjoy running twice, just because he can.  But these South Korea guys?  I am humbled.

Okay, but what does it all mean?  I dunno, beyond the sheer amount of information fed into Twitter and then spread, byte by byte, out into the Twittersphere.  For those who specialize in Twitter, this study not only reinforces your argument that the social networking site matters, but gives a sense of how much it matters. But I do find it fascinating that 85 percent of Tweets are news of some kind. 

Wow.  I'll never make fun of Twitter again.

Okay, yes I will.


Russ D said...

What's REALLY scary is that the article has been downloaded (presumably at a cost) 1747 times. (?) Can you imagine that many people having interest in this level of detail study on Twitter?
Another interesting tidbit: in perusing their source bibliography I ran across this: S. Milgram. The small world problem. Psychology today, 2(1):60--67, 1967.
Seems as though Mr. or Ms. Milgram did some pretty impressive thinking, well ahead of their time.

Hollander said...

Milgram had some of the classic research on group influence -- I think -- though the small world one doesn't ring a bell. But yeah, the 1747 downloads, that's scarier than the research itself.