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Mapping Online Publics: Researching the Uses of Twitter


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Public lecture presented at the University of Amsterdam, 1 September 2011.

Public lecture presented at the University of Amsterdam, 1 September 2011.

Published in: Education, Technology

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  • 1. Mapping Online Publics:Researching the Uses of Twitter
    Assoc. Prof. Axel Bruns
    ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
    Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia – – @snurb_dot_info
  • 2. Why Twitter?
    Researching Twitter:
    Significant world-wide social network
    ~200 million users (but how many active?)
    Varied range of uses: from phatic communication to emergency coordination
    Healthy third-party ecosystem (for now)
    Strong history of user innovation: @replies, #hashtags
    Flat and open network structure: non-reciprocal following, public profiles by default
    Good API for gathering data for research
  • 3. (Google Maps)
  • 4. The 2011 Queensland Floods
    December 2010 to January 2011: unprecedented rainfall
    Emergency declared for more than 50% of Queensland
    Wivenhoe dam reaches 180% capacity
    December 2010: Flooding in northern Queensland
    January 2011: Floods in southeast Queensland
    10 January 2011: flash flooding in Toowoomba
    10 January 2011: ‘inland tsunami’ in the Lockyer Valley
    11 January 2011: flooding begins in Ipswich
    12-16 January 2011: major flooding in Brisbane
  • 5. (Google Maps)
  • 6. (ABC News)
  • 7. (ABC News)
  • 8. (
  • 9. (ABC News)
  • 10. (ABC News)
  • 11. (ABC News)
  • 12. Social Media during the Floods
    Various platforms:
    Facebook, Twitter – updates and information
    YouTube, Flickr, Twitpic – first-hand video and photos
    Google Maps, Ushahidi – map-based information mashups
    • Different tools for different purposes
    Various levels of maturity:
    Uses and use practices still developing
    Different demographic reach
    Technological differences:
    e.g. Facebook: built around personal networks; semi-private; discussion threads
    e.g. Twitter: open, flat network; public #hashtag conversations; update stream
  • 13. #qldfloods Tweets
    10 Jan 2011 11 Jan 2011 12 Jan 2011 13 Jan 2011 14 Jan 2011 15 Jan 2011
  • 14. 10 Jan 2011 11 Jan 2011 12 Jan 2011 13 Jan 2011 14 Jan 2011 15 Jan 2011
    #qldfloods from Toowoomba to Brisbane
  • 15. #qldfloods @replies
    mainstream media
  • 16. @QPSmedia as Central #qldfloods Information Source
  • 17. #qldfloods Network Map – Most Active Accounts Only(Degree >= 15 / Node size: indegree / node colour: outdegree)
  • 18. The Queensland Floods Community
    Rapid establishment of #qldfloodshashtag
    Ad hoc development of community structures
    Highlighting of leading accounts, vigilant against disruption
    Suspension of petty squabbles (e.g. state politics)
    Innovation and rapid prototyping:
    Adjunct hashtags (#Mythbuster, #bakedrelief)
    Sharing and gathering of online resources
    Additional tools (Google Maps, Ushahidi Maps)
    Emergency services rapidly adopting social media tools (despite lack of established strategies)
     ‘Go where they are’ rather than ‘build it and they will come’
  • 19. Image by Maproom Systems
  • 20. New Media and Public Communication: Mapping Australian User-Created Contentin Online Social Networks
    Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project (2010-13) – $410,000
    QUT (Brisbane), Sociomantic Labs (Berlin)
    First comprehensive study of Australian social media use
    Computer-assisted cultural analysis: tracking, mapping, analysing blogs, Twitter, Flickr, YouTubeas ‘networked publics’
    Builds on previous work of the research team (UCC, YouTube, blogosphere mapping)
    Advances beyond established approaches - beyond political blogospheres, beyond snapshots
    Addressing the problem of scale (‘Big Data’) and disciplinary change in media, cultural and communication studies– natively digital methods
  • 21. Data Gathering
    yourTwapperkeeper+ in-house crawler
    Data Processing
    Gawk – open source, multiplatform, programmable command-line tool for processing CSV documents
    Textual Analysis
    Leximancer – commercial (University of Queensland), multiplatform: extracts key concepts from large corpora of text, examines and visualises concept co-occurrence
    WordStat – commercial, PC-only text analysis tool; generates concept co-occurrence data that can be exported for visualisation
    Gephi – open source, multiplatform network visualisation tool
  • 22. Analysis – Twapperkeeper (#hashtags)
  • 23. But Why?
    Possible research questions:
    Ad hoc events and publics:
    How do online publics form and dissolve? How do they interact, what structures do they form?
    Where do they draw information from? What do they share?
    Do they simply consist of the usual suspects? How insular and disconnected are online publics?
    Hashtags in context:
    How do different hashtag events compare? Are there common types of hashtags/publics?
    How ‘big’ are they? What topics attract attention on Twitter?
    What community (?) structures emerge?
  • 24. #royalwedding
  • 25. Hashtag Publics, Hashtag Metrics
    How big is the central core of users?
    Long tail distribution: most active users responsible for the majority of content
    90/9/1 rule: how much does the top 1% of users contribute?
    #royalwedding: ~10% of all tweets
    #qldfloods: ~17% of all tweets
    #libya: ~49% of all tweets
    What do they do: inform, share, chat?
    How many links to they share?
    How much retweeting do they do (edited/unedited)?
    How many @replies do they send / receive?
    … etc.
  • 26. Tweets by Top 1% of Contributors
  • 27. Distinguishing Apples and Oranges
    (top 1% most active users in each hashtag; size = percentage of total tweet volume)
    Top 1% most active users
  • 28. Distinguishing Apples and Oranges
    All contributors
  • 29. Towards a Typology of Twitter Uses
    How are hashtags used (during acute events)?
    Finding and sharing information about breaking news (before the mainstream media do?)
    Ad hoc publics: many URLs, many retweets(even unedited)
    Shared experience of major (foreseen) events
    Imagined community of fellow participants: few URLs, limited retweeting
    What other uses are there?
    Continuing discussions (#auspol, #bundesliga, …)
    Memes (#ghettohurricanenames, …)
    Emotive hashtags (#fail, #win, #headdesk, …)
    What about keywords?
  • 30. Beyond Hashtags
    Publics on Twitter:
    Micro: @reply and retweet conversations
    Meso: hashtag ‘communities’
    Macro: follower/followee networks
     Multiple overlapping publics / networks
    What drives their formation and dissipation?
    How do they interact and interweave?
    How are they interleaved with the wider media ecology?
    Twitter doesn’t contain publics: publics transcend Twitter
  • 31. Understanding Australian Twitter Use
    What is the Australian Twitteruserbase?
    Large-scale snowballing project
    Starting from selected hashtag communities (e.g. #ausvotes, #qldfloods, #masterchef)
    Identifying participating users, testing for ‘Australianness’:
    Timezone setting, location information, profile information
    Retrieving follower/followee information for each account (very slow)
    Progress update:
    ~550,000 Australian users identified so far
  • 32. The Australian Twittersphere
    Follower/followee network:~150,000 Australian Twitter users(of ~550,000 known accounts so far) colour = outdegree, size = indegree
  • 33. The Australian Twittersphere
  • 34.