On Twitter size doesn’t count (so much)

No doubt you’re into Twitter, but what do you do with your tweets?

Here at EM I use Twitter as a channel to promote the content on my blog and I also own up to the very occasional frivolous tweet. But if y0u ever get a tweet from me that says something like: “Enjoying a mochaccino latte frappe at the delightful hole in the wall cafe Moko in Porirua. Baby Bruce was just sick in Skye’s lap. Yuk!”, for f*ckzake shoot me.

Now there’s some academic evidence that being the biggest twit on the block doesn’t necessarily make you the most influential. That’s good news for those of us who wonder why the hell anyone would want to follow Ashton Kutcher or some anorexic stick insect of a supermodel (who may or may not be real), or even Lady GaGa.

According to a paper written by researchers from the Max Plank Institute, those with the largest Twitter following may not be most influential when measured by the number retweets of posts from certain users.

Believe it or not (it is hard to believe) one of the most influential using the retweet scale is a librarian whose messages are regularly retweeted by her followers.

The dataset for this research is impressive.

  • 54,981,152 user accounts
    These accounts were in-use in August 2009. We obtained the list of user IDs by repeatedly checking all possible IDs from 0 to 80 million. We scanned the list twice at a two week time gap. We did not look beyond 80 million, because no single user in the collected data had a link to a user whose ID was greater than that value.
  • 1,963,263,821 social (follow) links
    The 54 million users were connected to each other by 1.9 billion follow links. This is based on the snapshot of the Twitter network topology in August 2009. The follow link data does not contain information about when each link was formed.
  • 1,755,925,520 tweets
    For each of the 54 million users, we gathered information about all tweets ever posted by the user since the launch of the Twitter service. The tweet data contains information about the time of tweet posting.

You can also download a copy of the paper from the researcher’s website.

I’ve just picked out one table from the paper to highlight some of the huge traffic that Twitter generates around news events. This is from last year and it probably qualifies the death of Michael Jackson as news event of the year.

What we talk about on Twitter

The Iran election and uprising is a close second. But I can tell you that from my own work on that event that the noise to signal ratio was very high. I’d guess the same is true too for swine flu and Michael Jackson. They may well be events that grab people’s attention and create the virtual equivalent of water cooler conversation, but what most people have to say doesn’t warrant retweeting.

It’s official: Size doesn’t matter.

One Response to On Twitter size doesn’t count (so much)

  1. Mark S says:

    I use Twitter mainly to follow academics in TV and Media Studies – I’ve found it’s an excellent medium for putting me in direct connection with some of the top thinkers in my field, less personally intrusive than other Social media like Facebook, and more bi-directional and less impersonal than a blog. Having said that, I still express my main ideas on my blog, but use Twitter to direct interested people there when a new relevant post is up. I also do make the occasional random post, but it’s usually something to do with pop culture in some form.

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