You know I love Twitter. Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. The tweets don’t exceed 140 characters, so your message must be very concise. For me Twitter is a very rich source of information and a useful networking site. But it is hard to explain that to others.
Well, a recent quantitative study by a group of researchers at Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology suggest that they might just be right. … Or at least their data suggest Twitter may be less of a social site and more of a news site.
According to Haewoon Kwak et al this is the first quantitative Twitter study ever.
The researchers 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. They looked at the follower-following topology, looked at the ranking by number of followers and by PageRank, analyzed the retweets and the tweets of top trending topics.
You can read the main conclusions in the power presentation below and their abstract for Proceedings of the 19th International World Wide Web (WWW) Conference, April 26-30, 2010, Raleigh NC (USA). Below the abstract you can also find links to two download files, enabling you to reanalyze the data
Going Social Now and ReadWriteWeb also give a nice overview.
What are their main conclusions:
- Twitter is not very “social”
- It is “I follow you”, not “lets become friends” and you don’t have to approve or follow back. Following thus means that you “just subscribe” to the tweets of that person.
- Only 22.1% of the relationships are reciprocal, thus 77.9% of the relationships is one way, just one of two is following the other. Surprisingly, 67.6% of users on Twitter are not followed by any of the people they follow.
- this low reciprocity is unlike all other human social networks.
- For most tweople, Twitter is primarily a source of information, not a social networking or information dissemination platform.
- The Majority of topics (54,3%) are headline topics
- Few users reach a large audience directly.
- The average path length between two people on Twitter is 4.12. This is much shorter than Stanley Milgram’s original experiment uncovering the “six degrees of separation” phenomena.
- 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.
It is a beautiful study that highlights the topological characteristics of Twitter.
One word of caution. Twitter is analyzed as a whole. There are many subpopulations with their own kinetics and goals. So the majority of people may follow the news, and fans may follow a celebrity by the million, but there are (relatively) small niches on Twitter, like health and medicine (or science) that may not follow the same rules.
I daresay (guess) that more people in this niche follow each other and do use Twitter both as a source of information and as as network for social communication.
But these small niches are outnumbered by others (news sites, CEOs, celebrities).
At least that is my hypothesis.
Who is going to test this??
- Blue Twitter Bird: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsnelling/3586152432/in/set-72157616036806501/ (CC)
- Wild Parrot: http://www.flickr.com/photos/artolog/267530093/ (CC)
- Many Parrots: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11268984@N07/4516341668/in/faves-laikaspoetnik/
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- How to Measure a Retweet (twitterrati.com)
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