What is Twitter: News Media or Social Network?

Twitter seems to have grown from a simple platform for exchanging 140-character messages, into a subject matter for case studies seeking to uncover human behavior!

A recent study called: “What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media?” by Haewoon Kwak, Changhyun Lee, Hosung Park, and Sue Moon – Department of Computer Science, Korea – tackles this matter in efforts to better understand the popularity of Twitter and the transformation of Twitter since its development up until the present day.

In other words, the main goal of the study is analyzing the topological characteristics of Twitter and its power as a new medium of information sharing.

In order to deduce accurate results, the researchers heading this study crawled 41.7 million user profiles, 1.47 billion social relations, 4,262 trending topics and 106 million tweets.

We begin with the network analysis and study the distributions of followers and followings, the relation between followers and tweets, reciprocity, degrees of separation, and homophily. Next we rank users by the number of followers, PageRank, and the number of retweets and present quantitative comparison among them“.

Conclusions… In Geeky English!

1. Among reciprocated users some level of homophily was observed. In order to identify influentials on Twitter, users were ranked by the number of followers and by PageRank. They found the two rankings to be similar.

From the study: Topics ranked by RT proportion (# of users > 50,000)

From the study: Topics ranked by RT proportion (# of users > 50,000)

2. In its follower-following topology analysis the study 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.

3. If ranking is done by the number of retweets, then it 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.

4. Ranking by retweets exposes the influence of other media in a novel perspective. The tweets of top trending topics were analyzed and reported on the temporal behavior of trending topics and user participation.

From the study: The age of the trending topics from Google and Twitter

From the study: The age of the trending topics from Google and Twitter

5. Accordingly, the trending topics were classified based on the active period and the tweets and show that the majority (over 85%) of topics are headline or persistent news in nature.

6. 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 the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th hops away from the source, signifying fast diffusion of information after the 1st retweet.

What Does This Mean?

Twitter with its open API to crawl, one-sided nature of relationship, and the retweet mechanism to relay information offers an unprecedented opportunity for computer scientists, sociologists, linguists, and physicists to study human behavior.

“Our work is the first step towards exploring the great potentials of this new platform” ~ H. Kwak et al

Comments and Reactions

One response to “What is Twitter: News Media or Social Network?”

  1. M.Bamieh says:

    Great so every time “someone” boasts about their followers i can reply with the size of your fellowship doesn't matter, just how you use it :P

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