Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Social media stories: Tweeting the news, finding auto defects, and scientific outreach

Over at Kunstler's blog, I left the following program note on Monday.
Today's post is about Cyber Monday, and tomorrow's is about the stink of retail desperation. As for the rest of the week, I know I'll be marking my third anniversary of writing for and starting another month on Saturday.
As you can read, that's only four posts for six days, which means I didn't know what I'd be writing about on two of them, although I had a few ideas.  Yesterday, my readers gave me a push, as Social media shaping policy was the most read post of the day with 39 views during the 24 hours before 8:30 PM yesterday.  It was also the third most viewed entry of the past seven days with 66 views.  Since I just happen to have some social media stories handy and was thinking of posting them anyway, that made my choice of topic tonight easy.

I'll begin with research on social media itself, starting with this study about how news spreads on Twitter.

University of Arizona: UA Study Examines How News Spreads on Twitter
A study of the Twitter activity of 12 major news agencies shows varying levels of success for the social network as a news-sharing tool, based on factors like article lifespan and number of retweets.
By Alexis Blue, University Communications
October 15, 2012
Nearly every major news organization has a Twitter account these days, but just how effective is the microblogging website at spreading news? That’s the question University of Arizona professor Sudha Ram set out to answer in a recent study of a dozen major news organizations that use the social media website as one tool for sharing their content.

The answer, according to Ram’s research, varies widely by news agency, and there may not be one universally applicable strategy for maximizing Twitter effectiveness. However, news agencies can learn a lot by looking at how their news diffuses once it is posted on Twitter, said Ram, McClelland Professor of Management Information Systems in the UA’s Eller College of Management.

Ram, who recently presented her findings at the International Workshop on Business Applications of Social Network Analysis in Istanbul, examined, over a six-month period, the Twitter activity of 12 major news organizations focused on U.S. news, global news, technology news or financial news.

All of the agencies selected – The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, NPR, Reuters, Guardian, Forbes, Financial Times, Mashable, Arstechnica, Wired and Bloomberg – regularly share news articles on Twitter, which allows users to post 140-character messages as well as links to online content.

Ram, working with Devi Bhattacharya, an MIS doctoral student at the UA, tracked what happened to a news article after it was tweeted by a news organization. Together, they looked at how many people retweeted, or reposted, the article on their own Twitter feeds, then how many times it was subsequently retweeted from those accounts and so forth.

They were then able to evaluate the volume and extend of spread of an article on Twitter, as well as its overall lifespan.

“The goal for a news agency is to have a lot of people reading and following your articles,” said Ram, who is also a professor of computer science at the UA. “What we’ve done is use network analysis, which is quite different from just looking at the total number of tweets or total number of retweets. You’re starting to see, over time, how information is spreading.”

Ram and Bhattacharya rendered the data they collected from each organization visually as images showing how the news is diffused. The network visualizations appear something like fireworks, with dots representing individual twitter users and cascade streams from those dots depicting retweets. The images reveal different diffusion patterns for the different agencies, which can provide clues to those organizations about how their news is spreading and what they might want to focus on to be successful, Ram said.

“This gives them good feedback, and it’s kind of a performance report for them,” Bhattacharya said. “It gives them an idea about the reading habits of people online and how they like to consume news.”
Here are three of her images showing the propagations of tweets from Forbes, the New York Times, and Reuters, along with the captions accompanying each image.

A study by UA professor Sudha Ram shows, through network visualizations, varying patterns of news diffusion on Twitter for a dozen different news agencies. Shown here is...the Twitter Activity Network for Forbes.

The Twitter Activity Network for The New York Times shows a high number of users participating in long chains of tweeting and retweeting.

The Twitter Activity Network for Reuters shows a high number of users posting direct retweets of news agencies' tweets.
Those are just three of the news organizations studied.  What about the rest?
Of the organizations analyzed, BBC had the maximum reach in terms of affected users and retweet levels. BBC articles also had the highest chance of survival on Twitter, with 0.1 percent of articles surviving, through continual retweets, for three or more days. The BBC’s high numbers were likely due in large part to the fact that the main "bbcnews" Twitter account also is supported by two other agency accounts – "bbcbreaking" and "bbcworld," Ram said. The New York Times and Mashable had the second highest reach. Articles from Forbes, Wired and Bloomberg had the shortest Twitter lifespans.
I suspect that the differences in the dispersal patterns of news tweets has as much or more to do with the nature of the readers/viewers of the respective news services and their attachment to the organization as it does with the reliability or reputation of the news services themselves or their use of Twitter.  The BBC and New York Times are held in generally high regard by their readers/viewers/listeners as among the most respected news sources in their countries and that might have as much to do with the longevity of their tweets as the evergreen nature of their stories.  On the other hand, the techies and financial people might find the news from Wired, Forbes, and Bloomberg to have a very limited shelf life, as well as the publications themselves being less established than the Beeb and Gray Lady.

Now, why that 72-hour benchmark used above?
Overall, Ram said the data showed that articles on Twitter dissipate fairly quickly, with retweeting typically ending between 10 and 72 hours after an article is originally shared.
I've seen that 72 hour lifespan before; it's the time limit for a story to be considered newsworthy on  Looks like Ram has found empirical evidence in support of that rule of thumb.

So, what's the point of all this, besides academic curiosity?
Ram says she hopes to do more extensive research on news sharing and develop partnerships with news agencies to help them answer specific questions about their social media practices and performance.

“The idea is really to see if we can make some predictions,” Ram said. “What are some attributes of these networks that will help us make predictions? Is it number of followers? Is it engagement of followers? Is it what time you tweet? Is it who else is tweeting at the same time? Which are the more useful attributes that will help us predict, and therefore will help us give organizations suggestions on how to be more effective in spreading their news? Because ultimately their goal is more people reading their articles and talking about them.”
Cool.  Since I use social media to share the articles I write for, I could use any tips from Ram's research.

Follow over the jump for more social media stories originally posted on Overnight News Digest on Daily Kos.

Virginia Tech: Social media can help auto manufacturers find vehicle defects, researchers say
October 24, 2012
Can social media postings by consumers be a source of useful information about vehicle safety and performance defects for automobile manufacturers?

Yes, say researchers at Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business who conducted what is believed to be the first large-scale case study confirming the value of social media for vehicle quality management. The researchers developed a computer-based information system that provides auto manufacturers an efficient way to discover and classify vehicle defects.

“A lot of useful but hidden data on vehicle quality is embedded in social media that is largely untapped by auto manufacturers,” said Alan Abrahams, assistant professor of business information technology, who led the study together with Weiguo Fan, professor of accounting and information systems.
This is directly relevant to the auto makers in Michigan.  I wonder if they know about it.

Next, here are four stories about scientists and others using social media, both Facebook and Twitter, as part of their outreach to the public.

WBUR: Worms And Germs: Their Absence May Explain Ills From Allergies To Asthma
By Carey Goldberg
September 7, 2012
First he hooked me with the hookworms. Who knew there was a whole underground network of people who, in hopes of curing allergies or Crohns disease, go to great lengths — such as stomping about in outhouse offal — to get themselves infected with nasty parasites?

Then he arrested me with the alopecia. I’d glanced at the author photo on the jacket, and something looked a bit off: He wasn’t just completely bald, he also lacked eyebrows and eyelashes. On page 2, he explained that he had alopecia universalis, an auto-immune disease that left virtually no hair on his entire body.

But what kept me reading all through vacation — and really, I’d rather not spend my leisure time with whipworms and “orofecal” bacteria — is that in his new book, An Epidemic Of Absence, author Moises Velasquez-Manoff turned my head around. Ah, the pleasing sound of mental gears grinding as the paradigm shifts!
Yahoo! News: Mysterious shipwreck washes onto Alabama shore, believed to be from Civil War
By Eric Pfeiffer, Yahoo! News | The Sideshow
Tue, Sep 4, 2012
Hurricane Isaac has washed the remains of a blockade-runner vessel onto the shores of an Alabama beach, and many believe it could be a Civil War-era vessel, dating to 1862, according to the Birmingham News.

However, a debate has ensued over exactly which era the shipwreck is from.

"Look what Isaac uncovered!" reads a Facebook post from Meyer Vacation Rentals, a local real estate company that posted several pictures of the wreckage on its fan page.

A number of Confederate ships attempted to circumvent a Union Navy blockade of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. And some believe the wreckage may belong to the Monticello, a ship that burned and sank while trying to break the blockade during the war.
The Guardian (UK): Should Richard III - the last Yorkist king - be reburied in Yorkshire?
If the skeleton with a curved spine found beneath a Leicester car park is Richard III, where should he be buried? Martin Hickes reports on one group of enthusiasts with a very definite view

Doubt still remains as to whether the remains of a body found beneath a Leicester car park are those of the Plantagenet king Richard III, but debate is already beginning as to whether the last Yorkist monarch should be brought 'home'.

Mitochondrial DNA tests are about to be carried out on the skeleton, unearthed by a team from Leicester University and the Richard III Society. If the remains prove to be those of the long lost monarch, the next question will be: what to do with them?

Twitterers are already suggesting that the body should be given a State funeral. But where?

Two major organisations which have exhaustively researched and promoted the 'true' name and history of Richard, which they assert is at odds with the traditional Shakespearean 'evil hunchback' depiction, are expecting much debate at their forthcoming conferences.
University of North Dakota: Astrophysicist Tim Young, computer scientist Ron Marsh team up again to deliver Solar event video
November 6, 2012
Once again, the University of North Dakota's popular team of scientists is taking its show on the global road to astronomical adventure.

UND professors Timothy Young, Physics and Astrophysics, and Ronald Marsh, chair, Computer Science, will travel with their team to Cairns, Australia, to share a live webcast of a total solar eclipse. In addition to the video webcast, the UND team will acquire and post high-resolution digital photographs of the corona.

The eclipse begins at 2 p.m. U.S. Central Standard Time, Tuesday, Nov. 13. The webcast can be viewed at or on Facebook. The live webcast is also available on mobile devices.
Yes, I've posted this story already.  As I keep telling my readers, I'm an environmentalist; I recycle.

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