Twitter analysis reveals six distinct network types

Feb 24, 2014 by Tom Ventsias

People tweet about anything and everything, but a new Twitter analysis coauthored by University of Maryland computer scientist Ben Shneiderman shows much of this conversation falls into six distinct patterns or networks.

The study analyzed tens of thousands of Twitter conversations over the past four years to reveal a "topographical map" of these patterns—each showing identifiable contours—based on the topic being discussed, the information and influencers driving the conversation and the social network structures of the participants. These six networks are:

  • Polarized Crowds that often form around political topics and communicate very little with those holding opposing viewpoints;
  • Tight Crowds that share spaces of learning and passion;
  • Brand Clusters that form around products and celebrities;
  • Community Clusters created around global news, with popular topics developing multiple smaller groups;
  • Broadcast Network structures created by people re-tweeting commentary from pundits and breaking news; and
  • Support Network/customer service conversations that revolve around a singular source.

Shneiderman, a widely recognized pioneer in human-computer interaction and information visualization, co-authored the comprehensive new study with Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Internet Project, Marc A. Smith, director of the Social Media Research Foundation and Itai Himelboim, an assistant professor of telecommunications at the University of Georgia.

This work is the first of its kind according to Shneiderman, who also holds an appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies.

"There are already a number of academic papers that analyze the volume of tweets over time related to specific topics, and other research that gives good insight into sentiment analysis—the underlying message—of those tweets," he says. "What we've done doing is to provide a visual map of the Twitterverse that will ultimately help others to better interpret the trends, topics and implications of these new communication technologies."

Rainie says the study "gave us a way to take the digital equivalent of aerial photos of crowds while simultaneously listening to their conversations."

The researchers relied heavily on open-source software called NodeXL to interpret the data. Marc Smith led the initial development of this innovative software, but Shneiderman and his graduate students—many of them in the university's Human-Computer Interaction Lab—have contributed strongly to the analytical tool's use over the past six years.

NodeXL allows researchers to examine the interplay of tweets, retweets and the social networks of Twitter users—the people they follow and who follows them. It can also be used to study Facebook, Flickr, email, scientific citations and other network structures.

"This new field is emerging right before our eyes," Shneiderman says. "It could eventually have a large impact on our understanding of everything from health to community safety, from business innovation to citizen science, and from civic engagement to sustainable energy programs."

Explore further: Pew maps Twitter conversations, finds six types

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Pew maps Twitter conversations, finds six types

Feb 21, 2014

People take to Twitter to talk about everything from politics to breakfast to Justin Bieber in what feels like a chaotic stream of messages. So it may come as a surprise that the conversations on the short ...

Facebook, Twitter battle in 'real-time' arena

Sep 25, 2013

Want to see what people are saying online, right now, about the newest iPhone software? You could always search for "#iOS7" on Twitter. But now you can also click the same hashtag on Facebook.

Recommended for you

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

Apr 18, 2014

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

Apr 18, 2014

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

White House updating online privacy policy

Apr 18, 2014

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Hackers of Oman news agency target Bouteflika

Hackers on Sunday targeted the website of Oman's official news agency, singling out and mocking Algeria's newly re-elected president Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a handicapped "dictator".

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...