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

N. Korea suffers another Internet shutdown

Dec 27, 2014

North Korea suffered an Internet shutdown for at least two hours on Saturday, Chinese state-media and cyber experts said, after Pyongyang blamed Washington for an online blackout earlier this week.

Streaming release of 'Interview' test for industry

Dec 25, 2014

Sony's "The Interview" has been a hacking target, a punchline and a political lightning rod. Now, with its release online at the same time it debuts in theaters, it has a new role: a test for a new kind of ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.