Who Says What to Whom on Twitter
March 9th, 2011

Duncan Watts is the keynote speaker at SES New York on March 22. Along with Steven Strogatz, Watts discovered small world networks, explaining among many things, why we are all separated by about six degrees. SES is about search engine optimization (SEO), which is about how to affect relationships in networks. Watts is superbly qualified to tell this audience important foundational stuff.

Watts is now Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo! As a true believer that network theory holds many important lessons for smart mobby thinkers, I felt triumphant when clicking from the SES Watts page to his Yahoo! bio led to his articles involving Yahoo! — which is, after all, a network.

The following is the Abstract of an article by four Yahoo!Research authors, including Duncan Watts, titled “Who Says What to Whom on Twitter.” The full article can be downloaded as a PDF on the abstract page.

We study several longstanding questions in media communications research, in the context of the microblogging service Twitter, regarding the production, flow, and consumption of information. To do so, we exploit a recently introduced feature of Twitter—known as Twitter lists—to distinguish between elite users, by which we mean specifically celebrities, bloggers, and representatives of media outlets and other formal organizations, and ordinary users. Based on this classification, we find a striking concentration of attention on Twitter—roughly 50% of tweets consumed are generated by just 20K elite users—where the media produces the most information, but celebrities are the most followed. We also find significant homophily within categories: celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers etc; however, bloggers in general rebroadcast more information than the other categories. Next we re-examine the classical “two-step flow” theory of communications, finding considerable support for it on Twitter, but also some interesting differences. Third, we find that URLs broadcast by different categories of users or containing different types of content exhibit systematically different lifespans. And finally, we examine the attention paid by the different user categories to different news topics.

There are many more recent articles by Duncan Watts on his page in Yahoo! Research.

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