If you read nothing else, check out the last para: “If we keep seeing the same links and catchphrases ricocheting around our social networks, it might mean we are being exposed only to what we want to hear…You might say to yourself: ‘I am in a group where I am not getting any views other than the ones I agree with. I’m curious to know what else is out there,’”A message here for narrowly-focused campaign groups and the limitations of over-specialisation. Serendipity and trusted referrals can broaden your knowledge and enable you to discover new perspectives around your core interests.Amplify’d from www.nytimes.com
Hashtags — the community-driven shorthand used to identify conversation themes — like “icantdateyou” and “worstpickuplines” were vastly more popular a few days ago than ones like “Egyptians” or “jan25,” a reference to Day 1 of the Egyptian protests. In just one hour last Tuesday, “icantdateyou” racked up nearly 274,000 mentions on Twitter, with posts like “icantdateyou if all you wanna do is fuss” and “icantdateyou if you look like your brother.”
Alas, poor “Mubarak” rated fewer than 11,000 during the same hour. (Many Egyptians could not post on Twitter because their government had temporarily cut off most Internet and cellphone service.)
Sure, many of us are more inclined to toss off frivolous posts than politically charged ones. But a new study of hashtags offers some insight into how and why some topics become popular quickly online while others don’t.
People generally pass on the latest conversational idioms — like “cantlivewithout” or “dontyouhate” — the first few times they see them on Twitter, or they never adopt them at all, according to the study by computer scientists. The researchers analyzed the 500 most popular hashtags among more than three billion messages posted on Twitter from August 2009 to January 2010.
“Idioms are like a sugar rush,” explains Jon Kleinberg, a professor of computer science at Cornell and a co-author of the study. “You see it once, you either use it or you don’t, but the rush wears off.”
More contentious themes like politics take longer to catch on, the researchers found. People tend to wait until they have seen a more polarizing phrase — like “sarahpalin” or “hcr,” short for health care reform — four, five or six times on Twitter before posting it themselves.
We already know that people often influence one another’s behavior. That is the monkey-see-monkey-do premise behind advertising. And it may seem intuitive that different kinds of information spread differently on the Web.
Now, however, researchers at Cornell and a few other universities like Stanford are finding patterns in the way information catches on in cyberspace. Their models could be useful for politicians, social activists, news organizations, marketers, public relations teams and anyone else trying to reach their target audience — or market.
It turns out that the way information spreads online is often more complicated than viral transmission, in which one person passes a link to, say, a YouTube video directly to another person. As with political topics, people often wait until a number of friends or trusted sources have promoted an idea before promulgating it themselves.
The structure of a social network — for example, whether it is made up of close friends and colleagues or of like-minded strangers who follow Lady Gaga — can have more influence than the size of a group, researchers say.
In real-world terms, that means designers of iPhone apps may be better off trying to get a plug from a leading technology blogger than from Ashton Kutcher, even though Mr. Kutcher has more than six million followers on Twitter. A smaller, more connected network might be more likely to respond to a recommendation from one of its own valued members, says Jure Leskovec, an assistant professor of computer science at Stanford.
In one recent study, for example, Professor Leskovec and a colleague analyzed a set of more than 170 million blog posts and news articles over a one-year period. They identified the thousand most popular phrases in the material and examined how those phrases spread over time via news agencies, newspapers, television and blogs. Content from news agencies tended to spike and gain the most attention immediately, while news that started on blogs or was picked up by bloggers often experienced several peaks or rebounds in popularity as time wore on.
An earlier Stanford study found that bloggers, over time, had more influence than mainstream publications in areas like technology or entertainment.
Professor Leskovec says the studies provide a quantitative way to predict which stories will hold attention and which will fade rapidly, based on who covers the material first. In a few years, he says, “we will be at the stage where marketers will be more mathematical and less intuition-driven.”
The research seems to validate the techniques that many industry experts are already using, says Sunil Gupta, a professor at the Harvard Business School who teaches digital marketing. Marketers are moving from an intrusion strategy of running ads in the middle of TV programs to a more cooperative model in which they try to stimulate discussion across social networks. Automakers that loan next year’s car models to influential car bloggers to test drive are just one example, he says.
“In the traditional world, marketing used to focus on the middle part of the bell curve and reaching out to them,” Professor Gupta says. “Now, the way to reach out to the middle part is through the extreme ends of the curve.” Those extremes, he says, include vocal detractors as well as ardent fans.
But the leaders of online packs aren’t necessarily happy about being emulated, he found in a 2009 study of Cyworld, a social networking site in South Korea where millions of members can buy virtual décor for their home pages.
He found that its members of middling status — having a modest number of social connections — bought more products based on friends’ purchases. But the most active, most connected users made fewer purchases. In other words, influencers value their uniqueness and often resist peer influence.
SO what does all this mean for you and me?
If we keep seeing the same links and catchphrases ricocheting around our social networks, it might mean we are being exposed only to what we want to hear, says Damon Centola, an assistant professor of economic sociology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“You might say to yourself: ‘I am in a group where I am not getting any views other than the ones I agree with. I’m curious to know what else is out there,’” Professor Centola says.
Consider a new hashtag: diversity.
In a way, comforting to know that I’m addressing the right problems with the Knowledge Hub project (http://www.local.gov.uk/knowledgehub). This will integrate data and conversations from many thousands of sources (website feeds, blogs twitter); aggregating the content into common memes, and filtering according to personal profiles. In other words, you get to see more of what you WANT to see and less of the stuff that is irrelevant to you. Beta release this April.
A useful article about Quora. I’m still trying to make up my mind about it. I started using the service about 2 weeks ago, since when I’ve asked one question (currently not answered) and responded to three questions. However, I’ve started to follow several other q & a threads which I’ve found quite informative. I can’t see it having the same mass appeal as Twitter, and users seem far more intense and serious. But on the other hand I don’t see as much inane drivel as I do on many Twitter conversations (with apologies to all the good Tweeters….but if the cap fits….etc.)Amplify’d from www.time.com
With websites, as with bands and restaurants, few things feel as good as discovering the next big thing before it gets big. If you were on Twitter back in 2007, for instance, you got in when the service still felt like a cool private club — long before Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and millions of their admirers moved in. If you belonged to Facebook before mid-2004, you were used to being part of an elite class: only students at Ivy League schools and Stanford were eligible for membership.
Today, there’s Quora. Founded by two former Facebook bigwigs and opened to the public in June 2010, the Q&A site isn’t yet a household name. But it has a feeling of hip exclusivity and impending greatness that’s reminiscent of early Twitter and Facebook. Silicon Valley überblog TechCrunch is already covering the service so obsessively that the comments on its Quora posts are rife with pleas from readers begging it to take it down a notch. (See “Your Best E-Reader May Be No E-Reader.”)
Like many Web 2.0 services, Quora isn’t so much a new idea as a fresh take on a leftover concept from the Web 1.0 era — it’s a spiritual descendant of long-forgotten 1990s start-ups such as Abuzz, AskMe and Keen. You can post questions and answers on any topic and search for ones that have already been posted, from the mundane (“When did Steve Ballmer become CEO of Microsoft?”) to the metaphysical (“Why do people lie?”). As with Twitter, you can follow other members (as well as specific questions); as with Digg, everyone can vote answers up or down, so the best responses are easy to spot and the worst ones stay out of the way.
Nothing extraordinary about any of that. So why is Quora attracting so much attention? It’s the community. On an Internet that can feel as if it’s inhabited largely by belligerent know-nothings, Quora is a place where the average citizen is an intelligent, well-informed person — and where, in a Lake Wobegon–like effect, most everybody seems to be above average. If you ask a question about a particular Web start-up, odds are that you’ll get one or more thoughtful replies. And it won’t be the least bit startling if one of them comes from a founder of the company in question.
Even if your questions don’t get good answers — some of my queries have been ignored, period — reading other users’ conversations is addictive. In one example that’s the stuff of legend among Quora enthusiasts, a member asked how much AOL spent to send out the zillions of trial-software CDs it distributed in the 1990s. The closest thing to an answer that person got was the less-than-definitive “over $300 million.” But among the respondents were AOL founder Steve Case and Jan Brandt, the marketing executive who came up with the idea of carpet-bombing the country with sign-up discs in the first place. Both gave personal looks at a topic they know better than anyone else. (See the 100 best gadgets of all time.)
You don’t have to be a geek to love Quora, but it helps. For one thing, its interface is impenetrable—I’ve been using it for months, and I still feel like a clueless newbie at times. Right now, it’s saying I have 1,010 notifications, 899 items related to me, 97 items on my home page and one message in my inbox. I’m darned if I can remember the distinctions among them. For another, Quora — which is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., not far from Facebook headquarters — is still dominated by chatter of interest to tech-start-up types. So much of the fodder is Silicon Valley–centric that I’m startled when someone recommends a restaurant or other local business and it turns out it’s not in the Bay Area. (Comment on this story.)
For Quora to have the lasting impact of a Twitter or Facebook, it needs to appeal to the masses. It’s tough, though, to imagine the service welcoming an influx of millions of new users while retaining its cozy, smart feel. If you believe there’s no such thing as a dumb question, you haven’t spent much time on the big Q&A sites. The quality of the conversation at Aardvark, another such service that once seemed full of potential (and which is now part of Google) has been suffering lately. As I was writing this column, it sent me this important missive from a user: “Can someone tell me what is the time right now?” And on Ask.com — which recently announced it would de-emphasize its venerable search engine and focus on questions and answers — one of the most popular questions at the moment is “Can penguins fly?” (See 10 start-ups that will change your life.)
Still, it’s not unthinkable that Quora could both get big and stay good. Twitter was once just as cryptic and insidery, and it’s managed to grow with surprising grace. (If you don’t want to interact with the Gaga freaks and Bieberites, don’t follow them, and they’ll be all but invisible.) I’m sure rooting for Quora — and if you’re a fan of Web services that are bursting with potential, so should you.
A super new Twitterverse infographic from Brian Solis. Also available as a poster (fee required) at http://www.theconversationprism.com/store/
Which one are you? Maybe also ask your network…they may disagree with your self-assment!
Like it or not, we have another social network to embrace in Apple’s Ping. The good news is that it integrates with other networks, except (as usual) Facebook, which continues down it’s own information cul de sac. I haven’t tried Ping yet, but it is installed on my version of iTunes so will give it a whirl. I guess we can anticipate a significant burst in (trivial) Twitter traffic as we discover what music the people we follow are listening to. Oh joy!Amplify’d from www.blackweb20.com
Back in September, everyone gasped as Apple launched the social network Ping, built inside of iTunes. Of course, the excitement quickly dissipated as everyone realized Ping wasn’t social at all. It was an information silo and didn’t even appear ready for the masses. Facebook and Apple even got into it, resulting in Facebook blocking Ping from full integrating with Facebook. A block that is still in place to this day.
All is not lost, though. Ping is finally starting to show itself to be somewhat social and possibly even useful with deep Twitter integration. From the Twitter Blog:
Starting today Ping, iTunes’ new social network for music, and Twitter are making it even easier for people to share music discoveries with their friends by putting Ping activity, song previews and links to purchase and download music from the iTunes Store right in their Tweets on Twitter.com.
The integration goes both ways. Once you connect your Twitter account to Ping, your activities in Ping will be automatically tweeted to your Twitter followers. I put “automatically” in bold to remind you to check your settings in iTunes and adjust accordingly. You may not want every minute activity you do broadcasted to Twitter.
On the Twitter end, these tweets from Ping will include special links that show you more detail about the song or album right alongside your Twitter stream. You can view the details and even play previews without leaving the Twitter website. I knew this new Twitter was going to end up being useful for something.
What do you think about Twitter integration in Ping? Will it prompt you to give Ping another look? Are you already using Ping? Tell us about it.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised that this ‘fans’ vs. ‘followers’ debate centres around company brands and sales penetration. The social and collaboration aspects don’t even get a mention, yet this is surely the main reason that people use these networks. There is a value to knowledge sharing – perhaps not always tangible – but potentially far more rewarding for users than being a ‘fan’ on Nike’s fan page. I’d much prefer to see some useful analysis of fans vs. followers from the pure social networking perspective. Point me at the article if there is something out there.