Why We Twitter
A new paper from Akshay Java, Xiaodan Song, Tim Finin, and Belle Tseng at the University of Maryland aims to tackle one of the great existential mysteries of our time: the appeal of microblogging service Twitter.
The researchers analysed a total of 1,348,543 posts from 76,177 distinct users. Four common uses were identified, described as:
Daily Chatter Most posts on Twitter talk about daily routine or what people are currently doing. This is the largest and most common user of Twitter
Conversations In Twitter, since there is no direct way for people to comment or reply to their friend’s posts, early adopters started using the @ symbol followed by a username for replies. About one eighth of all posts
in the collection contain a conversation and this form of communication was used by almost 21% of users in the collection.
Sharing information/URLs About 13% of all the posts in the collection contain some URL in them. Due to the small character limit a URL shortening service like TinyURL is frequently used to make this feature feasible.
Reporting news Many users report latest news or comment about current events on Twitter. Some automated users or agents post updates like weather reports and new stories from RSS feeds. This is an interesting application of Twitter that has evolved due to easy access to the developer API.
The researchers also identified three types of Twitter user: the information source, who might post rarely, but amasses followers because of the perceived importance of what they say; friends, a broad category that ranges from co-workers to family members; and information gatherers, who post rarely themselves but follow other users regularly.
The research acknowledges that individuals might use the service with multiple intentions and thus also play multiple roles as users. The confusion and difficulties that might arise out of this leads the authors to suggest:
…we believe that the ability to categorize friends into groups (e.g. family, co-workers) would greatly benefit the adoption of microblogging platforms. In addition features that could help facilitate conversations and sharing news would be beneficial.