Conversational aspects of retweeting..

Some of you may have heard of Danah Boyd before, she’s a fairly well known researcher in all this new media malarky. When I was doing my dissertation a few years back now on social networking and it’s value to business, I got in touch and asked her a few questions. This was before that thing called Twitter, which everyone talks about now. My research focussed partly on how people and brands were using Facebook and considering it was for an academic piece of research for University, it was something I actually quite enjoyed doing.

Now, I’m living and breathing it all daily and Danah is part of the research team in New England at Microsoft and has written a hugely scientific yet interesting and informative paper on the conversational aspects of retweeting. It’s currently in draft form with the finished copy to be published in January 2010, yet still already spans 11 pages. The other researchers involved are Scott Golder and Gilad Lotan.

The report is based on analysis of over over 700,000 tweets (440,000 or so users), taken in samples of five minute chunks between January and June 2006. This, I feel is a problem when undertaking such research. Because of the enormity of the numbers, it is expected that this kinda thing isn’t conducted and written over night. However, samples taken in 2006 will have only been focussing on the VERY early adopters. Usage patterns will have changed since then. Although I signed up on Twitter in April 2007, it wasn’t until mid to late 2008 that I really started using and understanding the service. My uses, habits and processes for using Twitter have changed since then. It’s impossible to be able to follow everyone back now for starters and I now use services like Twitterfeed which pushes new posts out that I publish here on to Twitter. It’s a lot deeper than a simple Facebook status update (which is what most compare it to who haven’t tried it out).

If ever you wondered why people retweet and what they do it for, wonder no longer!

Highly recommend checking out the rest of it here and also follow Danah on Twitter here. Scott is @redlog and Gilad is @gilgul.

A few quick facts from the research via Antony Mayfield:

  • 36% of tweets mention a user in the form ‘@user’
  • 5% of tweets contain a hashtag (#)
  • 22% of tweets include a URL (’http’)
  • 3% of tweets are likely to be retweets in that they contain ‘RT’, ‘retweet’ and/or ‘via’
  • 9% of retweets include the users own handle – dubbed “ego retweets” (though as Antony notes, the paper acknowledges sometimes this can be “a way of giving credit” or saying thank you.)
  • ‘RT’ is very much the predominant form, with 88% of the retweets using this (Tweetie please take note and change your app’s retweet function).

2 Replies to “Conversational aspects of retweeting..”

  1. This is a great link, Litman. I’m inclined disagree with the assertion in the paper that there’s no established convention for retweeting – though my personal sample size is certainly smaller than theirs, it seems to me that “RT @username tweet” is fairly uniform. The only thing that breaks it is Tweetie’s built-in syntax of “tweet (via @username)”.

    I’d love to see a sort of sociological/historical study of how re-tweeting came about and rose to prominence. It’s not a supported feature (yet) but it’s ubiquitous. The first question people tend to ask me when I introduce them to twitter is “what’s RT?”

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