Data + Design Project

How The New York Times Tracks Twitter Secrets in 3D

Monday 01.02.2012 , Posted by

For those of us that use Twitter, it’s an often mysterious and intangible process that happens once we hit the “tweet” button and our 140 character expression is launched out to the web universe. What is the impact of a single tweet? Who hears our message and who shares it? Where does it travel once it has left our hands? These and other questions have been difficult to visualize, considering Twitters rather slippery nature… until now, when the New York Times R&D Lab has been perfecting a system they call Cascade.

The first-of-its-kind tool links browsing behavior on the site to sharing activity, building a highly detailed and explorable picture of what happens once a tweet is released into the wild. Using a number of detailed visualizations, including a beautiful and surprisingly useful 3D view, Cascade tracks how messages propagate across the social media universe. Each Cascade is created beginning with one event, the resulting information can then be seen from a number of views, each with their own focus and advantage. As well as being able to zoom closer to see detailed information about individual tweets, complex results can be filtered to show what is important.

SEE ALSO: Google+ Shows the Ripples in the Social Pond

The still in R&D tool has already been making some interesting discoveries. Tweets from high profile users may actually have less impact than those from their followers. Maybe when people see a tweet from Ashton Kutcher, they assume it’s already been seen by everyone else. Also, tweets may not be as fleeting as they seem; even after a tweet has been dormant for a few days it can still gain a further boost of interest.

The tool could answer many of our burning twitter questions. How does the time of day or day of the week effect the impact of a tweet? How much of a conversation happens in 140 characters? What effect does shortening a url have on the story and how it spreads? For the New York Times, now at odds with a world of quickly expanding online media, this tool could help to answer the most important question they ask: how can the Times use this information to expand its impact in the conversation?

Mentions of the NYT article The Flimflam Man on Twitter, in 3D view. Click image for a larger view.

America Goes Dark Click image for a larger view.

A Break From Work Is Healthy (even if it’s the Lords Work) Click image for a larger view.


Benjamin Starr

Written by Benjamin Starr

Known in some circles as the most amazing man in the universe, he once saved an entire family of muskrats from a sinking, fire engulfed steamboat while recovering from two broken arms relating to a botched no-chute wingsuit landing in North Korea. When not impressing people with his humbling humility, he can be found freelance writing, finding shiny objects on the internet, enjoying the company of much-appreciated friends and living out his nomadic nature. He is Managing Editor of Visual News. Follow his movements on Twitter:

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