Darwin’s Theory Pervades Twitter Too
via The Atlantic:
In a new paper entitled Competition Among Memes in a World With Limited Attention, Indiana University researchers Lillian Weng, Alessando Flammini, Alessando Vespignani, and Filippo Menczer analyzed 120 million retweets connected to 12.5 million users and 1.3 million hashtags in order to model how information (as discrete units, or memes) disperses on the social network.
What did they find? According to co-author Vespignani, having millions of followers does not denote an important message. Rather, the messages with the most immediate relevance tend to have a higher probability of resonating within a certain network than others. Think of it as “survival of the fittest” for information: those tweets that capture the most attention, whether related to a major geopolitical or news event or a particular interest, are likely to persist longer. This competition sounds bad, but it’s generally good for messages in general: thousands of tweets about Japan’s 2011 earthquake or the ongoing conflict in Syria don’t cancel each other out, but help refocus the attention of the wider Twitter audience on those issues, which in turn provides an added lift to individual messages over other off-topic ones.
The study reinforces what most journalists and marketers have known intuitively for some time now: that piggybacking on the trending ideas that constitute “the conversation” online maximizes the ability to spread tweet-sized ideas. Where people fit into preexisting networks certainly matters: Ashton Kutcher’s millions of followers represent a powerful hub of connections. But could Mr. Kutcher’s messages about Nikon’s new camera overwhelm hundreds of tweets about Trayvon Martin from hundreds of smaller, less-connected individuals? The research suggests that it doesn’t fully matter who you are or how many connections you have, but what you’re saying relative to the existing conversation is what really matters in spreading knowledge online.
FJP: Though not a shocking revelation, it does feel nice to see research support the power of Twitter.