You're Talking a Lot, But You're Not Saying Anything

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How does commentary affect the world around us?

Too Temporary? Why Comments May Not Be All They’re Cracked Up To Be

Commentary is crucial, but it can also be ephemeral. There have been numerous instances of late–Iran elections/Neda, Farrah Fawcett’s death (quickly usurped by Michael Jackson’s death), Walter Cronkite’s death, and so on–that have attracted huge numbers of online comments or, specifically, tweets. However, what’s the power of that commentary, if it’s not harnessed? Does it just fade away and become irrelevant? Or could there be something to tracking and talking about it in more detail?

ReadWriteWeb recently analyzed Iran commentary, attempting to put the commentary into specific groups. Clusters are identified around Ahmadinejad, Khameni, Basij, and other topics; RWW says the research indicates comments moved “from a dispute over the election process involving Ahmadinejad (shown in pink) to a dispute over authority involving the supreme leader Khamenei (shown in red).”

This kind of comment compartmentalization could potentially be valuable. Right now, Twitter can tell us trending topics–but there are more and more services developing that tell you even more about said topics. Some of these come in the form of group-based services (such as Tweetizen) that allow you to form a group of topics that might interest you, while others report data ranging from number of tweets on topics to what those topics actually mean (a godsend for those confused by acronyms that rise to the top of the trends). Tweets, more then blog comments–probably primarily because of their more standardized form and platform–are easily analyzed for content and meaning.

Not only that, they are easily shared. Perhaps one of the best, or at least favorite (for many folks), features of Twitter is the ability to “retweet” tweets that users find funny, informative, or just plain interesting. In retweeting, a comment (in the form of a tweet) gains additional influence and shelf life. In theory (though not often in practice), a phenomenal tweet’s significance could linger on indefinitely as it is retweeted by person after person who finds the information important. In practice, retweets spread surprisingly rapidly, likely due to the very instantaneous nature of Twitter.

As RWW puts it, “Twitter allows these social structures to become data structures by means of the ‘RT’ convention. And this in turn allows us to perform extremely powerful computations on the social structures that underlie the flow of information.” Analysis of tweets may seem inane, but it may actually be the future. The power of Twitter is the power of analysis–and the analysis of data is just as important as the sharing of it.

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Filed under: Commentary, Retweeting, Twitter

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