Telling stories from tweets is about more than time and number

A couple years ago, a big event would happen and Twitter would tell the world how many tweets it generated per minute or per second. It was a useful, but not particularly illustrative metric. Today, the company is trying a lot more things in order to help people make sense of what’s happening on the social network.

In a session at our Roadmap conference on Tuesday, Twitter data editor Simon Rogers walked through some of those approaches. They included watching the sun rise virtually by visualizing the time and location of tweets mentioning “sunrise,” and showing how visualizing tweets by geolocation can paint an accurate map of the United States — down to the level of large roads and even the Staten Island ferry.

But the most promising aspects of Twitter’s attempts to do something useful with its data might be those that go beyond simply mapping who is tweeting where and when. Rogers showed a tool that let users analyze each paragraph of the president’s State of the Union address by which ideas generated the most activity and in which states. He demonstrated an internal project to figure out how athletes from different sports talk to one another (mixed martial artists, it turns out, have a wide breadth of conversations) but that could be expanded to different groups of people relatively easily.

It’s not always easy to find the right analyses to run or ways to visualize them, Rogers acknowledged, but there’s definitely value when a project is successful. “We’re taking this really messy data,” he said, “… and trying to give it some certainly and some form and trying to get it to tell a story.”

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