Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Babble, Sure. But Pointless? (Clarified/Corrected)

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, March 3 2010

There's a good chance that by now you've seen this post by Ben Smith, as it's burning up the Twitter -- somehow breaking through the clamor of aimless chitchat on the platform. The gist: a study by Wyeth Ruthven for the firm Qorvis Communications looked at the use of Twitter in the recent elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts (pdf). The finding that leaps out is that 40.55% of all tweets therein constituted "pointless babble."* (The video above is a recent interview with Ruthven on his study.)

"More than 40% Blather!" is a juicy confirmation of what we all might want to think of politicians and their silly Twitter habits. But it's worth considering what pointless babble means here. In the study, Ruthven glosses it as "off message tweets, personal observations not related to the campaign."On Twitter (natch!), he says that he borrowed the "technical term" from a study last August by Pear Analytics. Here's how Pear says they determined which tweets were pointless babble in their research, and which were more meaningful:

The criteria was this: the tweet did not have an “@”, “RT”, “via” or short URL in the tweet. If it met this, and did not appear to be useful to a large percentage of your visitors (more than 50%), then we put the tweet into this bucket.

"Useful" is an interesting way to categorize a tweet. We're going to outsource a bit of commentary to danah boyd, who tore into that Pear study when it came out:

I challenge each and every one of you to record every utterance that comes out of your mouth (and that of everyone you interact with) for an entire day...Now, turn all of your utterances over to an analytics firm so that they can code everything that you’ve said. I think that you’ll be lucky if only 40% of what you say constitutes “pointless babble” to a third party ear.

Pointless babble in the context of a political campaign is probably somewhat of a different beast than it is in regular life. After all, what a candidate says on the trail generally consists of repeated talking points and stump speeches. Matched up against non-Twitter campaign content, those "off message" tweets might actually look pretty good, nearly mimicking the behavior of actual humans. That said, Creigh Deeds did tweet a tremendous amount about what song he happened to be listening to in his car on the way to this or that campaign event. Talking Heads! Who knew?

Still, you probably want some Twitter data nuggets. Here are a few, quoted from the report:

  • @JonCorzine mentioned Obama 57 times on Twitter, compared with only 6 mentions by @CreighDeeds.
  • While media attention on the election focused on health care, other issues played a prominent role in the online campaign. Fiscal policy was the top issue featured in Scott Brown’s Twitter feed, while Martha Coakley highlighted her support of financial services reform.
  • Approximately one out of every three tweets by the [Jon] Corzine and Christie campaigns was a link to a campaign photo.
  • Unlike campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey, the Massachusetts Senate campaign used Twitter as a 2-way, conversational medium. Both Scott Brown and Martha Coakley used @ replies to engage their followers in conversation.

* Clarified/corrected: Ben Smith notes in an update that the report's reference to 40.55% pointless babble is a reference to an earlier study of the public Twitter timeline. More specific reference in the report, for example, put Creigh Deeds as 44.32% pointless babble, and Deeds' comm director at about 19% PB.

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

In Mexico, A Wiki Makes Corporate Secrets Public

Earlier this year the Latin American NGO Poder launched Quién Es Quién Wiki (Who's Who Wiki), a corporate transparency project more than two years in the making. The hope is that the platform will be the foundation for a citizen-led movement demanding transparency and accountability from businesses in Mexico. Data from Quién Es Quién Wiki is already helping community activists mobilize against foreign companies preparing to mine the mountains of the Sierra Norte de Puebla.

GO

thursday >

NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO

Responding to Ferguson, Activists Organize #NMOS14 Vigils Across America In Just 4 Days

This evening peaceful crowds will gather at more than 90 locations around the country to honor the victims of police brutality, most recently the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. A moment of silence will begin at 20 minutes past 7 p.m. (EST). The vigils are being organized almost entirely online by the writer and activist Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones), with help from others from around the country who have volunteered to coordinate a vigil in their communities. Organizing such a large event in only a few days is a challenge, but in addition to ironing out basic logistics, the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) organizers have had to deal with co-optation, misrepresentation, and Google Docs and Facebook pages that are, apparently, buckling under traffic.

GO

More