Tag Archives: research

Why don’t more tweets get @replies or retweets?

As Jennifer Van Grove wrote at Mashable yesterday, “research shows that 71% of all tweets produce no reaction — in replies or retweets — which suggests an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears.”

Sysomos, maker of social media analysis tools, looked at 1.2 billion tweets over a two-month period to analyze what happens after we publish our tweets to Twitter. Its research shows that 71% of all tweets produce no reaction — in the form of replies or retweets — which suggests that an overwhelming majority of our tweets fall on deaf ears.

Sysomos findings also highlight that retweets are especially hard to come by — only 6% of all tweets produce a retweet (the other 23% solicit replies).

I’ll admit, this doesn’t shock me, based upon my experience over the years.

Many of my tweets are retweeted but then I have above-average reach at @digiphile and engaged followers.

I know I’m an outlier in many respects there, and that the community that I follow and interact with likely is as well.

This research backs that anecdotal observation up: people are consuming information rather than actively interacting with it. But my own experience doesn’t gibe with that greater truth, and that’s why I chimed in, even though I know it may expose me to more of my friend Jack Loftus‘ withering snark. (If you don’t read him at Gizmodo you’re missing out.)

Why Don’t People @Reply more?

So what’s going on? I have a couple of theories. The first is that @replies are much like comments. Most people don’t make either. Even though social networking has shifted many, many more people into a content production role through making status updates to Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare (and now perhaps LinkedIn), the 90-9-1 rule or 1% rule still appears to matter most of the social Web. Participation inequality is not a new phenomenon.

That scope of that online history suggests that the behaviors of yesteryear aren’t completely subsumed by the explosion of a more social Web. Twitter and Facebook do appear to have diminished long form blogging activity or comments on posts, as netizens have moved their meta commentary to external social networks. And even there, recent Forrester research suggest that social networking users are creating less content.

In other words, it’s not that Facebook or Twitter sucks, it’s that human behavior is at issue.

It’s not that Twitter or its employees or developers per se are at fault, though you can see where, for example, Quora or Vark are expressly designed to create question and answer threads.

It’s that, for better or worse, the culture of the people using Twitter is expressed in how they use it, including the choice to reply, RT or otherwise engage.

If the service is going to grow into an “information utility” and become a meaningful venue with respect to citizen engagement with government, the evolution of #NewTwitter may need to add better mechanisms to encourage that interaction.

So is Twitter useful?

As Tom Webster pointed out at his blog [Hat tip to @Ed]:

As a researcher, if I were writing this headline, I would have written it thusly: “Nearly 3 in 10 Tweets Provoke A Reaction.”

I follow about 3,000 people on Twitter. If we assume that this lot posts five tweets per week (a conservative figure), that’s 15,000 tweets I could see in a given week, were I to never peel my eyes away from Tweetdeck. The Sysomos data suggests that of those 15,000 tweets, 4,350 were replied to or at least retweeted. See, I think that’s actually a big number.

In other words, 29% of tweets do get a response. That’s better than the direct mail or email marketing, as far as I know. I don’t expect a response from every tweet, though I’ve been guilty of that expectation in past years. That’s why I often ask the same question more than once now, or tweet stories again, or why I’ll syndicate a given post, video or picture into multiple networks.

I continue to find Twitter a useful tool for my profession. While inbound Web traffic from Twitter is negligible when compared to Google, Facebook, StumpleUpon or even Fark, I’ve found it useful for sourcing, sentiment analysis, Q&A, a directory, a direct line to officials and executives, and of course for distributing my writing. Twitter may not be essential in the same sense that a cellphone, camera, notebook and an Internet connection are in my work but I’ve found it to be a valuable complement to those tools. I’ve definitely sourced stories, gathered advice or recommendations through crowdsourcing questions there, with far less effort than more traditional means.

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Filed under blogging, government 2.0, microsharing, research, social bookmarking, social media, technology, Twitter

Why including women matters for the future of technology and society

The Women of ENIAC

The "Women of ENIAC." For their history, read "Programming the ENIAC."

Some issues trigger a deeper response than others within communities. In the technology world, the education, opportunities and inclusion of women holds unusual resonance.

In the U.S., as Nick Kristof wrote, “schoolgirls are leaving boys behind in the dust.” After graduation, the narrative evolves further. As Claire Cain Miller wrote in the New York Times on Friday, “women now outnumber men at elite colleges, law schools, medical schools and in the overall work force. Yet a stark imbalance of the sexes persists in the high-tech world, where change typically happens at breakneck speed.”

Why the disparity in the world of Silicon Valley startups, venture capital and high technology? Why are so few women in Silicon Valley?

At least some of the issue runs deep, far back into the educational system. As Miller writes:

That attitude is prevalent among young women. Girls begin to turn away from math and science in elementary school, because of discouragement from parents, underresourced teachers and their own lack of interest and exposure, according to a recent report by theAnita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and the Computer Science Teachers Association.

Just 1 percent of girls taking the SAT in 2009 said they wanted to major in computer or information sciences, compared with 5 percent of boys, according to the College Board.

Only 18 percent of college students graduating with computer science degrees in 2008 were women, down from 37 percent in 1985, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

So what can be done? How could including women in FOO Camp or making a list of women in tech or unconferences matter?

As computer scientist Hillary Mason tweeted tonight, “We don’t need affirmative action. We need meaningful culture change and support.”

Based upon the research a colleague gathered tonight, some actions could make an important difference in three ways:

(1) It’s good for men. Inclusion of women and minorities reduce stereotypes, and promotes second-order reflection on latent stereotypes, by providing real, first-hand experience. (Mahzarin R. Banaji and Curtis D. Hardin, Automatic Stereotyping, 7(3) Psychol. Sci. 136-41 (May 1996).)

This leads to better, more accurate evaluation of people’s work – because when people unconsciously use stereotypes, they mis-evaluate work. For example women’s presence in high-level orchestras basically doubled once auditions started to be done gender-blind, focusing only on the music.
(Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse, Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians, 90(4) American Econ. Rev. 715-41 (2000).)

(2) It’s good for women. The absence of women (or very low numbers of women) signals to women that they aren’t welcome or don’t belong, which can in turn cause them to leave the field or choose not to enter it in the first place. (William T. Bielby, Minimizing Workplace Gender and Racial Bias, 29(1) Contemporary Soc. 120-29 (2000))

Research also suggests that when women are invited to the table, they have more energy free to do good work, instead of using half their energy just breaking down the door. Reducing cognitive load on subjects who have to work to overcome stereotypes is not a minor factor.

(3) It’s good for business & technology. Whatever the vertical, the entire industry benefits when the best work is being created and presented. As Miller writes:

Analysts say it makes a difference when women are in the garages where tech start-ups are founded or the boardrooms where they are funded. Studies have found that teams with both women and men are more profitable and innovative. Mixed-gender teams have produced information technology patents that are cited 26 percent to 42 percent more often than the norm, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

In a study analyzing the relationship between the composition of corporate boards and financial performance, Catalyst, a research organization on women and business, found a greater return on investment, equity and sales in I.T. companies that have directors who are women.

The number of senior women doing major research and running labs in traditionally male-dominated fields like physics also offers insight into how efforts to include women can lead to merit-based selection across the broadest set of the best candidates. For instance, consider Lisa Randall, one of the most cited theoretical physicists of the last half-decade. Or Marissa Mayer, a senior Google exec who, as Miller wrote, many women she interviewed cited as “someone who gives them hope.”

Where to learn more

I don’t believe that most people are consciously biased, nor that they intend to be biased. Research into implicit bias suggests, however, that the most pervasive forms of bias are unconscious. Those biases can have tremendous effects on how we evaluate others, mostly to our own detriment – but also to our communities and industries.

Does the issue of women in tech matter to the bottom line? Miller’s reporting suggests that’s so:

Studies have found that teams with both women and men are more profitable and innovative. Mixed-gender teams have produced information technology patents that are cited 26 percent to 42 percent more often than the norm, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

In a study analyzing the relationship between the composition of corporate boards and financial performance, Catalyst, a research organization on women and business, found a greater return on investment, equity and sales in I.T. companies that have directors who are women.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of conferences, groups and networks that celebrate and honor women in technology, including:

O’Reilly Community also features an excellent series of essays on women in tech. For the fascinating story of how women were involved in “hacking” the world’s first programmable computer, pictured at the top of this post), read ENIACprogrammers.org. And the recent Ada Lovelace Day listed dozens of inspirational women who are innovators, inventors and educators.

Finally, Nick Kristof has done the world a mitzvah by writing eloquently about womens’ rights in his most recent book, “Half the Sky.” Learn more at HalfTheSkyMovement.org.

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dana boyd on social media evolution and digital ethnography

facebook myspace orkut bebo linkedin
Image by .Andy Chang. via Flickr

dana boyd kicked off a discussion on the ROI of social media in Cambridge with a rapid-fire, necessarily abridged keynote on the history of social networks and their associated digital ethnographies in the United States. dana boyd presented on her research (available at zephoria.org/thoughts). A longer version of her presentation. “Living and Learning with Social Media,” is available online, though without the pretty pictures.

Her first point is that social media isn’t new, either as a concept or platform. It’s just part of a broader part of Web 2.0. She framed Web 2.0 for different audiences in the following ways:

  • For the tech crowd, Web 2.0 is “about a change in development and deployment; constant innovation; perpetual beta; open source/real time”
  • For the business crowd, “it’s about hope. Emerged from bust. Bubble 2.0 followed.”
  • For users: “It’s about organizing communication around friends, communities of interest. Boundaries became blurred.”

One clear distinction boyd made was between social network websites and social networking sites. The former are distinctly not about finding jobs; they’re about finding communities of interest. When rhetorically discussing how social network sites gained traction in the US, boyd cited the network effects created by these self-organizing communities of interest.

When she looked back at the history of these communities, she started with Friendster. (Paul Gillin noted Classmates.com as the first in “Why people love social networks“earlier this week). Friendster, as boyd noted, was designed to be online dating. The three original demographics that populated it were gay men, the “digerati,” and 20-something hipsters that cycle around the playa — aka “burners” at Burning Man.

The trouble Friendster’s leadership found is that “Fakesters started popping up.” These fake profiles, of bands, places or really anything that wasn’t an authentic person with a personal profile, were seen as polluting the community — at least by Friendster’s leadership. They tried to stop it and were faced by a  rebellion. The infusion of Fakesters was followed by another wave: indie rock bands that wanted to connect with fan. Both, in boyd’s words,’ fueled the ire of Friendster and were encouraged to leave. And, in quick order, the early adopters left, moving to Tribe.net or, in the case of those musicians, to Myspace.

Facebook’s introduction followed soon there after, growing meteorically since then, alongside of MySpace. As Boyd noted, however, along with that growth came a series of “digital panics” over culture and risk as embodied in these social networks.

The assumption tended to be that MySpace was about social deviance and sexual meetups, an image that was fueled by sensational reports of sexual predators and exploited teends in the media. Part of this was a division of between Facebook and MySpace in the US that boyd had famously written about in “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace” and her subsequent response. Boyd’s dissertation, “Taken out of context,” deals with precisely this issue.

The castes and tribes called out aesthetic differences between the two massive social networks but, as boyd pointed out this was about class. As played out in media, this lens shaped how we understood them, though the websites were functionally and practically quite similar.

For those look for ways looking for ways, to measure the utility or effectives of social networks, Zephoria suggests measuring network density. Look at the activity of clusters. Look at stickiness. If someone is using it but none of his or her friends are, they aren’t likely to stick around. Look for way to measure the health of the community – not just individuals.

When discussing the differences betwen adults and teens, boyd sees fundamentally different cultural, socioeconomic and power structures in play. Teen conversations can look inane from the outside — at best. boyd suggests thinking of them as hallway conversations, part of the process of “digital social grooming.” As she notes, you can have isolated kids in the corner offline too. Wall posts on Facebook are, in her eyes, simply forms of ritualistic hallway talk.

As knowledge workers joined Facebook, they started hanging out with friends — but what they did there was fundamentally different than the teens. Adult are much more likely to create status messages that broadcast outwards, while their “About me” sections are basically resumes, rarely offering up to date bits. Teens are more likely to include what they want friends to know about now.

boyd also noted they way that social media is shifting, including the relevant demographic. The median age of Twitter, for instance, is 31 and shifting higher. Teens aren’t engaging with the site at all. As boyd wryly noted, “for some reason, it’s more the Demi Moore” crowd.

Why? It may be an issue of power, which teens generally don’t have with respect to US society, especially with respect to building digital tools themselves. All of us care about how searchable we are, particularly with respect to the about people who have power searching for data, like law enforcement, potential bosses or academic institutions. We haven’t always been searchable, a reality that boyd put a geeky spin on when she noted that “Mom would have loved to be able to write “grep” or “find” to track me down as a kid.”

Virtual worlds didn’t escape notice. When asked about how social network mixed, boyd first refined the question: “anything that allows us to create social space w/avatars” vs 3D immersive online environments. She noted that teenagers aren’t using Second Life but are using console or online gaming environments to escape and have fun. Such world necessarily require real-time synchronous interaction, which is quite powerful for those who can get online at the same time to play, say, World of Warcraft.

Given that mobile phones are still the number one way to get online, however, there are inherent limits. (That could change if WoW really does work well on the iPhone). Virtual worlds therefore require “dumbing down” or different access patterns. And, in fact, boyd said that “70% of teenagers share the password for their social networking sites with their friends” so that their virtual identities could be curated by others. For the security-minded, this is of course anathema, but for a teenage member of a digital tribe, this is apparently close to the norm.

boyd talked about other cultural differences that vary by country and platform.  Cyworld, for instance, a social network in Asia, is shared family experience. She notes that micropayments are working in Cyworld, sometimes in unexpected ways. “You can buy poop on a friend’s profile, which they then have to pay to clean up.” When she noted that she would “like to see that on LinkedIn,” the audience enjoyed a chuckle. More seriously, however, she observed that as long as teenagers are part of an “oppressed demographic” in the US, our social networks won’t be like Asia. The US market is just beginning to get “all you can eat text messaging plans.” She suggested that the audience “consider the weirdness of someone else having to PAY to receive your message” and the worst cases where cyberbullies blasts someone w/txts, incurring costs.

In closing, boyd noted that social networks and social media in general are here to stay.

As we all create our digital identities, teens and adults alike are aware of the reality of “invisible audiences” that require us to adjust our projections to those who might see us. Once of the central challenges of social media use is how we adjust in the absence of social cues when the rules are still a moving target. The numerous firings that have now occurred after poorly-considered status updates bear witness to this reality. Firing is relatively minor compared to consequences elsewhere, as boyd noted in the the example of journalists in China. They write at two different levels to escape the censors to convey information.

There is now a massive blurring of public and private spheres. boyd doesn’t see privacy as dead — “it’s just very, very, very confused right now.”

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