Yesterday I spent some time at the College of Information Sciences and Technology’s Graduate Symposium listening to Dr. Abdur Chowdhury, Twitter’s Chief Scientist give a keynote talk. I’ve written about Twitter for a couple of years now, but what is so interesting about Twitter these days is what is going on behind the scenes. While they are a relatively new company, they are really working hard to make sense of the river of data that flows through the 140 character text box they offer. Abdur was the co-founder of Summize where they used analytics to discover trends across the web … when Twitter bought it he moved over to start decoding massive trends brought about by Twitter’s user base. Later in the day I was then on a panel with him talking about Twitter to those assembled it was very interesting to hear his perspective on things and to see how he is leading the way in making sense out of all of those Twitter messages.
As an aside, one of the questions that seems to occupy lots of cycles is about Twitter’s financial model. I could tell during the question and answer period yesterday it is something that gets the folks at Twitter a little frustrated. I recently read an article in Wired where they make the claim that Twitter can go for quite some time without worrying about that and I am betting they are figuring it out behind closed doors on their own time.
One thing he spent a lot of time on was how they can pull content from peoples’ tweets and find real news trends. He referenced Mumbai several times as an example of where Twitter was able to bring the terrorist attacks to our attention even before the news. We saw it a few weeks ago with the flight that landed in the Hudson … pictures and reports came from the Twittersphere before the news had any clue. This isn’t new for people who have been paying attention, but it was a good push for me to revisit the capabilities of Twitter Search. It seems like everyone is discovering the power Twitter has to offer.
Being on the panel reminded me of how interesting the Twitter experiment Scott McDonald and I did in the CI 597C course we taught last year. I got to talking with Abdur about it and the research we had planned to do … talking about it all has made me even more interested in using Twitter to better understand what is going on in my classroom. When I did a google search on how far back tweets go, I came across Twistory. It is a site that uses the API to pull out the exact time and content of any given user’s Twitter account. What is really cool is that you can then use Google Calendar to subscribe to the output to visualize the data.
Now this is where it gets really interesting to me … you can put anyone’s name into it and add their twitter stream to the calendar. This set off an ah-ah moment for me. What it means is that in a class you could easily visualize the backchannel conversation between and among students. Imagine how rich the data can be now looking at what happens in class — are students passing twitter notes, digging deeper into the conversation, exchanges resources, etc? This is the first time I’ve been able to create a tangible paper trail of the interactions happening behind the scenes. I can’t wait until Spring 2010 when Scott and I teach our Disruptive Technologies course. We met this morning at the coffee shop to start talking about how we would integrate this and we’ve decided that while we are focusing on our themes of community, identity, and design that we’ll ask students to do research into how the community is coming together and evolving by mining Twitter data in this form (or another). I can’t wait to see how it goes down and to explore other ways to use Twitter and its API.