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10 years later, ‘inconsequential’ tweets a boon for researchers

July 15, 2016
cutouts of tweets floating above a view of New York City

“just setting up my twttr,” social media entrepreneur Jack Dorsey typed into a website. Ten years later, Twitter is the place where much of the world “talks to itself” in 140 characters or less.

A July 15, 2006, news story is credited with bringing Twitter into the public’s consciousness, and since then it has become a fertile ground for researchers interested in tracking social, cultural, and political trends, including topics such as disease outbreaks, the dynamics of campaigns, and consumer preferences.

Dorsey and his cofounders chose the name “twitter” because it described “a short inconsequential burst of information.”

And yet, Twitter is anything but “inconsequential” in terms of data science research and its applications.

Using machine learning, natural language processing and other data science techniques, researchers leverage Twitter’s 300 million followers  and the hundreds of millions of tweets they post each day as a kind of distributed sensor network, where each person observes and reports on some aspect of the world, says Henry Kautz, the Robin and Tim Wentworth Director of the Goergen Institute for Data Science at the University of Rochester.

“Each report is very noisy, but the aggregate results can be reliable,” Kautz says. “The approach can be used for health, environmental protection, public safety and many other applications.”

For example, at the University of Rochester:

Read more about data science at the University of Rochester.

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Category: Science & Technology