Some Research About the Net

Who Says What to Whom on Twitter

We study several longstanding questions in media communications research, in the context of the microblogging service Twitter, regarding the production, flow, and consumption of information. To do so, we exploit a recently introduced feature of Twitter—known as Twitter lists—to distinguish between elite users, by which we mean specifically celebrities, bloggers, and representatives of media outlets and other formal organizations, and ordinary users. Based on this classification, we find a striking concentration of attention on Twitter—roughly 50% of tweets consumed are generated by just 20K elite users—where the media produces the most information, but celebrities are the most followed. We also find significant homophily within categories: celebrities listen to celebrities, while bloggers listen to bloggers etc; however, bloggers in general rebroadcast more information than the other categories. Next we re-examine the classical “two-step flow” theory of communications, finding considerable support for it on Twitter, but also some interesting differences. Third, we find that URLs broadcast by different categories of users or containing different types of content exhibit systematically different lifespans. And finally, we examine the attention paid by the different user categories to different news topics.

Network Formation in the Political Blogosphere

The political blogosphere has recently been the focus of attention for social network analysis and applications of network and graph theory. In a recent paper, Adamic and Glance (2005) report differences between the linking behavior of politically conservative vs. politically liberal web bloggers. We construct a simple agent-based network formation model which shows that one such difference, demonstrating what we term ‘political homophily’, can be generated by connecting the blogosphere to the underlying population distribution of political preferences. The model is implemented as a web service in the e-Research tool VOSON (Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks), and both model and tool serve to define a natural environment for research into link formation behavior with large numbers of  heterogeneous network participants.

A-list Agenda Setters: An Examination of New Media’s Gatekeepers

Traditional media gatekeepers set the agenda for print and broadcast media outlets while there exists a hegemonic force in the online realm that mediates lower echelon bloggers and their messages. This highest rank of bloggers is the new media gatekeepers and maintains their status through passive and active means.

Networks of Power, Degrees of Freedom

The article offers a conceptual framework for describing freedom and power in terms of human behavior in multiple overlapping systems. Power and freedom describe relations of influence and susceptibility over the principles, policies, perceptions and preferences; outcomes; and configurations available to human beings, in each case as characterized by the affordances and constraints of an agent in context of multiple overlapping systems. Networks characterize systems while keeping classes of discrete entities and relations between them explicit. Freedom and power are affected by the degree of (a) openness, the extent to which individuals can bob and weave between networks to achieve their desired behaviors, perceptions, or outcomes, and (b) completeness, the degree to which they can maneuver within a network to achieve those results; and (c) configuration, pathways for the flow of influence or its avoidance. The paper uses examples from Web-based music, video, and news reporting to explain these concepts.

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