Thursday, July 31, 2008

Telling us what we already know

Via Thursday Bram, communications agency Universal McCann recently conducted the third wave of their global study on social media usage. The results indicated, of course, a growing usage of all kinds of social media worldwide. Also, it notes that "blogs are a mainstream media worldwide and as a collective rival any traditional media" (emphasis mine). Sooner or later, it seems we'll have to be more specific when we say "mainstream media". :-)

You can see a complete slide show of results here. (Warning: It's very colorful, and people with a sensitivity to circles should not consume.) It should be useful for citing whenever a convincing intro to a SM research paper is needed.

What has been happening to the political Usenet?

When I first heard about the Netscan project (see Marc Smith's homepage), my thought was, "People still post on Usenet? Last I heard about it, one of the more active groups was" Working on a related project, I've gotten a similar reaction from other people I've mentioned it to. So an overarching theme of my project has been to answer whether Usenet is a distinct community, or simply a sample of what we already know about online communication.

One advantage to studying Usenet is that since it's been around for so long, it's easy to get historical data and say something about its evolution. Furthermore, it's easier to call what we know of it a "community" (although we're still forced to sample it, for our purposes), whereas we never really know if we've crawled*all* the blogs.

What we have done so far is obtained data since 2003 for 200 newsgroups with "polit" somewhere in the newsgroup name. Here's some over-time behavior, a plot of number of posts per day, and number of hyperlinks (in original, non-quoted content) per day:

Posts and Links for All Political Newsgroups
This is a smoothed version of the data, so to illustrate a general trend. The first thing you'll notice is the bump in November 2004, which we can attribute to the US Presidential Election. The next thing you'll notice is that while the number of posts is declining, the number of links remains stable.

Here's the same data for a small subset, can.politics:

Posts and Links for can.politics

Predictably, the "USA Election bump" doesn't hold for all the groups. For uncultured folks like me who had to look it up, the last election in Canada was January 23, 2006. We do still notice an increasing tendency to link, per post. Perhaps people on Usenet are going more to outside sources. Or, as another intern put it, "They're getting lazy."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scandal sells

Since starting at Live Labs I've gotten to play with a lot of data, including the political Usenet and crawled memeorandum hourly data (since mid-September 2005, following Katrina). Today I came across something less-than-surprising.

Top 10 links on memeorandum according to most number of 'discussion' links-- that is, number of discussions (usually blogged) that are related to a parent story (usually news).

"For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses its Own Risk" [McCain and scandals] 219

"Spitzer is Linked to Prostitution Ring" 178

"Embattled Attorney General Resigns" [Gonzales and scandals] 170

[Text of Obama's race speech] 158

"NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls" 129

"The Long Run-Up" [McCain and scandal] 119

"Craig Arrested, Pleads Guilty Following Incident in Airport Restroom" 116

"US Web Primer Is Said to Reveal a Nuclear Primer" [Iraq and Nukes] 115

"Digging Out More CNN/Youtube Plants" [Youtube politics and staged debates] 115

"Dark Suspicions About the NIE" [Iran and Nukes] 107

So, for the most part, what sells is sex and violence.