Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Sometimes, an idea sweeps Twitter, touching the conversation of millions of people. Many other times, ideas disappear almost as soon as they appear. Researchers at the social computing lab at HP Labs in Palo Alto and Stanford University recently wrote a paper analyzing what makes gives a topic on Twitter lasting popularity.

Twitter tracks these subjects of conversation in a “trending topics” list, and the researchers collected this data every 20 minutes for 40 days. They also collected tweets mentioning these topics every 20 minutes. They put the data together and studied it to draw conclusions about what makes a topic last.

Most trending topics disappear again fairly quickly, the researchers found, fizzling out within 20 to 40 minutes. Some, however, last for days.

The researchers write:

When we considered the impact of the users of the network, we discovered that the number of followers and tweet-rate of users are not the attributes that cause trends. What proves to be more important in determining trends is the retweets by other users, which is more related to the content that is being shared than the attributes of the users.

There are some people whose comments are so influential that they can launch trends almost single-handedly, but the researchers found that these topics actually tended to burn out quickly. Really, the most lasting topics were those that engaged a lot of different people, including comments from a large number of authors. In many of these cases, people were commenting on news items being discussed in traditional media.

According to the researchers:

This illustrates that social media, far from being an alternate source of news, functions more as a filter and an amplifier for interesting news from traditional media.

2 comments. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Web, Twitter, social networks, social media

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me