Twitter as Mood Ring: We're in a Funk
Can Twitter be used to gauge the overall mood of the world? A group of scientists at the University of Vermont has been tracking the overall mood of Twitter for years, and its findings indicate an overall drop in mood over the past year and a half. In order to take the temperature of the tweeting masses, the researchers assigned numeric values to various words.
A group of mathematicians turned to Twitter to gauge global happiness for 2011, and it seems the last 12 months have not been humanity's cheeriest.
The team from the University of Vermont gathered 4.6 billion Twitter messages from Twitter's 33 million users from around the world. Starting in September 2008, the mathematicians, led by Peter Dodds, assigned happiness grades to more than 10,000 common words with the help of volunteers who judged the words on a scale of 1 to 9. So a word such as "laughter" got an 8.5 and "food" had a 7.44 score. A word such as "terrorist" scored 1.3.
When the team plotted the numbers on a graph, the results showed a gradual downward slope for about the past year and half, except for a brief period between January and April 2009. The gloom and doom wasn't year-round, though. Researchers found that during holidays, moods generally increased, particularly on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, when Twitter was trending the happiest. Mondays and Tuesdays are typically bummers.
Similarly, during significant cultural moments, the varying moods were easy to spot. The team's report, "Temporal Patterns of Happiness and Information in a Global Social Network," noted that some of the sharpest declines in happiness were during the 2008 financial bailout, which they said led to a "multi-week depression." The 2009 H1N1 outbreak, natural disasters such as the earthquakes in Japan and Chile, Michael Jackson's death, Germany beating England in the 2010 World Cup and even the ending of "Lost" all caused significant dents in happiness trending.
Even though many Twitter users are members of a younger generation and most live in developed countries, especially the U.S., Dodds said the team made sure to include users of all ages and cultures.
Twitter vs. Other Networks
Using words from Twitter was a modern sampling from a major means of communication in a newly technological world, according to the team.
"Twitter is very appropriate," agreed Neal Schaffer, social media strategy consultant at Windmill Marketing.
"Obviously it's real time, it is very mobile-centric and there is a culture of retweeting and spreading information that is quicker than other networks. Because of those factors, I would tend to believe that information gets spread in real time very quickly so it could be a good judge," he told TechNewsWorld.
Twitter is also unique for its mostly open platform and interactions with people who might not be friends or even know each other in real life, which for the most part is unlike Facebook or other networks, according to the researchers.
"There is a lot of conversation on Twitter," said Schaffer. "There's link-sharing and very casual conversations and expressing of emotions. It's also primarily a public platform, where on Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Google+, if you try to get a gauge of peoples' opinions, a lot don't have them open to the public, whereas Twitter is more of a forum."
Getting Smart With Social Media
As forums such as Twitter grow in use, companies have starting to use them to listen to customers, and now social scientists are taking a look as well.
"Big brands are already [using] social media monitoring software and trying to get a gauge for sentiment analysis, and we're moving into the next generation with natural language processing, which has been developed by scientists and psychologists. If big Fortune 500 brands are starting to do that as a gauge, it makes sense that elected officials and other stakeholders use Twitter as one of the metrics to gauge public opinion," said Schaffer.