Part 1:Trendsmap – Tracking Twitter Trends
What is Trendsmap?
Trendsmap is an online application that provides a geographic visualisation of what is trending on Twitter in real-time globally. This is presented as an interactive map with the trending topics appearing as words hovering over the location in which they are trending. Trendsmap explains that the website tracks tweets to identify the words and topics as they become popular in overall Tweets Trendsmap provides a video tutorial for its users, in which a representative from Trendsmap’s parent company gives a brief overview of Trendsmap’s features.
Trendsmap has been discussed numerous times online, to favourable reviews. Mashable describes Trendsmap as a mash-up of Twitter Google Maps and What the Trend. The review argues that Trendsmap is one of the best Twitter mashups, explaining that Trendsmap goes beyond Twitter’s own popularity gauge mechanism, Twitter Trending Topics, as it is not limited to just global trends. ProgrammableWeb reports that Trendsmap was designed to enable journalists and bloggers to spot and track emerging trends at a global, regional or local level. This review discusses the relevance Trendsmap holds for journalists, such as its ability to aid journalists in identifying newsworthy topics. This is corroborated in EConsultancy’s review. The review outlines Trendsmap’s potential to provide journalists with an understanding of how specific articles might be received in given locations, as well as to facilitate article promotion through using the trending phrases to inform search engine optimisation strategies for online articles. An additional capability of Trendsmap is the ability to create time-lapse videos which track trending topics over varying amounts of time. For example, Trendsmap was used to cover the UK 2010 Election as seen in this video.
How to Use Trendsmap
The homepage of Trendsmap shows a default US location and its current trending topics. The bottom of the homepage also displays the trending topics and hashtags that are breaking globally, globally trending users and a list of some possible locations to search.
Users can zoom in or out of the map using the tools on the left-hand side of the map, as well as navigate the map by clicking and dragging the cursor around the map.
For specific research, users can use the search bar in the top right-hand corner of the homepage to enter a specific search term. The search bar autofills a drop-down box with suggested locations and topics that correspond to the entered search term.
Searching for a location returns a list of breaking trends in the form of topics, hashtags or usernames as well as a small graphical representation of the topics’ activity levels over the last seven days. Each trend can be expanded to reveal information such as relevant links and Tweets.
The left-hand side of the search results page provides the trending links, images, videos and popular profiles in Brisbane.
The search results page also provides an option to go to a map view, to provide a visual representation of the trending topics in that location.
Searching for a topic, rather than a location, returns a map view of where that topic is most prevalent, as well as recent links and tweets that include reference/s to ‘brisbane’.
Users can then click on individual words to get information relating to that topic in specific locations, including local and global graphical representations of activity, recent tweets and recent links.
How Trendsmap Can Help Media Professionals
Today’s media environment can be characterised by a proliferation of real-time information which has resulted in a continual stream of content, which is evidenced in social media platforms like Twitter. This content has potential to be used as a valuable source of information for media professionals. For example, Twitter’s accessibility, speed and real-time nature have resulted in its emergence as a breaking news platform (Catone, 2009). However, Catone (2009) argues that these characteristics result in a stream of content that is often overwhelming, disjointed and transitory (Catone, 2009). Similarly, Boyd (2010) argues that Twitter does not facilitate an ordered exchange of interactions. On Twitter, conversation occurs asynchronously through a non-cohesive network of users, rather than in topical threads (Boyd, 2010). The incoherent nature of Twitter’s content consequently makes it difficult for media professionals to utilise Twitter to comprehensively follow breaking news and to distinguish newsworthy issues from the more trivial content (Catone, 2009). Trendsmap provides a means by which media professionals can overcome these problems. The ways in which Trendsmap can be used by media professionals and the features that enable such uses will be analysed through the framework of affordances and constraints.
Affordances are aspects which frame, but do not determine, the possibilities for agentic action in relation to an object (Hutchby, 2001). Affordances are consequently enabling, as well as constraining, factors in an individual’s attempt to engage in a certain activity (Hutchby, 2001). The features of Trendsmap can therefore be regarded as affordances which dictate the possibilities for action available to Trendsmap users. The purposive affordances and constraints of Trendsmap are what it encourages or discourages in terms of its proposed purpose (Rintel, 2012). Trendsmap was created as a as tool to enable media professionals spot and track emerging trends on Twitter at a global, regional or local level (Duvander, 2009). The technical affordances and constraints of Trendsmap, or what the tool physically allows its users to do, and are catered to facilitating this purpose (Rintel, 2012).
A fundamental purposive affordance of Trendsmap is its ability to be used as a research tool by media professionals to determine relevant and newsworthy issues from an otherwise incoherent wealth of information on Twitter (Catone, 2009). The trending usernames, words and hashtags displayed on Trendsmap afford journalists a valuable insight into newsworthy issues upon which to write articles, both in terms of breaking news and popular topics. A technical affordance which facilitates this is the ability to view trending topics right down to a local level. Furthermore, the highest trending topics are displayed in comparatively larger and bolder than topics which have generated less activity. The depth of analysis this affords is a pro for media professionals, as journalists could use this to pre-emptively gauge the interest a given topic would receive in a wide geographic range of audiences. An additional technical affordance which supports Trendsmap use a research tool is the individual categorisation of trending topics which are also ‘breaking’ (refer to Figure 12). This provides media professionals with any easy and efficient method of sourcing potential stories as they are occurring, without the difficulty of monitoring Twitter’s overwhelming stream of information manually.
Trendsmap’s utility as a research tool for media professionals is furthered by its provision of individual tweets, links, videos, photos and popular users in relation to each trending topic or location. Furthermore, the individual tweets displayed on Trendsmap retain some elements of interactivity. For example, users can click on usernames and hashtags contained in individual tweets to go directly to that relevant page on Twitter, and can also access the user profile of the original tweeter. This technical affordance allows Trendsmap users to find and connect with other sources that produce similar content. This is a pro for media professionals as this content can then be used as primary sources for articles, or as an outlet for further research into the different ways in which their subject of interest has been presented, explored or received. This is extremely valuable for media professionals attempting to utilise Twitter content, when considering that Twitter itself does not facilitate coherently organised topical threads (Boyd, 2000). Trendsmap gives media professionals a better contextual understanding of Twitter’s content, through showing them an overall analysis of Twitter content in conjunction with the ability to view each tweet in its original context.
However Trendsmap’s ability to be used a research tool by media professionals is also limited by technical constraints. The data that Trendsmap can obtain has a limited scope. In order for Trendsmap to obtain accurate geographical data on trending topics, Twitter users must have enabled geotagging in their Twitter settings, which many users are reluctant to do (Marshall, 2011). In the absence of geotagging, Trendsmap must rely on Twitter users regularly updating the location listed on their profile in accordance with their movement in order to obtain accurate data (Duvander, 2009). This limitation is difficult for Trendsmap to remedy, as it is a design independent constraint and is a con for media professionals as information obtained through Trendsmap may not be representative of all relevant Twitter content. An additional technical constraint of Trendsmap is the fact that whilst tweets from a certain city or town may be trending to a particular topic, the area may not generate enough for it to show up compared to other, larger areas (Trendsmap, 2012). This constraint is design preferred, as Trendsmap is only intended to show the most popular trends, however it is a con for media professionals using Trendsmap as a research tool as it limits the depth of information available.
The potential Trendsmap holds for journalists is exemplified through The Guardian’s use of Trendsmap in covering the 2010 United Kingdom general election to produce an informed and insightful news article. The article, titled ‘General election 2010: the Twitter timelapse maps’, uses a Trendsmap time-lapse video as its source for analysing Twitter’s polling day related activity. The author himself states that the Trendsmap video enabled him to ‘neatly capture the twists and turns of a sustained rolling story in a matter of seconds’ (Moran, 2010). For example, the article draws upon the video to conclude which of the three parties was discussed the most overall. Additionally, individual trends that emerged gradually also enabled inferences to be drawn, such as the ‘slow promotion of “hung parliament” from a background role in the daytime to full blown stardom that night” (Moran, 2010). This article consequently shows the potential for journalists to use Trendsmap as fundamental source from which to draw insightful conclusions which may have been unapparent, or at least very difficult to discern, by monitoring Twitter manually.
The following table provides a summary of how Trendsmap relates to a variety of journalistic research and presentation tasks.
Boyd, D. Golder, S. and Lotan, G. (2010). Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter. Retrieved from https://blackboard.elearning.uq.edu.au/bbcswebdav/pid-2358090-dt-content-rid-1018194_1/courses/JOUR2722S_6260STx/BoydGolderLotan-2010-TweetTweetRetweet.pdf
Catone, J. (2009). How to Find Breaking News on Twitter. Sitepoint. Retrieved from http://www.sitepoint.com/how-to-find-breaking-news-on-twitter/
Duvander, A. (2009, September 23). Trendsmap Shows What’s Happening Where on Twitter. [Web log post] ProgrammableWeb. Retrieved from http://blog.programmableweb.com/2009/09/23/trendsmap-shows-whats-happening-where-on-twitter/
Hutchy, I. (2001). Technologies, Texts and Affordances. Sociology, 35(1), 441-456
LaMothe, B. (2009, September 28). Why I love Trendsmap.com (and you should too). [Web log post] Econsultancy. Retrieved fromhttp://econsultancy.com/au/blog/4685-why-i-love-trendsmap-com-and-you-should-too.
Marshall, S. (2011, November 8).Tool of the week for journalists – Trendsmap, for tracking conversations in your area. [Web log post]. Journalism.co.uk. Retrieved from http://blogs.journalism.co.uk/2011/11/08/tool-of-the-week-for-journalists-trendsmap-for-tracking-conversations-in-your-area/.
Moran, C. (2010, May 14). General election 2010: the Twitter timelapse maps. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/14/general-election-2010-twitter-maps
Parr, B. (2009). Trendsmap: Twitter Trends + Google Maps= Awesome. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2009/09/22/trendsmap/
Ricketson, M. (2004). Writing Feature Stories: How to Research and Write Newspaper and Magazine Articles. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.
Rintel, S. (2012). 2012 Lecture 05. University of Queensland Blackboard Online. Retrieved from http://www.elearning.uq.edu.au
Spencer, L. M. (2006). News Writing: The Gathering, Handling and Writing of News Stories. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co.
Trendsmap. (2009). Trendsmap Tutorial. Retrieved from http://trendsmap.com/tutorial.
Trendsmap. (2010, May 14). Trendsmap UK Election Day (6-May-10). [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS6RlVMLeh0
Trendsmap. (2012). What’s This all About? Retrieved from http://trendsmap.com/about-faq.
Twitter – Powerful or Petty?
Twitter’s emergence as an increasingly popular social platform has led many to question its role within the communicative sphere. The debate as to whether Twitter stimulates powerful intellectual discourse or merely encourages petty and incessant updates on the inconsequential is a contentious question.
Oliver Hartwhich, in 2010, wrote an online article for The Australian magazine arguing for the latter. Hartwhich mocks the proposed ability of Twitter as a revolutionary communicative tool, stating that ‘it’s easy to ridicule those users who need a global stage to share their daily chores’ (Hartwhich, 2010). Conversely, the other side of the fence there is the argument that Twitter has earned its place as a valid, and valuable, source of news. An article on the business technology blog GigaOM supports this perception of Twitter. The article argues that with the emergence of powerful social tools such as Twitter traditional media are no longer the only valid source of information, stating that the network has become a source of news for growing numbers of people.
The reality is (or at least my version of it) that Twitter functions both as a source of trivial entertainment and hard news. This can be clearly demonstrated through the use of Trendsmap, a website that tracks trending topics on Twitter across the globe. Trendsmap’s visualisation of current trending topics clearly demonstrates that soft-news is peacefully coexisting with hard-news all along the eastern coast of Australia.
Entertainment-based tweets are clearly prominent, with topics such as #xfactorau, #bbau showing a marked interest in the Australian reality television shows X Factor Australia and Big Brother Australia.
The words ‘slurpee’ and ‘byo’ are both trending strongly in multiple locations such as Sydney and Brisbane, indicating that many people are tweeting about 7/11’s annual ‘bring you own cup’ day. These topics are unashamedly trivial, with contributing tweets including ‘the only way to drink a slurpee is out of a teapot’ and ‘perhaps pubs should have a #bringyourowncup day to fill with beer!’
However, just as present are the more serious topics that support Twitter’s perception as a valid news source. For example, the hashtag #auspol, referring to Australian Politics, is evident in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. Additionally, the presence of ‘gina’ and ‘rinehart’ in numerous locations demonstrates the existence of discussion relating to one of Australia’s most prominent mining magnates Gina Rinehart. Australian politics and Gina Rineheart are both consistently present in traditional news sources, suggesting that Twitter does in fact have the ability to promote discussion on newsworthy topics.
The variety of trending topics shown by Trendsmap consequently shows Twitter’s ability to function simultaneously as a platform for both soft and hard news.