Segmented Communications on Twitter via @-partner Messaging

As this blog rarely attracts comments, it can be quite hard for me to know who, if anyone, regularly reads it (likely known suspects and the Googlebot aside). The anonymous nature of feed reader subscriptions also means it tricky to know who (if anyone) is reading the blog at all…

Twitter is slightly different in this regard, because for the majority of accounts, the friends and followers lists are public; which means it’s possible to “position” a particular account in terms of the interests of the folk it follows and who follow it.

Whilst I was putting together A Couple More Social Media Positioning Maps for UK HE Twitter Accounts, I considered including a brief comment on how the audience of a popular account will probably segment into different interest groups, and whether or not there was any mileage in trying to customise messages to particular segments without alienating the other parts of the audience.

Seeing @eingang’s use yesterday of a new (to me) Twitter convention of sending hashtagged messages to @hidetag, so that folk following the hashtag would see the tweet, but Michelle’s followers wouldn’t necessarily see the tagged tweets (no-one should follow @hidetag, NO_ONE ;-), it struck me that we might be able to use a related technique to send messages that are only visible to a particular segment of the followers of a Twitter account…

How so?

Firstly, you need to know that public Twitter messages sent to a particular person by starting the message with an @name are only generally visible in the stream of folk who follow both the sender and @name; (identifying this population was one of the reasons I put together the Who Can See Whose Conversations In-stream on Twitter? tool).

Secondly, you need to do a bit of social network analysis. (In what follows, I assume a directed graph where a node from A to B means that A follows B, or equivalently, B is a friend of A.) A quick and dirty approach might be to use in-degree and out-degree, or maybe the HITS algorithm/authority and hub values, as follows: identify the audience segment you want to target by looking for clusters in how your followers follow each other, then do a bit of network analysis on that segment to look for Authority nodes or nodes that are followed by a large number of people in that segment who also follow you. If you now send a message to that Authority/high in-degree node, it will be seen in-stream by that user, as well as those of your followers who also follow that Authority account.

This approach can be seen as a version of co-branding/brand partnership: conversational co-branding/conversational brand partnerships. Here’s how it may work: brand X has an audience that segments into groups A, B and C. Suppose that company Y is an authority in segment B. If X and Y form a conversational brand partnership, X can send messages ostensibly to Y that also reach segment B. For a mutually beneficial relationship, X would also have to be an authority in one of Y’s audience segments (for example, segment P out of segments P, Q, and R.) Ideally, P and B would largely overlap, meaning they can have a “sensible” conversation and it will hit both their targeted audiences…

For monitoring discussions within a particular segment, it strikes me that if we monitor the messages seen by an individual with a large Hub value/out-degree (that is, folk who follow large numbers of (influential) folk within the segment). By tapping into the Hub’s stream, we get some sort of sampling of the conversations taking place within the segment.

These ideas are completely untested (by me) of course… But they’re something I may well start to tinker with if an appropriate opportunity arises…

Risk Assessment: Corporate Acquisitions Can Kill APIs

So it seems that my to-do list just got shorter as Twitter acquire BackType and as a result “will discontinue the BackType product and API services”.


On my roadmap (err, such as it is!;-), one thing I was hoping to do was start exploring in more detail the struture of communities around a shared link, with a view to exploring in more detail some of the actual dynamics of link sharing across Twitter networks. My early forays in to this have tended to use BackType, as for example in Visualising Ad Hoc Tweeted Link Communities, via BackType.

The simple recipe I’d started out with was based around the following steps:

– given the URL, look up who’s tweeted it via the BackType API;
– for each tweeter of the link, grab the list of people they follow (i.e. their friends);
– plot the “inner” network showing which of the people who tweeted the link the follow each other.

This gave an easy way in to identifying a set of folk who had expressed an interest in a link by virtue of sharing it, this set then acting as the starting point for a community analysis.

Another approach I started to explore (but never blogged?!) was looking at networks of folk who had shared one of the links recently shortened by a particular user. So for example, this graph (captured some time ago) used the BackType API to find who had tweeted one of more of 15 or so links that @charlesarthur had shortened using, and then plotted friend connections between them:

follower connections between folk tweeting one or more of 15 links also recently shortened on bitly by charlesarthur

Unfortunately, now that the BackType API has gone (when I try to call it I get a “Limit exceeded” error message), the key ingredient from those two original recipes is no longer available…:-(

A Map of My Twitter Follower Network

Twitter may lay claim to millions of users, but we intend to only inhabit a small part of it… I Follow 500 or so people, and am followed by 3000 or so “curated” followers (I block maybe 20-50 a week, and not all of them obvious spam accounts, in part because I see the list of folk who follow me as a network that defines several particular spheres of interest, and I don’t want to drown out signal by noise.)

So here’s a map of how the connected component of the graph of how my Twitter followers follow each other; it excludes people who aren’t followed by anyone in the graph (which may include folk who do follow me but who have private accounts).

The layout is done in Gephi using the Force Atlas 2 layout. It’s quite by chance that the layout resembles the Isle of Wight…or a heart? Yes, maybe it’s a great be heart:-)

Mu twitter follower net - connected component

By running the HITS statistic over the graph, we can get a feel for who the influential folk are; sizing and labeling nodes by Authority, we get this (click through to see a bigger version):

My twitter follower network

Here’s an annotated version, as I see it (click through to see a bigger version):

My annotated twitter follower network

If you’d like me to spend up to 20 mins making a map for you, I’ll pick up on an idea from Martin Hawksey and maybe do two or three maps for a donation to charity (in particular, to Ovacome). In fact, if you feel as if you’ve ever benefited from anything posted to this blog, why not give them a donation anyway…? Donate to ovacome.

Identifying the Twitterati Using List Analysis

Given absolutely no-one picked up on List Intelligence – Finding Reliable, Trustworthy and Comprehensive Topic/Sector Based Twitter Lists, here’s a example of what the technique might be good for…

Seeing the tag #edusum11 in my feed today, and not being minded to follow it it I used the list intelligence hack to see:

– which lists might be related to the topic area covered by the tag, based on looking at which Twitter lists folk recently using the tag appear on;
– which folk on twitter might be influential in the area, based on their presence on lists identified as maybe relevant to the topic associated with the tag…

Here’s what I found…

Some lists that maybe relate to the topic area (username/list, number of folk who used the hashtag appearing on the list, number of list subscribers), sorted by number of people using the tag present on the list:

/joedale/ukedtech 6 6
/TWMarkChambers/edict 6 32
/stevebob79/education-and-ict 5 28
/mhawksey/purposed 5 38
/fosteronomo/chalkstars-combined 5 12
/kamyousaf/uk-ict-education 5 77
/ssat_lia/lia 5 5
/tlists/edtech-995 4 42
/ICTDani/teched 4 33
/NickSpeller/buzzingeducators 4 2
/SchoolDuggery/uk-ed-admin-consultancy 4 65
/briankotts/educatorsuk 4 38
/JordanSkole/jutechtlets 4 10
/nyzzi_ann/teacher-type-people 4 9
/Alexandragibson/education 4 3
/danielrolo/teachers 4 20
/cstatucki/educators 4 13
/helenwhd/e-learning 4 29
/TechSmithEDU/courosalets 4 2
/JordanSkole/chalkstars-14 4 25
/deerwood/edtech 4 144

Some lists that maybe relate to the topic area (username/list, number of folk who used the hashtag appearing on the list, number of list subscribers), sorted by number of people subscribing to the list (a possible ranking factor for the list):
/deerwood/edtech 4 144
/kamyousaf/uk-ict-education 5 77
/SchoolDuggery/uk-ed-admin-consultancy 4 65
/tlists/edtech-995 4 42
/mhawksey/purposed 5 38
/briankotts/educatorsuk 4 38
/ICTDani/teched 4 33
/TWMarkChambers/edict 6 32
/helenwhd/e-learning 4 29
/stevebob79/education-and-ict 5 28
/JordanSkole/chalkstars-14 4 25
/danielrolo/teachers 4 20
/cstatucki/educators 4 13
/fosteronomo/chalkstars-combined 5 12
/JordanSkole/jutechtlets 4 10
/nyzzi_ann/teacher-type-people 4 9
/joedale/ukedtech 6 6
/ssat_lia/lia 5 5
/Alexandragibson/education 4 3
/NickSpeller/buzzingeducators 4 2
/TechSmithEDU/courosalets 4 2

Other ranking factors might include the follower count, or factors from some sort of social network analysis, of the list maintainer.

Having got a set of lists, we can then look for people who appear on lots of those lists to see who might be influential in the area. Here’s the top 10 (user, number of lists they appear on, friend count, follower count, number of tweets, time of arrival on twitter):

['terryfreedman', 9, 4570, 4831, 6946, datetime.datetime(2007, 6, 21, 16, 41, 17)]
['theokk', 9, 1564, 1693, 12029, datetime.datetime(2007, 3, 16, 14, 36, 2)]
['dawnhallybone', 8, 1482, 1807, 18997, datetime.datetime(2008, 5, 19, 14, 40, 50)]
['josiefraser', 8, 1111, 7624, 17971, datetime.datetime(2007, 2, 2, 8, 58, 46)]
['tonyparkin', 8, 509, 1715, 13274, datetime.datetime(2007, 7, 18, 16, 22, 53)]
['dughall', 8, 2022, 2794, 16961, datetime.datetime(2009, 1, 7, 9, 5, 50)]
['jamesclay', 8, 453, 2552, 22243, datetime.datetime(2007, 3, 26, 8, 20)]
['timbuckteeth', 8, 1125, 7198, 26150, datetime.datetime(2007, 12, 22, 17, 17, 35)]
['tombarrett', 8, 10949, 13665, 19135, datetime.datetime(2007, 11, 3, 11, 45, 50)]
['daibarnes', 8, 1592, 2592, 7673, datetime.datetime(2008, 3, 13, 23, 20, 1)]

The algorithms I’m using have a handful of tuneable parameters, which means there’s all sorts of scope for running with this idea in a “research” context…

One possible issue that occurred to me was that identified lists might actually cover different topic areas – this is something I need to ponder…

Cobbling Together a Searchable Twitter Friends/Followers Contact List in Google Spreadsheets

Have you ever found yourself in the situation where you want to send someone a Twitter message but you can’t remember their Twitter username although you do know their real name? Or where you can remember their twitter username or their real name, but you do remember who they work for, or some other biographical fact about them that might appear in their Twitter biography? If that sounds familiar, here’s a trick that may help…

… a searchable Twitter friends and followers contact list in Google Spreadsheets.

It’s based on Martin Hawksey’s rather wonderful Export Twitter Followers and Friends using a Google Spreadsheet (I have to admit – Martin has left me way behind now when it comes to tinkering with Google Apps Script…!) To get started, you’ll need a Google docs account, and then have to indulge in a quick secret handshake between Google docs and Twitter, but Martin’s instruction sheet is a joy to follow:-) Follow the *** Google Spreadsheet to Export Twitter Friends and Followers *** link on Martin’s page, then come back here once you’ve archived your Twitter friends and/or followers…

..done that? Here’s how to make the contact list searchable… I thought it should have been trivial, but it turned out to be quite involved!

The first thing I did was create a drop down list to let the user select Friends or Followers as the target of the search. (Martin’s application loads friends and followers into different sheets.)

The next step was to generate a query. To search for a particular term on a specified sheet we can use a QUERY formula that takes the following form:

=query(Friends!B:E,”select B,C,D,E where D contains ‘JISC'”)

Friends! specifies the sheet we want to search over; B:E says we want to pull columns B, C, D and E from the Friends sheet into the current sheet; the select statement will display results over four columns (B, C, D and E) from Friends for rows where the entry in column D contains the search term JISC.

To pull in the search term from cell D1 we can use a query of the form:

=query(Friends!B:E,concatenate(“select B,C,D,E where D contains ‘”,D1,”‘”))

The =concatenate formula constructs the search query. Make sure you use the right sort of quotes when constructing the string – Google Spreadsheets seems to prefer the use of double quotes wherever possible!

To search over two columns, (for example, the real name and the description columns of the twitter friends/follower data) we can use a query of the form:

=query(Followers!B:E,concatenate(“select B,C,D,E where C contains ‘”,D1,”‘ or D contains ‘”,D1,”‘”)

Again – watch out for the quotes – the result we want from the concatenation is something like:

=query(Followers!B:E,concatenate(“select B,C,D,E where C contains ‘Jisc’ or D contains ‘Jisc’)

so we have to explicitly code in the single quote in the concatenation formula.

Unfortunately, the query formula is case sensitive, which can cause the search to fail because we haven’t taken (mis)use of case into account in our search term. This means we need to go defensive in the query formulation – in the following example, I force everything to upper case – search corpus as well as search terms:

=query(Followers!B:E,concatenate(“select B,C,D,E where upper(C) contains upper(‘”,D1,”‘) or upper(D) contains upper(‘”,D1,”‘)”)

The final step is to define the sheet we want to search – Friends! or Followers! – depending on the setting of cell B1 in our search sheet. I had idly though I could use a concatenate formula to create this, but concatenate returns a string and we need to define a range. In the end, the workaround I adopted was an if statement, that chooses a query with an appropriate range set explicitly/hardwired within the formula depending on whether we are are searching Friends or Followers. Here’s the complete formula, which i put into cell E1.

=if(B1=”Friends”,query(Friends!B:E,concatenate(“select B,C,D,E where upper(C) contains upper(‘”,D1,”‘) or upper(D) contains upper(‘”,D1,”‘)”)),query(Followers!B:E,concatenate(“select B,C,D,E where upper(C) contains upper(‘”,D1,”‘) or upper(D) contains upper(‘”,D1,”‘)”)))

I now have a query sheet defined that allows me to search over my friends or followers, as required, according to their real name or a search term that appears in their biography description.

More Pivots Around Twitter Data (little-l, little-d, again;-)

I’ve been having a play with Twitter again, looking at how we can do the linked thing without RDF, both within a Twitter context and also (heuristically) outside it.

First up, hashtag discovery from Twitter lists. Twitter lists can be used to collect together folk who have a particular interest, or be generated from lists of people who have used a particular hashtag (as Martin H does with his recipe for Populating a Twitter List via Google Spreadsheet … Automatically! [Hashtag Communities]).

The thinking is simple: grab the most recent n tweets from the list, extract the hashtags, and count them, displaying them in descending order. This gives us a quick view of the most popular hashtags recently tweeted by folk on the list: Popular recent tags from folk a twitter list

This is only a start, of course: it might be that a single person has been heavily tweeting the same hashtag, so a sensible next step would be to also take into account the number of people using each hashtag in ranking the tags. It might also be useful to display the names of folk on the list who have used the hashtag?

I also updated a previous toy app that makes recommendations of who to follow on twitter based on a mismatch between the people you follow (and who follow you) and the people following and followed by another person – follower recommender (of a sort!):

The second doodle was inspired by discussions at Dev8D relating to a possible “UK HE Developers’ network”, and relies on an assumption – that the usernames people use Twitter might be used by the same person on Github. Again, the idea is simple: can we grab a list of Twitter usernames for people that have used the dev8d hashtag (that much is easy) and then lookup those names on Github, pulling down the followers and following lists from Github for any IDs that are recognised in order to identify a possible community of developers on Github from the seed list of dev8d hashtagging Twitter names. (It also occurs to me that we can pull down projects Git-folk are associated with (in order to identify projects Dev8D folk are committing to) and the developers who also commit or subscribe to those projects.)

follower/following connections on github using twitter usernames that tweeted dev8d hashtag

As the above network shows, it looks like we get some matches on usernames…:-)

Setting An Exercise In Social Media “Research”

Reading @briankelly’s post on Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities just now, where he refers to an old list of Twitter accounts compiled (in a blog post) by Liz Azyan, I wondered how I’d go about finding, or compiling, a comprehensive list of official Twitter accounts for UK HE institutions.

My first thought was: Google “uk universities twitter list” to find lists folk are currently curating themselves. This search (for me) turns up lists such as @thirdyearabroad/uk-universities and @bellerbys/uk-universities/, as well as Liz’s post.

Peeking at the two lists mentioned above, I notice they follow different numbers of Twitter users, which suggests to me I need to build a couple of scripts:

1) a script that will take a list of N Twitter lists and generate a union list
2) a script that will take a list of N Twitter lists and generate the set of users who:
2a) appear on each list;
2b) appear on at least M of N lists;
2c) appear on only one list.

The second idea that came to mind was in response to the question: is there a more effective way of finding lists of UK HE Twitter accounts? And what came to mind was this script I now need to hack together:

3) pick a handful of (official UK university) Twitter account IDs and pull down the lists that they have been added to; find the intersection set of lists that follow all the users in the test set, under the assumption that these may be lists that follow some common characteristic of those users, e.g. the fact that they are official UK university accounts.

This second approach uses a set of user IDs you would expect to be on a particular list as bait for finding lists that do include all those IDs.

(A corollary of this might be to look at a set of people you might expect to follow a particular sort of list, pull down the lists they follow/subscribe to, and then look for the intersection set of lists that all the sample users follow…?)

The third idea was to see whether I could find Twitter accounts linked to from university pages, searching Google for things like, but that wasn’t very satisfactory. Searching for university improves matters, and inspection of the result suggests intitle:university may be even more effective…

Searching for intitle:university -inurl:status excludes results from tweets, but we still get results relating to lists as well as accounts. I can’t find an obvious way of only searching for UK universities…

So the exercise is this: how would you generate a comprehensive list of official UK university Twitter accounts?

PS FWIW, I think coming up with search/discovery strategies such as the above is the sort of information skill we might consider or indeed, expect to be a graduate level information skill. Discuss.

PPS I would of course appreciate ideas for alternative, and indeed, more effective ways of completing the “how to find lists of official Twitter accounts for UK universities” in the comments:-)