This paper presents the first outcomes of a large-scale project to comprehensively map the follower/followee relationships between public accounts in the Australian Twittersphere. Using custom network crawling technology, we have conducted a snowball crawl of Twitter accounts operated by Australian users to identify more than one million users and map their interconnections. In itself, the map provides an overview of the major clusters of densely interlinked users, centred largely around shared topics of interest (from politics through arts to sport) and/or sociodemographic factors (geographic origins, age groups); additionally, in combination with our investigation of participation patterns in specific thematic hashtags (from #spill for the 2010 Rudd/Gillard leadership spill to #qldfloods for the January 2011 floods in southeast Queensland), it also enables us to examine which areas of the underlying follower/followee network are activated in the discussion of specific current topics.
Our work, conducted as part of a three-year ARC Discovery project investigating public communication through social media in Australia, demonstrates the possibilities inherent in the current ‘computational turn’ (Berry, 2010) in the digital humanities, as well as adding to the development and critical examination of methodologies for dealing with ‘big data’ (boyd and Crawford, 2011). Our map of the Twittersphere is the first of its kind for the Australian part of the global Twitter network, and also provides a first independent and scholarly estimation of the size of the total Australian Twitter population. Out tools and methods for doing Twitter research, released under Creative Commons licences through our project Website, provide the basis for replicatable and verifiable digital humanities research on the processes of public communication which take place through this important new social network.