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Notes towards the Scientific Study of Public Communication on Twitter (CoSCI 2012)

CoSCI12, 2012

Notes towards the Scientific Study of Public Communication on Twitter

Axel Bruns and Jean Burgess

Twitter is now well-established as an important platform for real-time public communication. Researchers have recognised its role in major public events from natural disasters and popular uprisings to cultural and sporting events; public figures from Barack Obama to Rupert Murdoch are using it to connect with their constituencies, with varying degrees of success.

Twitter research continues to lag behind these developments, with many studies remaining focussed on individual case studies and utilising homegrown, ideosyncratic, non-repeatable and non-verifiable research methodologies. While the development of a full-blown ‘science of Twitter’ may remain illusory, it is nonetheless necessary to move beyond such individual scholarship and towards the development of more comprehensive, transferable, and rigorous tools and methods for the study of Twitter, at large scale and in close to real time.

Key to this is the description of a range of meaningful, standard metrics for public communication on Twitter; such metrics can then be used to extract key indicators of communicative activity in specific Twitter datasets, and compared across a larger range of cases. What emerges from such work is a bigger picture of how Twitter is used not only in specific cases, but in different types of communicative situations. This paper will outline a range of communicative metrics to be considered in the quantitative study of public communication, and point to an emerging typology of communicative situations, on Twitter.

Full paper (PDF, 225kB)