Grasping For Meaning In 140 Characters

Seems anything can be the subject of scientific study. “Augmented social cognition” researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center are groping for automated ways to cull the “meaning” behind tweets, per MIT’s Technology Review (link here).

The problem: users want to be able to scan a timeline to get the gist of what is going on without having to read every single tweet. This is a real problem when you have more than a 100 follows.

A portion of the study has been devoted to developing a recommendation system, not dissimilar to my6sense, which determines which tweets are most relevant to a user based on that user’s interaction with various tweets and with other users.

Borrowing imagery from a real-world stream and it’s eddies, the Eddie project is also working a “topic browser”, a machine aided inquiry into a Twitter stream that should enable the viewer to get more than simply the keywords; to reach the actual “gist” of the stream.

The topic search aspect is more problematic to implement in that natural language searches apparently rely generally on more text than the 140 character space limit allows. Additionally, there is simply such a vast amount information that it becomes logistically difficult to parse.

The method the research team has developed for dealing with these challenges is to treat a tweet like a search query. Tweets are filtered by removing unnecessary terms (like “RT”). Then the significant terms are pulled using the algorithm, and then run through a search engine, in this case Yahoo’s Build your Own Search Service interface.

In essence, tweets are matched with search results, allowing for a “best guess” as to what the tweet means. Given, however, that the major search engines are now indexing tweets, there is a real possibility that the tweet topic browser could return search results that mirror the original tweet.

The researchers anticipate that the topic browser may be online for live testing this summer. I look forward to playing around with this interesting combination of tweets and search in the pursuit of Twitter-meaning.

Hat tip to Resource Shelf


3 comments on “Grasping For Meaning In 140 Characters

  1. New commenting system! Thanks for the link to Twitter stuff! I have always wanted to see if I could make sense of the wild and wooly world of twitter!

  2. I’ve always wanted to make sense of the wild and woolly world of Twitter! Thanks Martha

  3. From having spent quite some time on Twitter now, grasping the meaning in many tweets might prove too difficult for the mighty minds at MIT. Can’t wait to see what comes of this – could be interesting, if not entertaining.


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