Twitter Funds MIT Research For Social Data Analysis

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Twitter to hand over millions of dollars and all of its Tweets to American university researchers for social data study

Twitter has announced that it is funding researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to the tune of $10m (£6.2m).

The money is to mine vast swathes of data to study how people interact with social networks and achieve shared goals.

MIT Program

MIT Media Lab revealed it will create the Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM) using the five year funding plan from Twitter, which will see the microblogging giant hand over “full access to its real-time, public stream of tweets, as well as the archive of every tweet dating back to the first.”

The researchers hope that this data goldmine will provide them with the raw information needed to develop “new technologies to make sense of semantic and social patterns across the broad span of public mass media, social media, data streams, and digital content.”

Twitter analyticsThe researchers will study pattern discovery and data visualisation in an effort to gauge people’s interaction patterns and shared interests in relevant social systems. The researchers also hope to develop collaborative tools and mobile apps “to enable new forms of public communication and social organisation.”

As of which sounds suitably vague, but the main goal for LSM is apparently to create new platforms for both individuals and institutions to identify, discuss, and act on pressing societal problems.

“The Laboratory for Social Machines will experiment in areas of public communication and social organization where humans and machines collaborate on problems that can’t be solved manually or through automation alone,” said Deb Roy, an associate professor at the Media Lab who will lead the LSM, and who also serves as Twitter’s chief media scientist. “Social feedback loops based on analysis of public media and data can be an effective catalyst for increasing accountability and transparency – creating mutual visibility among institutions and individuals.”

“With this investment, Twitter is seizing the opportunity to go deeper into research to understand the role Twitter and other platforms play in the way people communicate, the effect that rapid and fluid communication can have and apply those findings to complex societal issues,” said Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter.

“As social media leads us into the emergence of a new era of communication and engagement, the LSM, in collaboration with Twitter, will create analytical tools to help turn the vision of a new public sphere into reality,” adds Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab.

Privacy Worry?

The handing over of large amounts of tweets to the researchers is bound to raise privacy concerns, but a Twitter spokeswoman told Reuters that the data will not be traced back to individual users.

In August, Twitter decided to offer its analytics tools to every single registered user for free. This decision has effectively given social media enthusiasts the ability to track things like impressions, ‘engagement rate’, link clicks and other metrics previously available only to marketers and advertisers.

The dashboard will be especially useful to bloggers, small business owners, freelancers and anyone who’s planning to monetise their online presence.

In July, Twitter reported that its revenue grew 124 percent year-on-year, and the number of users increased by six percent.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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