Patterns in social media: who is talking and what do they have to say?
Ryerson University social media researcher Anatoliy Gruzd strives to make sense of our networked world – how the way we use social media changes the way we communicate, collaborate and disseminate information.
Take for example the impact of major infrastructure projects. Gruzd and his team recently analysed Instagram and Twitter for insights into the implications of restricting access to Halifax’s Macdonald Bridge during a project to replace its deck. Every day, 48,000 vehicles, 700 cyclists and 750 pedestrians cross the bridge spanning Halifax Harbour. But the bridge has been closed most evenings and nights since the project began nearly two years ago, with occasional morning delays to reopen it.
As Gruzd points out, when people love something, hate it or are curious about it, they often turn to social media. Poring through millions of post and tweets with the help of advanced research computing, Gruzd discovered significant differences in the way Haligonians used each platform.
Even though Instagram is a photo-based site, its content was more conversational. Whether bridge authorities or Haligonians posted photos of the work, they often led to conversations about what the workers were doing and how the work was proceeding. “Basically, people were trying to learn about the project,” says Gruzd. Twitter, on the other hand, turned out to be more useful for spreading the latest news and updates about closures and openings.
Gruzd used both network and text analysis to draw his conclusions. Network analysis told him how people on social media were linked and who was dominating conversations. “We discovered there was a strong coalition of cyclists against aspects of the project,” says Gruzd. Meanwhile, text analysis showed what was on people’s minds. Together, these kind of insights could help governments manage risks involved in infrastructure disruptions, says Gruzd.