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This is a Man’s world

BBC gloats over a new Harvard twitter study. See – its not so social, is it? You’re just another broadcast medium. Ha. We know broadcast.

Yeah, well, its called the power law of participation, dude. So far all the BBC has proven is that Twitter is a social networking site. Broadcast medium? Let’s talk when the BBC hits the 10:90 producer:consumer ratio. The Harvard statistics included the majority of people who just registered for a glimpse of what the noise is all about but never came back. Again, typical of social nets. All that reflects is the fact that such sites are valuated (as in money) by the number of subscriptions.

What the BBC missed, however, is the huge gender gap:

Of our sample (300,542 users, collected in May 2009), 80% are followed by or follow at least one user. By comparison, only 60 to 65% of other online social networks’ members had at least one friend (when these networks were at a similar level of development). This suggests that actual users (as opposed to the media at large) understand how Twitter works.

Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or have more stringent thresholds for reciprocating relationships. This is intriguing, especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter: we found that men comprise 45% of Twitter users, while women represent 55%. To get this figure, we cross-referenced users’ “real names” against a database of 40,000 strongly gendered names.

Even more interesting is who follows whom. We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity – both men and women tweet at the same rate.

Twitter’s usage patterns are also very different from a typical on-line social network. A typical Twitter user contributes very rarely. Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.
At the same time there is a small contingent of users who are very active. Specifically, the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production. To put Twitter in perspective, consider an unlikely analogue – Wikipedia. There, the top 15% of the most prolific editors account for 90% of Wikipedia’s edits.

I don’t have the reference at hand, but I remember that FaceBook, for example, is dominated by women in the 25-35 band. What is it about Twitter that makes it a masculine medium? Is it the exhibitionist style of the tool? Or the fact that it is perceived as a marketing / business venue more than a social one? Whatever it is, is there a causal link between the gender bias of Twitter and its unique social dymanics? In other words, are woman better at listening and sustaining a conversation, while men just want to shout “Look at ME – I’m BIG!”

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Social Software, technology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

brainbook roundup

I supose this was expected. The Susan Greenfield story is going through the usual dance moves, with the old media and new media playing their typecast roles (Radio 4, so I’ve heard, balanced and sensible. well, surprise).

So, some of the good coverage I’ve seen so far:

Aleks Krotoski has seen it all before, but can’t avoid four poignant comments and a few good links.

Ben Goldacre gives the story the solid bad science treatment it deserves, and pointing us to

Vaughan‘s review of the  relevant literature at mindhacks.

I have to quote:

He points out the Dr Sigman quoted a 1998 paper called “The Internet Paradox”. This paper did indeed find a (weak) relationship between internet use and depression, loneliness, etc. This was 1998, at the very dawn of widespread use of the web, but more importantly, the very same authors went back and looked at the very same families, and found that the effect had disappeared. That seems relevant to me, especially if you’re going to quote the 1998 results, Dr Sigman?

You can read the paper in full online as a pdf. It says “This sample generally experienced positive effects of using the Internet on communication, social involvement, and well-being.”

There is no excuse for not knowing about this finding. Type the internet paradox into Google. Go on, do it:

Flessisgrass shares some notes from a recent talk Susan Greenfeld gave at the Jewish book week, giving us a glimpse at what she might have actually said at the Lords’ (as opposed to what the DM reported).

Those notes, as do some of the commentators, bring up the TV vs. Internet argument. Worth mentioning Clay Shirky‘s talk and Nick Carr‘s response.

Finally (ht @paternosterlift) here’s some new data on how we twit. Sorta related, and my way of saying, right, nuf, move on.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | neuroscience, Social Software | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


@JonathanPoole and I met at the Duke of York last night to talk about social media, collaboration, investment banking, and things we’d like to do together. Jonathan reflected on the sensation of joining twitter, and similar systems (like Yammer) and compared it to Hypomania.

I found that very powerful. First, I could definitely relate to that analogy. Consider some of the symptoms:

  • pressured speech; rapid talking
  • inflated self-esteem or grandiosity;
  • decreased need for sleep;
  • flight of ideas or the subjective experience that thoughts are racing;
  • easy distractibility and attention-deficit

Sounds familiar? Well, here’s the good news:

People with hypomania are generally perceived as being energetic, euphoric, visionary, overflowing with new ideas, and sometimes over-confident and very charismatic. […] A person in the state of hypomania might be immune to fear and doubt and have little social inhibition. People experiencing hypomania are the typical “life of the party”. They may talk to strangers easily, offer solutions to problems, and find pleasure in small activities.

Not bad. And yes, it does resonate with a lot of the behaviour I’ve seen on Twitter. But there’s a dark side as well.

  • increase in psychomotor agitation; and
  • steep involvement in pleasurable activities that may have a high potential for negative psycho-social or physical consequences (e.g., the person engages in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments).
  • (sometimes) emotional flattening or blunted affect.

Is this a mere analogy or is there a correlation between involvement in certain social media and a psychological condition? Could this explain why some people jump in with glee and others simply can’t be bothered? Or maybe twitter induces a sort of momentary pseudo-hypomenia? If so, will prolonged exposure lead to personality change? Either way, I see this as an important warning:

People in hypomanic episodes do not have delusions or hallucinations. They do not lose touch with reality in the sense that they know who they are and what is real. What can be a problem, however, is that they tend to overestimate their capabilities and fail to see the obvious risks involved in their ventures. For example, if they are in business, they may suddenly decide to expand in a way that is not really practical or set up schemes for which they are ill prepared.

Recently I’ve found that for me, the right way to use twitter is to uninstall any client, and instead open the twitter site for a limited time when I choose to. That allows me to modulate both the time drain and the emotional / cognitive impact. It might be that such a tactic allows me to experience the joy of “twitter-induced pseudo-hypomania” without suffering the consecuences. I simply bail out before I do something stupid. Granted, I’m probably less of a party star this way. Perhaps there’s a pattern here.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | technology | , , , , | 4 Comments

by far, the best summary of #hhl08

says it all. (ht James Clay)

October 17, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment