Big data journalism - NYTimes analysing every tweet and shortened link from Facebook and Twitter to discover the mysteries of virality: HBR Blogs
The New York Times is documenting every tweet, retweet and click on every shortened url for Twitter and Facebook that points back to its site, according to Sinan Aral writing for the HBR Blog Network.
Aral, who is the Scholar-in-Residence at the NYTimes says the data is then combined with browsing logs to determine what the users do after they land on the site.
The point of this big data project according to Aral is to “understand and predict when an online cascade or conversation will result in a tidal wave of content consumption on the Times, and also when it won’t,” and then to turn this knowledge into actionable intelligence to drive sales and product development.
He describes the scale of the data project as Herculean and outlines the importance of visualisation in helping to interpret the data.
Aral gives three examples in the article; in the first, the tweets and article views seem to operate independently of each other, in the second the Twitter conversation is intense but translates into very little traffic for the Times. And finally in the third example (see images below), “an intense Twitter conversation moves in lockstep with engagement.”
(Image: Visualisation by Nikolaos Hanselmann for the NYTimes. This is example three. Source HBR Blogs)
“As people tweet and retweet the article,” writes Aral, “Their followers are clicking through and engaging with the content itself. This tight relationship between the online conversation and the website traffic is most pronounced when the three “influencers” tagged in the figure inspire the two largest spikes in traffic over the engagement lifecycle of the article.”
When people talk about data journalism or about what Amazon boss Jeff Bezos may have in mind for the Washington Post, this HBR Blog is a pretty good jumping off point.
Of course its what you do with the data once you have it that matters. For an organisation like the Grey Lady which employs a Scholar in residence, we need not worry.
But having worked in news rooms at media companies where the financial departments debased the philosophy of news gathering, its is easy to see how such information could be ill used.
Take Aral’s three examples. Stories one and two would be viewed by editorial (and by professional publishers and sales leaders ) as just as important to story three.
Just as certainly there would be those who would put the pressure on to shift all the emphasis to story type three in homage to the God of Traffic. The best data is no protection against poor analysis.
Each week Which-50 publishes Irregular Insights, a newsletter for digital leaders. Subscribe Today!