Culture Politics Twitter Visualisation — Snurb, 26 July 2010

Sunday night’s leaders’ debate is unlikely to be remembered for the policy positions it revealed – indeed, perhaps the most memorable aspect of the night was how federal politics was nearly upstaged by the finale of Masterchef (some kind of cooking show, I believe :-).

So, how did the night unfold? Following the methodology I’ve outlined in my previous post on using Twapperkeeper archives to track tweeting patterns, we’ve had a look at Twitter activity across the three key hashtags ‘#ausvotes’, ‘#debate’, and ‘#masterchef’.

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First, we’ve plotted tweeting activity on all three hashtags over the period from 9 a.m. on Sunday to 9 a.m. on Monday: ‘#debate’ is in blue here, ‘#ausvotes’ in green, ‘masterchef’ in red (click to enlarge images). The values shown here represent tweets per 100 seconds – in other words, at its height, ‘#debate’ tweets peaked at nearly 600 tweets per 100 seconds (i.e. six tweets per second). For comparison: our look at the Labor leadership spill saw a peak of around 8.5 tweets per second.

Zooming in a little closer, to the core period of 5 p.m. to midnight, we see a few other notable – and expected – patterns emerge (tickmarks on the horizontal axis represent the hours):

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Unsurprisingly, ‘#debate’ activity (in blue) takes off rapidly from 6:30 p.m., and remains at a relatively high level over the following hour or so. It comes down to earth with a thud almost immediately after the debate is finished – by 8 p.m., it’s all over. ‘#ausvotes’ (in green) does not reach the same level of activity as ‘#debate’ (clearly, Twitter users are giving preference, for the moment, to the more specific hashtag for the event itself, rather than the generic election hashtag), but ‘#ausvotes’ activity continues on at a moderate level of around 10-20 tweets per 100 seconds for another couple of hours, before even the political junkies turn in for the night.

The ‘#masterchef’ hashtag behaves very differently, by contrast. There is a slow build-up to the show, from about 7 p.m. onwards, and a brief early peak just after 7.30 p.m. (driven in part by people complaining how the overrun of the debate broadcast is eating into their Masterchef viewing time. From about 8 p.m. onwards, ‘#masterchef’ is on a slow but steady boil; interestingly, for all the hype, it never quite reaches the intensity of ‘#debate’ (even the announcement of the winner peaks at ‘only’ 400 tweets per 100 seconds, for a very brief moment), but Twitter excitement is also slower to fade away again: where ‘#debate’ was over virtually at the moment that the broadcast itself finished, the, er, aftertaste of ‘#masterchef’ lingers until after midnight.

So much for the overall excitement generated by these events, then – in a separate post, I’ll look at the key themes of tweets during the leaders’ debate. Perhaps the most surprising observation for now is how in terms of volume over time, the debate did outrank Masterchef, given the comparative lack of interest which the election in general, and the debate in particular, has been able to generate. But perhaps it’s exactly the lack of fireworks during the debate which led people to tweet more – did Masterchef manage to keep its viewers glued to the screen more consistently?

(On that note: if anybody has some information on the exact timing of the ad breaks during Masterchef, I’d love to see it…)

About the Author

Dr Axel Bruns leads the QUT Social Media Research Group. He is an ARC Future Fellow and Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. Bruns is the author of Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (2008) and Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production (2005), and a co-editor of Twitter and Society, A Companion to New Media Dynamics and Uses of Blogs (2006). He is a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. His research Website is at snurb.info, and he tweets as @snurb_dot_info.

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