Once again, too much time has passed between ATNIX updates; I hope to return again soon at least to regular monthly posts, but for the moment, this will need to be another two-month update. Several circumstances have combined to cause delays this time around: for one, Twitter finally transitioned to a new version of its Application Programming Interface, which is our source of data for link-sharing activity, and we needed to make sure our data-gathering systems had successfully transitioned as well and continued to produce reliable data. Second, we have also been struggling to track the repositioned Conversation (now at .com rather than .edu.au), and have been trying to find a way to track links to the newly-launched Guardian Australia. And finally, the dramatic political events of the recent weeks in Australia have meant that our focus in processing and analysing Twitter data has been on more pressing matters – for example, our initial study of the use of Twitter in tracking the Labor leadership #spill, and our investigation of how and when leading Australian politicians gained their Twitter followers. Oh, and then there’s our report on Social Media in the Media, examining the coverage of social media in politics by mainstream newspapers in Australia.
These excuses out of the way, then, let us return to the matters at hand: our ATNIX trends for mid-May to mid-July. First, some words on our two problematic sites: The Conversation makes a welcome return to the index with this update, but some caveats do apply. You may recall that the site all but disappeared from the index in week 13, due to its move from a .edu.au to a .com domain as part of its internationalisation push. From July onwards, we are now tracking theconversation.com once again, and the site puts in a strong performance; however, it should also be noted that its growing stature in the UK and elsewhere (and the addition of UK contributors to its author base) also means a comparative inflation of its numbers: links to The Conversation are now quite likely to be shared by many non-Australian Twitter users as well. To some extent, then, The Conversation is an apple when most of the other opinion and commentary sites and sections we’re tracking in ATNIX are oranges – however, as we’ve seen especially in the context of major international stories in past ATNIX updates, quite a few of the other Australian sites get their share of international readers as well.
Tracking the freshly-launched Australian version of The Guardian is even more problematic at this point, and it remains excluded from ATNIX for the time being, therefore. We gather the raw Twitter data for ATNIX on the basis of base domains (such as abc.net.au), but for now, Guardian Australia is hosted at guardian.co.uk along with its parent newspaper. And while the Australian version’s front page is located at guardian.co.uk/australia, most of its Australia-specific content (such as, for example, Lenore Taylor’s column) is posted under guardian.co.uk/world or similar site paths. So, at present there is no opportunity to reliably distinguish links to Guardian Australia content from links to the UK or US editions of The Guardian – and comparing the global volume of Guardian-related tweets to tweets that reference domestic Australian news sites would take us well past apples and oranges. If – as has been suggested – Guardian Australia eventually moves to guardian.com.au (currently a site selling home safety systems) or some other local domain, we’ll be sure to include it in ATNIX, of course.
Standard background information: this analysis is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude irrelevant sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). For our analysis of ‘opinion’ link sharing, we include only those sub-sections of mainstream sites which contain opinion and commentary (e.g. abc.net.au/unleashed, articles on theaustralian.com.au which include ‘/opinion’ in the URL), and compare them with dedicated opinion and commentary sites.
ATNIX Weeks 20-27/2013: 13 May to 7 July 2013
ATNIX trends for the past eight weeks reveal a curious pattern: since week 20, there’s a pronounced drop in link sharing activity on Twitter, across all sites. When for weeks 1-19, the weekly average of links to the news sites remained at just under 170,000 tweets, for weeks 20-27 we counted an average of some 140,000 tweets per week, and there is no obvious explanation for this decline. One possible explanation is the Twitter API changeover in mid-May, which may have affected the total volume of tweets matching our URL search terms which are now delivered to us; if so, we must simply accept that this lower level will be the new baseline for our week-on-week comparisons. However, during the second half of 2012 we did see a similar temporary slump in Twitter activity around the Australian news sites, between weeks 35 and 40, so it is not inconceivable that other, external factors are to blame for the present drop-down as well.
At any rate, even at their reduced volume the past two months see a continuation of a recent trend that has ABC News ahead of its nearest competitor, the Sydney Morning Herald, and second-tier sites The Age and news.com.au competing neck-and-neck for third place. Interestingly, there is also a pronounced further slump for SMH and Age in the final week, and we will keep close watch of whether that slump continues into the future: on 2 July 2013, at the start of week 27, Fairfax introduced its long-foreshadowed paywall system which – while providing readers with a comparatively generous allowance of 30 articles per month before the paywall kicks in – may result in a reduction of tweets linking to such paywalled content (we have seen a similar reduction in the past when The Australian introduced its paywall, for example). However, as the non-paywalled ABC News also declined in week 27, it’s too early to say for sure what’s to blame for the Fairfax slump that week.
The day-to-day breakdown sheds further light on news-sharing activity during the past couple of months. We can see clearly the drop-off in overall activity since week 20, but also the relatively steady overall tweeting patterns over these weeks:
The high point of this period, of course, is week 26, which saw the dramatic events in the Australian Labor Party that led up to the eventual leadership challenge and change on 26 June. Here, the SMH puts in a handful of comparatively strong days, even if the total volume of news tweets captured by ATNIX barely exceeds that of the surrounding weeks – an indication, perhaps, that (especially compared to the surprise spill of 2010) the 2013 leadership change had been a long time coming, and was therefore more strongly a television than a newspaper/online media event, with less pronounced effects on the volume of tweeted news links. Indeed, of the 5,700 tweets linking to ABC News content on 26 June, some 10% linked simply to the ABC News 24 Website which carries its live stream.
Curiously, the major peak for the SMH over the past eight weeks (and the one day that it surpassed ABC News at least temporarily) was caused by a brief piece about the new oldest man in the world, Jiroemun Kimura, who is now the only male remaining to have been born in the 19th century. It caught the attention of US blogger Matt Drudge, whose tweet linking to the article was widely retweeted and resulted in a variety of follow-on tweets also linking to the article – adding up to some 1,050 tweets on 28 May alone.
The extraordinary political events of week 26 are more clearly reflected in the link-sharing patterns for our Australian opinion and commentary sites and sections, which do show some significantly increased activity during weeks 25 and 26. Here, the two Fairfax sites continue their reign as the leading Australian performers – but in week 27, The Conversation (now as a .com domain, and with its numbers somewhat inflated by its new-found international audience) makes its return to ATNIX at number one with a bullet, while the Fairfax sites slump down considerably, possibly due to the new paywall.
Much of the ramping-up of Fairfax activity during weeks 24 to 26 can be attributed to the increasing Labor leadership speculation during that time; the daily patterns pinpoint the key moments during this time in even greater detail, and again highlight the heightened levels of activity especially on 26 June.
On the day of the challenge, the Sydney Morning Herald’s politics live blog leads the way, with some 650 tweets linking to it; the 27 June edition of the live blog adds another 100+ tweets to the count. First commentary pieces, such as a critical article by Anne Summers on the bullying of Julia Gillard, on 27 June, also receive substantial attention (320 tweets) – but more tangentially related articles, such as a story on the links between Joe Hockey and failed Peter Slipper accuser James Ashby, also manage to cut through (200 tweets on 27 June). And there’s plenty of other commentary about the leadership change and its implications which was widely shared during those days, of course – and more to come as we creep towards the election (whenever it may be), no doubt.
Finally, though, a quick look at a most unusual spike in activity around the normally rather dormant Brisbane Times opinion section: on 18 June, it briefly ascended to the heady heights normally reserved for its more illustrious Fairfax stablemates. This was due to an opinion piece by author John Birmingham, adding together the various acts of outright misogyny (against Julia Gillard, Nigella Lawson, ADF cadets, and others) to berate and berant the troglodytes behind such offensive behaviour en groupe. Clearly, he hit a nerve: all but 40 of the 740 tweets referencing the Brisbane Times opinion section that day linked to his article. Well done that man.