Intro to Computational Media - Additional Description of TwiTerra

More info/thinking about TwiTerra.

437 words

I wanted to move some of the lengthy text (that was originally written for the ITP Projects Database) off of the main TwiTerra page, and I’m backdating this post so that readers don’t see it again.

Personal Statement

I have been fascinated by Twitter since I signed up for it several months ago. I am particularly interested in the widespread social customs (including the use of retweets and hashtags) that have become popular without being fundamental to the system, as well as in the potential for exploring the data that these conventions make accessible.

I am also interested in the negative social consequences of homophily, and I am interested in the ways in which new technologies such as Twitter can break down those barriers of similarity and create more geographically and culturally diverse communities.


My primary research has been several months of personal Twitter use. I have also spent time browsing the public feed of tweets from all users, exploring various search queries, and reading articles by a variety of bloggers. In addition, I explored political Twitter memes in somewhat more depth in a paper for Clay Shirky’s class on the election.


Everyone: Twitter non-users who are skeptical about its usefulness and worth as well as current Twitter users will appreciate the visualization of how it brings the world together.

User Scenario

A visitor or group of visitors would see the globe visualization on a large screen from several yards away, and would be able to watch several iterations of retweet trees during their approach. Upon arrival, visitors would be able to read the text of a handful of tweets in the visualization before I presented the one-line pitch. For the majority that is unlikely to be familiar with Twitter, I could explain the basic concept (“140-character status updates for interested friends, family, coworkers and strangers”) and the idea of a retweet (“repeating an idea or passing on a message from a person that you are following to all of the people who are following you, with attribution given to the original author”). I would provide further explanation to those that required it, and I would offer implementation details to those that had sufficient aptitude/interest.


Prior to this project, I did not have substantive experience with either Scala, PHP or MySQL, and I learned a lot about working with those tools. In addition, I now feel relatively comfortable with NASA’s World Wind Java libraries, despite their relatively sparse documentation. I also became much better at searching around on the Internet for solutions to programming problems.


Twitter, memes, social media, geolocation, NASA, networks, homophily