Twitter has dramatically changed the world in which we live.  Who would have thought that a status update in 140 characters could change the world?  In an article published in Smithsonian Magazine by Randy Rieland, he discusses the various and serious ways this quirky social media tool is being used and the even greater potential it has.  Some suggest it could be used as a barometer of the nation’s emotional health or even a tool to help urban planners to map travel routes.  While naysayers may think too much is being made of Twitter’s capacity, it is certainly gaining status as an analytical tool.  Here are just a few ways that influencers are using Twitter:

1) Detecting national sentiments:  Last month tech giant SGI introduced the “Global Twitter Heartbeat,” an analysis of 10 percent of the roughly 500 million tweets tapped out every day. The tool is designed to show the tone and intensity of what’s being said where.  Its first big effort was during Superstorm Sandy.

2) Polite or profane: The company Vertalab created its own Twitter heat map, but focused on the use of two particular phrases on Twitter.  While many weighed in with a conventional “Good morning,” a surprising number posted a two-word phrase rhyming with “duck flew.” Not surprisingly, the well-mannered tweets tended to come from the South, particularly parts of Texas and Tennessee, while the cursing flowed freely around New York,Toronto and especially Los Angeles.

3) Rise of new slang words:  Researchers at Georgia Tech analyzed 30 million tweets sent around the U.S. between December 2009 and May 2011 and concluded that new words, at least on Twitter, tend to first pop up in cities with large African-American populations, then spread.

4) Where everyone’s traveling:  Data-mapping expert Eric Fischer tracked millions of tweets from around the world and laid them over maps of highways to get a sense of how many people are heading where. He thinks urban planners could use this kind of data to fine-tune existing transportation systems and figure out where new routes are needed.

5) The new exit polls:  There is no doubt social media has played a huge role in the past two elections, and some analysts think Twitter can even help predict an election.  The Pew Research Center wasn’t surprised by President Obama’s reelection.  It analyzed 2,500 online conversations in the two months leading up to the election and found that a much higher percentage – 58 percent – of the comments about Mitt Romney were negative, while 45 percent of the tweets about Barack Obama were harsh.

6) Military intelligence:  Three U.S. Defense Department units are field-testing a software called the Dynamic Twitter Network Analysis (DTNA), to see how effective it is at gauging public opinion in political hot spots around the world.  The software pulls in data from the public Twitter feed, and then sorts it by phrases, keywords or hashtags.  The hope is that intelligence officers could use the software to understand people’s moods about a topic.

7) Medical information center:  Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania were surprised to see that people are using Twitter to share information on medical subjects that wouldn’t seem the stuff of tweets, such as cardiac arrest and CPR.  Their analysis of a month of tweets found more than 15,000 messages contained specific and useful health safety information.

8) Twitter literature:  The first annual Twitter Fiction Festival was just this past Wednesday. Since then, two dozen authors from five continents have been posting their mini-stories in five different languages.  The writing has been dubbed “flash fiction”.

How has the tweet changed your world?


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