July 13, 2009

Meme tracking and the News Cycle

A new Cornell study, Meme-tracking and the Dynamics of the News Cycle, is discussed by the New York Times in Study Measures the Chatter of the News Cycle. This study is interesting on a few levels, since the Cornell project tracks "the quotes and phrases that appear most frequently over time across this entire online news spectrum. This makes it possible to see how different stories compete for news and blog coverage each day, and how certain stories persist while others fade quickly."

But so far the effort seems to be targeted to prove that blogs lag slightly behind mainstream media and other details which can safely be concluded from casual looks at Google Hot Trends, and aggregators like Techmeme, PopURLs, and Original Signal. Social problems and political hot potatoes are safely avoided, as are steps toward improved decision-making. For a neglected perspective, see the recent AEP post on Anthony Downs' "Issue-Attention Cycle."

The problem with news is that celebrity, impulse twit-ches, and emotion rules -- "if it bleeds, it leads" still applies. News mostly feeds us lurid filler. Recognized on a basic level since at least the time of Edward Bernays is that advertising and politics are propaganda. This can be seen in behavioral targeting, web tracking, and the careers of people like consultant Frank Luntz. For some background on "framing" for the social mind, see Douglas Rushkoff's PBS docs Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders. Right now the pitchman has a foot in the door, but there's more coming, like "social-networking TV," an electronic panopticon where you can "participate in your own manipulation," as EBN mused.

Still the Cornell study is worth a look, and we can expect more visualizations because you can download MemeTracker data. There's also a beginning of a discussion by Zachary M. Seward of the Neiman Journalism Lab, Chris Anderson, and Scott Rosenberg.

Here's an excerpt of the NYT article:

'The paper, “Meme-tracking and the Dynamics of the News Cycle,” was also written by Jure Leskovec, a postgraduate researcher at Cornell, who this summer will become an assistant professor at Stanford, and Lars Backstrom, a Ph.D. student at Cornell, who is going to work for Facebook. The team has set up interactive displays of their findings at memetracker.org.
Social scientists and media analysts have long examined news cycles, though focusing mainly on case studies instead of working with large Web data sets. And computer scientists have developed tools for clustering and tracking articles and blog posts, typically by subject or political leaning.

But the Cornell research, experts say, goes further in trying to track the phenomenon of news ideas rising and falling. “This is a landmark piece of work on the flow of news through the world,” said Eric Horvitz, a researcher at
Microsoft and president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. “And the study shows how Web-scale analytics can serve as powerful sociological laboratories.”

Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor specializing in new media at the Columbia Journalism School, said the research was an ambitious effort to measure a social phenomenon that is not easily quantified. “To the extent this kind of approach could open the door to a new understanding of the news cycle, that is very interesting,” he said.'


Broward Horne said...

Empirical Meme theory and patterns of manipulation

Meme Theory

Rich said...

Usually I tire easily of information theory, but hijacking threads by observing meme growth and injecting keywords is marketing.

I think some can actually control humans herds to a point, but can't anticipate that inflection point when the flock changes direction.