Researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara believe they can take this a step further by using genetics as a template. They suggest that each of us has a particular social media genotype, which is based upon the interests we have (and post about online). This genotype can then be used to predict how we behave online.
To begin with, they wanted to see whether they could determine our genotype (interests) by analysing the Twitter firehose. They looked at nearly 500 million tweets from over 40 million users, and grouped hashtags along five main topic areas:
- science and technology
“Our hypothesis is that individual users exhibit consistent behavior of adopting and using hashtags (stable genotype) within a known topic,” says Bogdanov.
So in other words, people tend to stick to a core topic of interest whilst on Twitter, and are consistent in their posts on that one topic.
He then goes on to suggest certain structures that posts around a topic area are typically made. They refer to these structures as topical influence backbones.
Once you know someones genotype and how they relate to the topical influence backbones, it becomes possible to predict how they will react to posts either on a given topic or containing a given hashtag.
Of course, this analysis was conducted using historical data. They haven’t thus far managed to gaze into their crystal ball and predict future trends on Twitter, which is where the real value will sit. It seems only a matter of time however before scientists begin to get pretty good at discovering distinct patterns in social media behaviour and using these to predict future events.