This is a map of the current US congressmen and women who are currently on Twitter (you can click it to see a bigger map where you can read the names.) The direction of the arrows show who follows whom, and the size of the blobs indicates how “popular” a given congressperson is among their twittering peers (where “popular” means something like “is followed by many of their peers.”) Colours indicate party affiliation (for those of you who — like me — don’t live in the ‘States and who — like me — need reminding from time to time, the Democrats are the blue dots.)
A cursory glance at this map shows a few things:
- There are more Republican than Democratic congresspeople on Twitter. This is somewhat surprising because (post-Obamamania) we tend to believe that Twitter is a predominantly democratic environment (young, hip, technology friendly, coastal.)
- The two groups are pretty clique-y. If it weren’t for Neil Abercrombie and John Culberson, there’s little chance that information would flow between the two groups. Of course this isn’t a true representation — there may be twitterers external to the group (journalists say, political commentators, analysts, lobbyists and civil servants) who also act as bridges between the factions, but the map does seem to indicate a strongly polarized population. We’ve seen this sort of thing before — notably in Linkfluence’s PresidentialWatch ’08 map of the political blogosphere. There are, it seems fewer shades of grey.
- Eight of the Twitterers (including Twitter’s own ice queen, Hillary Clinton) aren’t even in the game. Nothing suggests that someone’s still using the web solely as a broadcast platform than an apparent refusal to play nicely with the other kids. Here are a couple of self-explanatory slides I showed in March ’08 as part of a presentation on why I thought Obama was doing the social media thing better than Clinton.
See also my previous post, Why doesn’t the Tory MP have twitter friends?
- He blogs at Let Texans Run Texas;
- He’s a fairly heavy Qik user (well, compared to me);
- His twitter stream consists predominantly of responses to questions and suggestions sent to him by other twitterers (how refreshing!)
- He has in the past used Twitter and Qik to broadcast from the House and the Oval Office;
- In a highly polarized map, he is one of the few Republicans to attract Democratic followers among his peers on Twitter.
John Culberson’s betweenness score
Now the Neil Abercrombie/John Culberson bridges are so striking that I thought it would be worth looking at the “betweenness” scores for this group. Betweeness is a measure of how much (or little) a node controls the flow of information in the network, its importance to the overall structure. It is one of the ways that we assess influence in a network (roughly speaking, the other two numbers we look at are “popularity” and “authority”, but more of that another time.)
So I ran the numbers and re-drew the map (much easier than it sounds) and got this:
Gosh. Culberson is really quite important when you look at it this way. Now — as I think I’ve suggested — I know very little about US politics (although this didn’t stop me flapping my jaw about Obama/Clinton, you’ll notice). So for those of you who are like me here’s a quick social media resumé of the congressman for Texas.
I know nothing about his politics. But you have to admit, he’d be an interesting man to meet.
How we make these maps
We’ve built a programme that spiders any list of Twitter people you give it for their friends and followers. There are plenty of these on the web, but ours is pretty good.
It spits out data in VNA format. Here is a zip file of the data we collected. (216 KB).
Generally we pre-process the data. I use a perl script or two to zoom in on the data we’re looking for. I’m happy to share this should anyone want to play with it.
We read the VNA data into UCInet and NetDraw (both can be downloaded from Analytic Technologies) for more processing and analysis and then mapping.
Hope this helps. I’m happy to take anyone through the process in some detail should they care to know more. As ever, all suggestions and feedback gratefully received.