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Using Twitter to Map and Measure Online Cultural Diffusion

Using Twitter to Map and Measure Online Cultural Diffusion


Across the globe, daily economic, social and political activities increasingly revolve around the use of social content on the Internet. This user-generated content influences our understandings of, and interactions with, our social environment, and yet it is remarkable how little we know about the broader contexts in which much of that content is created. Using the world’s most popular micro-blogging platform, this project therefore proposes to comprehensively uncover: (1) where Internet content is being created; (2) whether the amount of content created in different places is changing over time; and (3) how content moves across time and space in the Social Web.

As an entry point into research on the social Web, this project will analyse data from the world’s most used, and arguably most influential, micro-blogging platform: Twitter. The platform might initially appear to just be a source of trivial content creation. However, it has recently been the source of significant change in political campaigning and protest, education, emergency response, legal proceedings, and cultural expression. The sheer scale and volume of content that passes through the platform allows it to provide valuable insights into real-time conversations happening throughout the world.

This project will develop and employ rigorous methods to map and measure how conversations on Twitter are taking place over time and space. Stage one will consist of creating a database of all geolocatable content on the platform in order to map the geographies of content creation (i.e. it asks: ‘who is creating content?’). Stage two will move beyond straightforward mappings of content in order to examine the movement of concepts and ideas over time and space. The final, and most ambitious, stage of this project will explore the changing visibility of the world’s twenty most widely spoken languages in the social Web.

By bringing together methods that are at the intersection of computer science and social science, this project aims to geographically and temporally map the movement of content and ideas in the social Web. It will examine where content is created, who is creating content, and how that content is layered over our material environment. Doing so will allow broad academic debates about inclusion, social participation, and cultural diffusion on the Internet to be addressed.


This project is suported by Oxford University Press’s Fell Fund.

John Fell OUP Research Fund

Key Information

  • John Fell OUP Research Fund
  • Project dates:
    October 2011 - October 2013

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