Sharing enthusiasm online

- February 14, 2011

C A N A D A   G A M E S


Anatoily Gruzd with one of his team's visualizations of online conversation during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (Bruce Bottomley photo)

Few shared experiences unite and divide people like sports do: team versus team, province versus province, events like the Canada Games provide an opportunity to celebrate success, line up behind teams of choice and ‘rah rah’ right to the podium.

That enthusiasm is often contagious when you’re sitting in the stands. But does the same hold true when you’re sitting at your computer screen?

Anatoliy Gruzd, assistant professor with the School of Information Management, tried to answer that question during last year’s Vancouver Olympics. The director of the school’s Social Media Lab, he and his team analyzed over 46,000 Twitter posts, or ‘tweets,’ to assess what sort of messages were most likely to be shared by others. One year later, they’re doing a similar analysis of online discussion about the Canada Games here in Halifax.

“The idea came from a study on face-to-face communities, where they found that happiness, in face-to-face communities, was three degrees contagious—a friend of a friend of a friend can influence if you’re happy or unhappy,” says Dr. Gruzd. “So we wanted to see how this is happening in online communities, where people may not be so closely associated.”

The research ties into the lab’s work on visualizing large-scale online communities and conversation. Twitter is a great environment to work in, explains Dr. Gruzd, because it covers a wide geographic area, its data is mostly public and information travels incredibly fast. As for focusing on sporting events, it’s that they’re a place ripe for emotional expression.

“The Winter Olympics was a global event, with lots of media attention and online discussion, but it’s also where we’d expect to see both positive and negative emotions expressed: celebrating victory, being upset over defeat and everything in between.”

After collecting the Twitter posts, Dr. Gruzd and his team use sentiment analysis software to assess the degree to which a tweet is positive or negative. After manually reviewing to ensure the sentiments were correctly analyzed, the team then builds user maps to track the flow of conversation and the topics discussed.

“What we found is that even though most of the messages were neutral—informational, sharing photos or stories—if you just look at the messages that express emotion, there were three times more positive ones than negative. And they were three times more likely to be re-tweeted, on average.”

Dr. Gruzd is keen to see whether the Canada Games’ conversations follow similar patterns. His lab has already published its first report on pre-Games chatter, finding a loyal and tightly-knit community of Twitter users readily retweeting positive messages about the Games. The Social Media lab plans to produce three more reports through to the end of the games, which will be shared here at Dal News.

You can also keep track of online conversation about the Canada Games at its website.

Dalhousie is a proud Sapphire Sponsor of the 2011 Canada Games. For more:

  • Visit our Canada Games website with links to all Games-related Dal News stories
  • Read first-person Games accounts and get Dalhousie results at our blog
  • Contribute your Games photos to our Flickr group


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