Maths model for tweets throws up some surprises

University of Limerick researchers used a mathematical model to look at how information gets retweeted

‘We assumed that people on Twitter had little time and they retweeted the most recent thing they saw, and we didn’t need to assume that some people have more followers’

‘We assumed that people on Twitter had little time and they retweeted the most recent thing they saw, and we didn’t need to assume that some people have more followers’

Thu, Jan 30, 2014, 01:00

How does a meme, or idea, spread on Twitter? Researchers at the University of Limerick used a mathematical model to look at how information gets retweeted or passed around, and they found a few surprises.

“Most tweets are sent out once by the original person and are not retweeted,” says Prof James Gleeson of the Mathematics Application Consortium for Science and Industry. “Of the remainder, some are retweeted very many times, so you get a fat-tailed distribution with a peak at one tweet and then a tail that stretches out towards thousands of retweets.”

Working with a stripped-down mathematical model, the researchers found that, with just a few basic assumptions about tweets and tweeters, they could achieve that distribution.

“We assumed that people on Twitter had little time and they retweeted the most recent thing they saw, and we didn’t need to assume that some people have more followers,” says Prof Gleeson.

Nor did the memes have to be particularly interesting to be more popular in the model.

The team was able to duplicate the fat-tailed distribution on the model as was seen when a meme is retweeted on Twitter.

The study, which received funding from Science Foundation Ireland and EU Framework Programme 7, is at arxiv.org and is due to be published this week in Physical Review Letters.


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