In 5th grade I was given a map of the United States and told to memorize each state’s location, capital, and spelling. Two weeks later I was supposed to be able to fill in a blank one on my own. In 8th grade I was given a map of the world and told to memorize each country’s location, capital, and spelling. Two months later I was supposed to be able to fill in a blank one on my own. Moral of the story: I passed both with flying colors, but these maps are slightly different than the maps 20 year old me is dealing with now.
According to the Pew Research Center, “Like topographic maps of mountain ranges, network maps can also illustrate the points on the landscape that have the highest elevation.” Much of the social media world remains unmapped as of now. By charting conversations especially with services like Twitter, we can gin insight into the role social media plays in our society. “A more complete map and understanding of the social media landscape will help interpret the trends, topics, and implications of these new communications technologies.”
There are 6 different archetypes of network crowds that have been mapped. One of them is the polarized crowd. By definition this network consists of 2 big groups with little connection. I think the best example of this can be seen every election season between partisan groups. Twitter has become grounds for much campaigning but those who tend to vote blue over red or visa versa usually keep the ball in their respective courts when discussing national political issues. Today Hillary Clinton announced her official candidacy in the 2016 presidential race. I saw overwhelming support for her on all of my accounts however, I know that plenty of the people I follow do not support her. There is definitely a divide when it comes to political news like today’s and a polarized crowd emerges.
Polarized crowd photo courtesy of the Pew Research Center.
Another example of a mapped network is a tight crowd. Highly interconnected people constitute this archetype. The most recent Twitter thread I can remember exemplifying this is the NACA 2015 conference in Minneapolis, MN. For the 5 days I was in attendance, the conversations were off the charts in their interconnectedness. According to Pew Research, “These structures show how networked learning communities function and how sharing and mutual support can be facilitated by social media.” It was almost as if using the hashtag #naca15 unlocked the door to an entirely new community.
The broadcast network is commentary surrounding breaking news as it unfolds. I am a member in this web every Jays basketball game. There’s play by play tweets, commentary on bad calls, exciting plays, score updates, and Bluejay roll call around the country. The great thing about the Bluejay broadcast group is that everyone seems to get in conversation with one another regarding the news at hand.
The largest group of people falling into the brand cluster map are high school/college aged girls who drink Starbucks. According to Pew Research, “Well-known brands and other popular subjects can attract large fragmented Twitter populations who tweet about it but not to each other.” I’d even go farther to say that Instagram is the biggest medium of Starbucks related posts. The fact of the matter is, girls aren’t posting pictures of their coffee cups to get into conversation. They are doing it to get likes, favorites, retweets, or jealous friends who are upset they weren’t invited.
It’s so interesting to think about the complexity of these maps in retrospect to the material I was studying in middle school. The world is changing; are we able to keep up?