Twitter is a wild ecosystem of billions of words, thoughts, and stories. The new online tool Storywrangler takes the power of supercomputers to work as a powerful telescope capable of viewing this strange cosmos in real-time. And maybe, it could predict the future.
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In a way, Twitter is a microcosm of humanity’s online civilization. It’s been running since 2006 and since then it gathered billions of shorts posts from both humans and bots around the globe. Now, a team of American experts led by Thayer Alshaabi from the University of Vermont created a “telescope” capable of real-time study of the Twitter cosmos and perhaps search for answers to interesting questions.
This telescope is called Storywrangler and is run by the supercomputer at the Vermont Advanced Computing Core. It is equipped with virtual “lenses” that allow it to focus on the usage of words, thoughts, and even stories that get born and die on Twitter. As its creators say, Twitter may not represent all of humanity but it is used by a large and diverse group of our planet's inhabitants including powerful personalities.
Storywrangler is capable of showing the main sources of current discord. Essentially, it quantifies humanity’s collective focuses. And not just the views of famous people, but the daily ideas of the online mob. Alshaabi and his team can use Storywrangler to analyze single, double, and triple-worded phrases in Tweets in roughly 150 different languages posted since Twitter’s inception until now. And Storywrangler uses 15 minute long intervals so it’s quite close to being real-time analysis.
But Storywrangler is so much more than just another nifty tool to analyze social media. It also works as a global sensor of what’s going on. It detects what is going on, how people react to it and thus it can (to a certain degree) predict what will happen in the future. It’s not psychohistory yet, but Isaac Asimov would certainly be proud (or scared).
Alshaabi’s team clearly demonstrated that Storywrangler is capable of predicting political or financial instability. They analyzed the usage of the words rebellion and crackdown in different parts of the world to find out that the dynamics of these words on Twitter are conclusively correlated to the changes of geopolitical risks in these areas. The creators are convinced that Storywrangler and its successors will be part of science’s evolution. It could allow new ways of journalism, language study, or just the study of the online cosmos.
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