Basic Social Research Opportunities On Twitter

With a whole bundle of data right at the end of a simple Twitter search I've always thought it would be an awesome idea to somehow make use of it for user research. Specifically vernacular and terminology research.

  • How do they arrange what they say?
  • What words do they use together,
  • What way do they ask for help?

I previously had ambitions of building some kind of machine learning system to extrapolate all kinds of awesome metrics from that data. That project is semi-on-the-shelf for the moment but that doesn't mean I can't still somehow use the search data in a more high level way.

Using Tweets to Get and Idea of the Language People Use for a Given Topic.

Take a particular blog post that was written some time ago but does not perform as well as you feel it could. Head to Twitter advanced search and enter a few key terms from the post to bring up tweets somehow related to your topic.

Read through the list, note some down into a list, refine the search, note down more. Be sure to get a lot – try make sure you have mostly directly related tweets to what your topic is but also include some loosely related items and a handful that are borderline.

Partial match data is still good at this point but do exclude any that are obviously entirely unrelated to your needs. In a machine learning environment unrelated items would be good test data but manually they'll just add clutter.

Spotting Connection Phrases and Linking Words

Once you have a nice big list of tweets somehow linked to your topic choice take another read through them. Pay attention to the connecting words and phrases in them people use to bind the topic and objects together. Those are the words you'll use in linking phrases for an article.

Sometimes its harder to spot commonality within these linking phrase because the words don't have as much force as the specific key phrases we are searching for. That's why it's important to pay attention to them as much as you can – they are hard to discern from data gathered from searching only key phrases.

Find the Questions People Have About the Subject

The first thing to do is to find the questions people are asking about the subject matter. Are many people familiar with it? Do people have similar complaints? See the same question being asked again and again?

Finding questions can be done multiple ways. Checking for shares to sites you know people ask questions on is a good way. Searching for words that can indicate questions (‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Where’, ‘Why’,’ Will’, ‘How’ and ‘?’).

Knowing what questions people ask is a good way to spot any sticking points at various levels of expertise in the subject.

A side benefit of searching for shares to question sites is that it may also lead you to a better description of that question. Sometimes even the answer to many of those questions are at the links.

Knowing both the questions people have and the answers to those questions can be a great place to start refining posts or any content ideas you may have.

Connect the Unrelated Objects to the Related Ones

Sometimes there can be affinities between various topics that are seemingly completely unrelated. In any given group the people who like one things might majoritarily like something else. I cannot think of any real-world examples that have been proven to be accurate however I can give a few examples.

Lets say in a group of 10 people there are 5 cat owners and 5 dog owners. 4 of the cat owners like smooth peanut butter. 2 of the dog lovers like it too. You could say there is a strange affinity between cat owners and a preference for smooth peanut butter.

Another take on the above example might be that since 6 out of a total 10 pet owners prefer smooth that might imply that pet owners have an affinity with smooth peanut butter.

That's only a single, made-up, scenario with 2 provided perspectives. There are so many unseen affinities within different groups of people and subject matters that being able to correctly identify the ones that fit your audience profile is a huge boost to how likely people are to identify with the content you create for them.

Also if my above example is true then it makes total sense to somehow include smooth peanut butter on all of your cat related content. Keep that in mind for the future 😉


Peer Review On Stack Overflow – it’s What Makes it Awesome!

Stack Overflow has to be the number 1 place to visit when facing programming challenges. I visit it regularly and every other developer I know has been to it at least once during their career.

There are a swath of different network sites each with a focus on a specific set of challenges faced by a particular group. The point of all the sites is to get help, find answers and to get peer review for your ideas, questions or solutions.

The reason that Stack Exchange sites are so prevalent, and so useful, is because they follow some guidelines that ensure only high quality, useful, content.

Stack Exchange Questions

As a general rule Questions on Stack Overflow should be directly related to programming and Answers should be direct answers to the questions posed. Questions on other SE network sites may not be related to programming – that depends on the site but it should always be directly related to the site topic.

This way other people with the same question can find the solution they need a lot quicker than if questions, or answers, are too broad and do not include good examples.

Questions should follow a format that includes a minimum, complete, and verifiable example of the issue at hand. Ensuring questions have examples, capable of being reproduced, detailing the problem gives a greater chance of that question, and it’s answers, being valuable to people with similar issues.

Peer Review at Stack Overflow

I often run quickly through the question scenarios to verify issues or to give additional clarity to a question. I comment often but answer infrequently.

That is the essence of the peer review system. You provide whatever input or help you can in a given situation and are rewarded with Rep points for useful insight. You do not need to be providing the answers – all you need to do is provide some helpful input.

Rep Points

You gain Rep points from various positive site actions. Reaching certain milestones unlock some privileges.

The Rep system was not built to be treated as a status symbol. Benefit unlocks are infrequent, and often negligible, but you consistently unlock news ways to be helpful to other users and the site as a whole.

The points you accrue unlock milestones that allow you to be helpful in different ways.

Recently I crossed the 500 Rep mark. It’s not a very high milestone but it’s an important one.

At the 500 point mark you unlock access to some review queues. What I learned from looking through these queues is just how much peer review goes into everything you see on the Stack Exchange network of sites.

Peer Review – Review Queues

All questions from new users are reviewed. First answers are reviewed. New answers added to old questions are reviewed.

Almost every question is checked over to make sure it’s appropriate and that it meets a minimum standard expected for creating good questions.

One of the earliest review queues you can access is the new Documentation review queue. You can access it at 100 Rep. New docs are checked and edits to existing docs are checked to ensure that they add value in some way. This section needs more eyes to build it into a valuable resource but has less activity than some of the other queues.

At 500 points you can access:

  • Triage – to help identify good posts from ones that need work.
  • First Posts – you can use this as an opportunity to teach new users how to ask questions that result in good answers.
  • Late Answers – used to spot hidden Gems that may be missed due to the age of a question. This is also used to help filter out people adding answers purely for the Rep points.

People with review privileges are able to look through these posts and do quality checking on them. Several users check each post so a consensus can be met and people are encouraged to edit or comment on posts if they feel they can be improved.

This gives existing users a way to filter out low quality posts while helping improve useful content. It goes beyond simply spotting spam and removing answers that have no value. It’s about improving things as a whole.

Teach Users to Use Stack Overflow and They’ll Make It a Better Place for Everyone.

Aside from being filled with great answers one of the most instrumental things in making SO so useful is the help that users provide. It’s what keeps SO the dominant source of Questions and Answers to specific programming questions. Users ensure the site contains high quality content – and remove or edit content that is not useful or otherwise considered low quality.

Teach users to ask good questions and they’ll ask them better.

Show users the correct network to ask their question on and they’ll get a better chance at a good answer.

Point out an inefficient method in a question or solution.

Provide links to proper documentation to flesh out a fuller answer.

The point is improve things in a way that makes it more useful for everyone. Users might be asking the question or providing solutions – it doesn’t matter. The end result is a system that enables people to, find, provide or ask the right questions and answers to any given problem.

Peer review is instrumental in making that happen.