Organization or conversation in Twitter: A case study of chatterboxing

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Abstract

This paper reports on a case study of Twitter posts (tweets) by chatterboxers to study whether theories of organization of information are applicable to the study of user-supplied labels in Twitter. Chatterboxing is the act of watching a televised event such as the Super Bowl and using a second screen to engage with others, primarily in real time. Researchers have used communication theory as a framework for study of Twitter, considering both #hashtags and @mentions to be primarily communicative. To ascertain whether #hashtags may be fundamentally different and amenable to study as organizational conventions as well, we first compared differences between usage of #hashtags and @mentions during the Super Bowl by taking tweets from three locations identified as heavily invested in the event (hometowns of the teams and the location of the game: Boston, NYC, Indianapolis) and tweets from locations that were not invested (Dallas, Miami, Seattle). Non-parametric statistical comparisons were made between tweets from the three invested and non-invested groups to ascertain whether the uses of labeling conventions were identical. Next a qualitative analysis of a subset of non-location specific tweets supplied information about the content of tweets, the aboutness of #hashtags, and the placement of #hashtags in the tweets. Our findings indicate that #hashtags and @mentions do have two separate functions but that location has a positive influence on their statistical dependency. We also find that #hashtags are used as organizational mechanisms and can reflect aboutness. Specifically, #hashtags are used to describe in order to categorize and to retrieve in order to follow or join a conversation, and future studies should be able to use theories of organization of information to analyze these labels as a way of complementing their otherwise communicative nature.

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