Inspired by Lada Adamic‘s excellent Coursera on Social Network Analysis I thought it might be interesting to try to graph the network of Twiplomats – the world leaders or diplomats on twitter. Simply to see who follows who, who the central nodes in the network are, and whether hubs or communities have developed.
Numbers are all well and good. But we’re not perfect robot machines. That’d be weird.
People take decisions. Beautiful, irrational people. So transparency in organisations can’t only be about publishing vast amounts of data and hoping for the best.
We have to know who is taking the decisions. And who influenced the people that took the decisions. And whether they took the decision before or after lunch.
So open data is great. It’s lovely stuff. But if we’re to make institutions transparent, it’s going to be about people.
Very few people actually engage with numbers. People engage with people. So if we’re looking for public involvement, participation in or scrutiny of global governance institutions, then the people who work for global institutions are going to have to publish who they meet with, what they’re thinking, what they’re reading. What gets them fired up at work; what they worry about. What they’re doing, right now.
The story of The Independent journalist suspended for, erm, tweeting wrongly, has again drawn attention to a fundamental problem with twitter (and social media generally).
Twitter is providing, I would argue, an incredibly important, revolutionising, digital public square (more on that in my MA thesis, to be published here um soonish). But it’s a privately run platform. It has to make a profit from its sponsors, such as NBC.
As Alex Howard tweeted:
“The “new public square” online is complicated by the fact that “platforms” for free expression are owned by private companies. “
As Ben Goldacre tweeted:
Welcome back @guyadams. Twitter’s eagerness to suspend him makes me VERY nervous about investing effort in this place.
The Durban Climate Change Conference, or #COP17, is the biggest event in global governance right now, attempting to get the world to deal with the toughest global challenge.
The conference faces all the classic global governance problems: world leaders not leading cos they’re not world leaders, they’re national leaders…how to harness the voices of a thousand NGOs and private actors…how, in essence, to bring appropriately democratic politics to the issue of climate change.
The first step is just to be able to understand the public view – but it’s a global constitutency we’re talking about – everyone is affected by climate change.
In the context of global governance 2.0, Twitter has the potential to become, if it isn’t already, a global parliament – certainly on the debating side. Obviously Twitter doesn’t make global law, but it’s where ideas happen, its where people demonstrate what they believe, etc.
So how do you begin to make sense of all the thousands of tweets?
CNN are trying – with this astonishing visualisation, called ‘Ecosphere’. It’s geekily beautiful and might help us understand the central themes of the conference. But at the moment each of the large branches, formed by the most-used words in tweets including the tag #COP17, is a fairly obvious descriptive word – Durban, Africa or Climate Change. That doesn’t tell you a lot. And it’s pretty hard to navigate to individual tweets. It might have been more useful to provide some kind of sentiment analysis – simply whether people are saying positive or negative things.
It’ll be interesting to see how the ecosphere changes across the next few days, especially if individual nations are named and shamed or a central sticking-point arises. If the same descriptive keywords continue to monopolise the visualisation, however, it’ll be of limited use.