Tweet Bursts at MIT SENSEable City Lab, 2014

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Study authors

Michael Szell
Sebastian Grauwin
Carlo Ratti – Director


Luis Carli
NJ Namju Lee
Yaniv Turgeman
Matthew Claudel

Social media have fully pervaded our lives. With their widespread use it has become possible to study massive data streams in which people express their sentiments, often towards a specific topic. We exchange emotions of love or hate towards each other on Facebook, and we react to important political affairs, to exciting sports events, or to arousing natural catastrophes with messages on Twitter. The Senseable City Lab, in partnership with Ericsson, has undertaken a visual and scientific exploration of how we express this excitement online, and how this could improve our understanding of human behavior.


The more excited we are, and the more intense the flurry of messages in the collective, the shorter our messages become. Our emotional bursts become faster and more impulsive online, letting us unveil how we sense events offline – with striking mathematical regularity. The study raises a number of important questions: Are people doing this independently, or in response to seeing other short messages? Are we following the herd? Could we use these insights to learn more about financial bubbles by measuring more impulsive, less rational responses? And can we design better communication services?

Special Thanks to:
Moritz Stefaner and Stephan Thiel (emoto and Studio NAND), and Stewart Townsend (Datasift) for data and inspiration

As the partnership between Ericsson and MIT continues, research will delve more deeply into these questions, thus fostering our understanding of how people behave in any aspect of their life, whether it is tweeting, commenting, or moving around, shaping a single signal, the signature of humanity.

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