Abigail Leffler perchs on the development branch and broods over the content analysis of multilingual tweets and posts
Any collection of signs systematically arranged (or the absence thereof) can be read and interpreted. Edgar Allan Poe’s A Dream within a Dream, Edvard Munch’s The Scream painting, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a tiger’s territorial markings in the Amur region, mobile phone traffic in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and all the electronic footprints we ever leave behind by virtue of our Internet usage are examples of this. The key point is that, in our search for patterns or for elements that maintain or break patterns in a sample, we are searching for clues to predicting behaviour or finding trends and hidden messages.
Now for the sake of simplicity and to keep true to the title of this post, let us alight on the analysis and derivation of meaning (a.k.a. interpretation) of our Internet footprints. Let us, furthermore, focus on blogging and microblogging in the context of communication for development.
How do we analyse data from blogs and microblogs? We could be looking at quantitative methods such as collecting the amount of tweets and posts and the frequency thereof, and further we could be looking at the geographical distribution of such entries or at the speed at which they come during or after an event. We could consider which entries are the most influential within a specific period of time. We could also be looking into the qualitative content of such data, and we could be looking into a keyword analysis to gauge sentiments or determine key topics in discourse. And now let us expand on this last point. What are the caveats we need to bear in mind when the analysis is conducted within a globalised, multicultural environment, and where tweets and posts come in forms as diverse as chatter, clucks, quacks, chirps, hoots, coos and caws?