Oh dear – I’m afraid it’s been some time since I last updated our Australian Twitter News Index; I’ve been significantly delayed by a number of overseas research engagements. So, to catch up to somewhere approximating the present, here’s a condensed run through some of the major developments of the past couple of months, starting from where we left off in the middle of March and taking us through the middle of May. I’ll update the last fortnight in some more detail in a separate post.
ATNIX Weeks 12-19/2013: 18 Mar. to 12 May 2013
We begin with the weekly figures for the sharing of links to Australian news sites on Twitter. Except for a brief dip in week 13 (158,000 tweets), the overall volume of tweets sharing news has been strong over this eight-week period – other than during that week, we never saw fewer than 170,000 tweets per week, and weeks 16 (195,000) and 18 (205,000) even troubled the 200,000-tweet marker.
The most remarkable story over these weeks is the continued strong performance of the ABC’s news content compared to long-time front runner Sydney Morning Herald. Notably, this isn’t due to a slump in the SMH’s own numbers, which – at an average of just under 30,000 tweets per week – remain slightly above the long-term average for the site. Rather, for reasons which I’m at a loss to explain, ABC News has pulled ahead by some margin since week 5 or so, and has put daylight between itself and its nearest rival. To illustrate: during the second half of 2012, the ABC received an average of 26,000 tweets per week for its news content – since week 6 of this year, that average has risen to 36,000. And this has happened while the links received by other sites have remained comparatively static.
Now, it’s possible that this increase in tweets linking to the ABC is the result of a net of spambots – Twitter accounts which seek to make their message appear less ‘spammy’ by including legitimate URLs in their tweets. News sites are often used for this purpose, since their content is easily discoverable and changes frequently. But – as you may remember from when news.com.au received an unexpected boost from spammers – those bots are often fairly easy to detect; they’re extremely heavy posters, use non-standard URL shorteners, or show other unusual tweeting patterns. None of this appears to be the case here – so either we’re dealing with a new step up in spamming technology, or a genuine and sustained increase in the number of links to ABC News content that are being shared on Twitter.
For the opinion and commentary sites and sections, the picture looks remarkably different – and at just under 25,000 tweets per week, the overall average has been bang on target for the year to date, but also (as we’ve become used to by now) subject to much more substantial day-to-day and week-to-week fluctuations than is the case for the sharing of news links.
There’s an obvious hitch, though, and that’s with the figures for The Conversation. Unknown to me, unfortunately The Conversation changed its default settings a few weeks back, as part of its expansion beyond Australia: while theconversation.edu.au still works, it now redirects immediately to theconversation.com, and almost all articles being shared on Twitter (especially through URL shorteners) also default to that URL. I wasn’t aware of this change, and thoroughly disagree with it: .com domain names are almost literally a dime-a-dozen commodity these days; .edu.au domains are far more tightly regulated and available only to a select group of accredited Australian education and research providers and related entities. The Conversation’s .edu.au domain always set it apart from the other opinion-mongers in Australia, as a site supported and populated by Australian universities and their staff. It would be a shame if this important distinction was lost in the shift to theconversation.com.
Most immediately, what the change has meant is that The Conversation has temporarily dropped off our radar, since week 13: we’ve dutifully continued to track theconversation.edu.au, but the real activity had shifted to theconversation.com. We’ll rectify this in the coming weeks, but for now it’s worth noting that the added 4,000-odd tweets which The Conversation regularly draws would have pushed our weekly opinion averages quite a bit higher than they’ve turned out to be.
The daily patterns over the past few weeks also point to the exceptional performance of ABC News links during this time; on its best days, the ABC received well over 4,000 more tweets than its nearest competitor, the Sydney Morning Herald. At the same time, though, the ABC’s characteristically deep slump during the weekend continues – in the absence of the weekend edition content which newspaper sites like SMH and Age excel at, the ABC drops down much further than its competitors during Saturday and Sunday. This also lends support to the theory that its strong weekday performance isn’t due to spam accounts: spambots don’t take time off on weekends, do they?
While there isn’t the time and space here to examine all of the various spikes in news sharing activity over the past eight weeks in full detail, and handful do stand out and deserve further scrutiny. ABC News’ most remarkable spike occurs on 16 April, when it even touches the 10,000 tweets/day mark. The reasons for this are diverse, however: articles covering the Boston Marathon attacks and the simultaneous fire at the JFK Library receive some 600 and 320 tweets, respectively, and a range of subsequent updates are also shared. At nearly 900 tweets, the leading article on the day, however, refers to a new bombing in Iraq which killed 20 – an event whose coverage many Twitter users compared to the wall-to-wall reporting about the Boston attack and subsequent manhunt. Third in the mix, with some 720 tweets, is a domestic story about One Nation co-founder David Ettridge’s new lawsuit against Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
The second most significant ABC spike during these weeks is on 7 May, and here it appears that the ABC may have tapped into substantial overseas interest as well as a domestic audience: the lead item this day is an extended interview with Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim which was published under the Australia Network News banner and drew some 630 tweets. Given this billing, and Twitter’s popularity in Malaysia, it’s likely that quite a few of the users sharing the story would have been based in Malaysia.
Finally, also of note is a very strong spike for The Age on 29 April. Here, we once again see the utility of Twitter as a medium for breaking news and urgent messages being demonstrated: some 3,300 tweets that day referred to just one story, about a 15-year-old girl who had disappeared in Melbourne the afternoon before. Notably, some 2,700 of those tweets linked to a version of the article which was formatted for mobile devices; clearly, many Melbournians decided to help raise awareness of the police call for assistance as soon as they saw it.
So much, then, for a quick catch-up which almost brings us up to speed again. Next time we’ll deal with some of the issues caused by recent changes to how Twitter provides is data, reintroduce The Conversation to ATNIX, and check on how the Australian edition of UK newspaper The Guardian has been received.
Standard background information: this analysis is based on tracking all tweets which contain links pointing to the URLs of a large selection of leading Australian news and opinion sites (even if those links have been shortened at some point). Datasets for those sites which cover more than just news and opinion (abc.net.au, sbs.com.au, ninemsn.com.au) are filtered to exclude irrelevant sections of those sites (e.g. abc.net.au/tv, catchup.ninemsn.com.au). For our analysis of ‘opinion’ link sharing, we include only those sub-sections of mainstream sites which contain opinion and commentary (e.g. abc.net.au/unleashed, articles on theaustralian.com.au which include ‘/opinion’ in the URL), and compare them with dedicated opinion and commentary sites.
See the posts tagged ‘ATNIX’ at Mapping Online Publics for a full collection of previous results.