Last week I read the Wired Cloudline blog Beyond Google’s Reach: Tracking the Global Uprising in Real Time which talked about the search engine Topsy, which is designed to “rank people, not pages,” as Google does. Topsy is an entirely different search engine model than Google, and therefore can pick up and aggregate information from social media in perhaps a different way than Google.
A case was made that suggested that Google did not pick up tweets on the October 15th protest at Occupy Wall Street as efficiently as Topsy.
I decided to look for myself and compare the posts that have been gathered today for both Google and Topsy for Occupy Wall Street. What is interesting is that each are picking up different bits of media –
Topics for Google:
Google is picking up newspaper articles and newscasts, such as “Opinion: Occupy Wall Street is a vigil, not a protest,” New Jersey Star-Ledger, “Occupy Wall Street kitchen slowdown targets squatters,” NYPOST.com, “Occupy Wall Street in the Age of Technology”, Huffington Post, “Most Americans Aren’t Occupy Wall Street’s ’99 Percent’ The Atlantic.
Topsy has picked up the following topics in tweets: “Protesters turn their back on @ericcantor during speech at University of Michigan http://t.co/tyuLvH8b #ows ”
A trustworthy #OWS activist tells me that an influx of homeless and hardened criminals is causing major issues for Zuccotti campers
“Police use bulldozers to break up @OccupyRichmond. http://t.co/nMJW5RJw #ows ”
“#OWS has spread to 87 countries with 1,039+ distinct events. (and counting) http://t.co/wcgGqOks ”
Note that the Google search is producing articles that were published as much as three weeks ago, while the Topsy search is displaying tweets written just 18 minutes ago.
In the realm of tracking events of local or global importance, it would seem that a combination of these two types of searches would be best, so that we have well researched articles side by side with the up-to-the-minute crowdsourced view of the bystander.
On the one hand, in-depth reporting of a body of knowledge on an event is always useful in tracking history and trends, and offering insightful perspectives. What is published in newspapers, magazines and books is thought to have staying power, whereas we are not yet sure how long the impact of a tweet or Facebook post will last.
The veracity of tweets is questionable, and they are posted before anyone has a chance to check whether they come from reliable sources. When several sources convey the same message, however, it can indicate that something is really happening at a given location. Topsy can be important in tracking social movement such as the progress of an uprising or movement of a group of people. There is power in numbers, so the sheer number of people who will protest now using social media may increase because they have more confidence in doing so when they know others are of like mind.