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Tweets are shrinking, UP physicists say


140 characters is apparently no longer a hindrance to communication, according to a study by Christian Alis and May Lim of the University of the Philippines.
 
This might be an indication of a change in the existing norms of a language.
  
“Previously, we found that utterance lengths in English fictional conversations in books and movies have shortened over a period of 200 years. In this work, we show that this shortening occurs even for a brief period of 3 years (September 2009-December 2012) using 229 million utterances from Twitter,” says the study’s abstract.  
 
“People are communicating with fewer and shorter words,” they said, almost certainly because we’re all using jargon more effectively, a report on the MIT Technology Review said.
 
The study has not yet been published but is uploaded in the Cornell University Library.
  
Interesting data
 
They measured the length of 229 million tweets published between September 18, 2009 to December 14, 2012, and said that the tweets have “shrunk dramatically”.
 
In the distribution of tweet lengths, they found two peaks: the first is near the 140-character limit. Alis and Lim interpreted this as a forced constraint, a restriction that people had to follow even if they wanted to tweet longer messages.
 
The second peak varies over time. Alis and Lim say that the median utterance length in words decreased from eight words to five words between November 2009 and December 2012.
 
This shortening is a global phenomenon for the whole data set, for tweets in English alone, even when links were disregarded.
 
“The shortening, it seems, can be explained by increased usage of jargon,” they said. This implies that Twitter users are becoming segregated into groups who understand the same jargon.
 
US tweets from state to state
 
Alis and Lim also study the 800,000 tweets geo-tagged with US states.
 
They said that there is a strong correlation between the number of tweets from each state and the socio-economic population of the state as recorded in the 2010 statistic of the US Census Bureau.
 
They also saw a clear geographical trend.
 
“Southeastern and eastern US states tend to have shorter utterance lengths,” they said.
 
Age, school level, and socio-economic status were also taken into account.
 
They discovered that the black population is strongly correlated with shorter utterances.
 
This proves that the black population uses Twitter significantly more than other groups. It could also mean that the use of jargon may be more common in this group.
 
The reason for this remains unclear. Alis and Lim’s study included correlation and not causality. Studying the latter would need closer examination of the content of the tweets. — TJD, GMA News
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