A Twitter Experiment

I’m a long-time Twitter skeptic.  It’s difficult for an economist to see a 140 char lmt as a ftr.  My journalist friends tell me I’m dead wrong.  And a recent long and boozy evening with co-founders Evan Williams and Jason Goldman convinced me to give it a try.  Is Twitter worth the hype?  Let’s find out.

Today I’m beginning my Twitter Experiment. I’m now tweeting @justinwolfers. I’m going to keep this up for a couple of weeks as a “burn in” period—basically so that I can learn the ecosystem before my experiment begins. Then on the morning of August 1, I’m going to wake up, and flip a coin. Heads, I’ll open Twitter; tails I won’t.  And I’ll do the same on August 2, and then every day for three months. If the coin comes up heads, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll tweet, just that it will be a Twitter-aware day; I’ll consume the stream, and tweet away if I feel the need. Tails, and I’ll simply tweet “Tails, goodbye,” close the stream (unless I need it for research) and then resist the urge to tweet for the rest of the day.

So far, designing the experiment is easy. But what are the right outcome variables to track? I can think of three things that Twitter does:
1.      Distracts me, sucking valuable time from serious research.

2.      Broadcasts me, perhaps increasing my influence.

3.      Informs me, which may make me a better economist.

Here’s my question for you: How can I measure the influence of my Twitter Experiment on each of these outcomes? I think measuring distraction is easiest—I’ll just evaluate how productive I was each day, using a subjective 0-10 scale. I have some ideas about measuring influence, but none are particularly compelling. And I’m baffled by how I might measure the extent to which Twitter is informing me, making me a better economist.

Crowdsourcing can surely improve my experiment. Do you have any ideas for how better to measure distraction? Or ideas for useful indicators of influence or impact that I can track?  And how best to measure how informed I am? And does anyone else want to join me in this experiment? More data = more insight.

Please add your ideas in the comments.  Or if your idea is ez 2 expln, just tweet me.  #twitexpt.

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  1. Jeffrey K says:

    What about tracking your “addiction level ” over the life of the experiment and also see how much the non twitter days bother you. Does that change over time?

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  2. Marissa says:

    To measure how distracted you are on your “heads” days, you may want to tweet the moment you distract yourself with Twitter, and then tweet again when you are done (perhaps tweeting the words “begin” and “end,” respectively). That way you have an indicator of when you started and stopped and allow yourself to get lost in distraction (as one typically would online) without feeling like you are racing against the clock with a stopwatch.

    I agree that measuring your crowdsourcing with retweets/hashtags/followers would be useful. Perhaps one point for followers, two points for retweets and hastags (since that means you are being actively recognized).

    Measuring how informed you are may be more difficult. Perhaps listing everything you learned from Twitter at the end of the day, like a mini memory quiz?

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  3. Tim says:

    For item 2, something like http://topsy.com/ could help. For three even favouriting links you liked or informed would begin to build a list you could cross-compare with your existing sources.

    As for item 1, that would seem to be lack of result from items 2 or 3, or a lack of self discipline…

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  4. @mtbmobile says:

    RE: how best to measure how informed Iam? Evaluate the relevancy of everything your read via your ‘old school’ research methods, sources, tactics… and then do the same using twitter as a launch pad into the most relevant, filtered, real-time data on any concurrent event worldwide. Sign-up for a good post processing tool (google it, there are many) for historical tweets that rank each tweet base on based upon relevance, user klout, and other analytic measures.

    Also, I agree with the first comment. If it’s tails, no peeking at Twitter (regardless if you need it for research).

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  5. Keren says:

    Influence: I found this blog today because of a tweet and chose to Follow it on twitter – and then read 4 or 5 more blog postings before I found this one… of course what I found was the freakonomics handle, not yours. But still -

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  6. Jw says:

    I am all for measuring things (…) but I feel we are often measuring too much. What not such try it out for a while a keep books on the benefits (new insights, information you would not have found otherwise, anecdotal evidence) and the costs (mostly time). After six weeks, check for a positive balance.

    Here is a different way to look at Twitter: the chance to share a thougth a day with the world. Don’t expect anything in return. Honestly, I don’t get the coin thing. Then again, I am not an economist!
    (self promotion: some blogs I wrote about using twitter http://bit.ly/cys9K7 http://bit.ly/dpBpzB http://bit.ly/i8NdCD )

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  7. rer says:

    Well, it may be more useful/efficient if you can link your Twitter account to one you are already using. I know this is possible with Facebook, and I’ve seen some indirect ways to do this with Google+ (I hope that Google will implement a full fledged connection at some point). That way, with your accounts linked, when you post to Facebook, it automatically posts it to Twitter.

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  8. Mike N. says:

    Just thinking about it quickly, I think on days you check the twitter feeds, you will find yourself less productive, mainly cos you are stopping to check the latest ‘tweet’ (or whatever the damn things are called), this will stop you doing what you are doing, and waste seconds, as you put your pen down, find your blackberry, open twitter, read it, process the infomation, then put down etc. Kind of the same way that having your boss ring you for twenty minute updates means you get no work done.
    Just my tuppence worth from the UK.

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