What makes a tweet go viral online? And what does a viral trend actually look like?

Those are a couple of the questions that can be answered by a new Microsoft Research project, called Viral Search. The company’s researchers are showing the project this week at an internal gathering this week in Redmond. The program crunches large amounts of data from Twitter (and potentially Facebook and other platforms in the future) to analyze and display patterns of distribution on the social network.

See a video demo of the project above. Jake Hofman, a researcher from Microsoft’s New York lab, explained that popularity doesn’t necessarily mean that a piece of content is viral. For example, a large media organization can make a piece of content popular simply by essentially broadcasting it to millions of Twitter followers. But true virality means that a wide variety of people are tweeting independently and spreading the content in parallel.

Microsoft’s program shows what those trends look like. It can also dive in to show the impact of specific people and tweets.

This type of analysis is difficult given the sheer amount of data, Hofman said. “We have billions of relationships between individuals, and every day hundreds of billions of tweets,” he said. “Actually doing this at scale and sorting through these things requires a reasonable amount of computational power.”

Microsoft is talking about ways to possibly incorporate this into products, but for now it’s purely a research project.

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  • guest

    It’s insane the amount of talented people MS has working on things that are unlikely to ever result in a saleable product. Here they are having had their butts kicked by Apple and Google for a decade, but still they have a substantial chunk of their brightest people fooling around with projects with almost no market appeal and therefore better suited to academia.

    • Ewuare

      But isn’t that the point of basic research? Kinect probably looked like a childish toy until someone figured how to turn it into a game console blockbuster. And I strongly suspect the Kinect light bulb/aha moment came on after the success of Nintendo Wii.

      • Guest

        At a university, yes. At a for profit company, no. It’s an indulgence that MS can no longer afford. And Kinect had little to do with Wii. The technology which it spawned from was first shopped to Apple, who declined, and then MS, who licensed it and further refined the concept.

  • http://www.tellagence.com/ Matt Hixson

    This is an interesting view of history but the challenge is using this data to make future decisions. These environments are very dynamic and are changing constantly. Being able to predict how content is distributed and being able to leverage that has a huge value to customers. That is what we do at Tellagence.

    • Kent

      MSR doesn’t waste time on trivialities like how would this actually help a customer. It’s a giant playground for PHDs to indulge their personal interests. As the article says, this “is purely a research project”.

  • gr8hifi

    The power this has for marketing is tremendous… It gives insight as to how propagation works. Properly leveraged, it can begin to predict how the information will spread which can give advertisers greater power in tailoring to their target audience.

  • tom_m

    He goes on to say “over the past … year and a half” … This doesn’t seem to take into account time. Decay. Current factors in the world and our use of the internet. It just shows spread and nothing else. There’s a bigger picture…And we often don’t care “who” shared something nor are “generations” that important. We just want to know how viral, how discussed, how popular something is at any given moment…At every moment. Not a year later.

    See http://www.viralityscore.com and http://www.news-ox.com for a viral search engine that you can use.

  • ABCO Specialties

    A new “Viral Search Engine Specialty Helps Make a Website spread”. Read all about it in a search engine description ad about the above quote soon!

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