Opinion

Visualizing and Auralizing the Rhythms of Twitter

A screenshot of The Listening Machine's landing page.

LOS ANGELES — What on earth is Twitter talking about? It’s easy to find out: check your stream, scan some words and ta-da, you know what your friends are saying and doing. If you want to know what your city or country are up to, just check the trending topics.

The flow diagram for how The Listening Machine turns tweets into visualizations and auralizations. (image via thelisteningmachine.org)

The Listening Machine, created by Daniel Jones and Peter Gregson for the BBC’s digital arts channel, is trying a different tack. With a simple triangle for sentiment and turning gears for topics and rate of t.weets, the site lets you see at a glance what people are talking about online.

There are lots of sentiment analyzers out there, but The Listening Machine’s simple infographics make it charming and somehow more manageable. It’s also just a small sample of people — 500 Twitter users were selected to represent the entirety of the UK Twittersphere.  And there’s sound, too:

This diagram shows how a sequence of words can be transformed into musical notes by mapping their syllables to pitches of a scale. Consonants are dropped, leaving only the vowel sounds. These are ordered based on their typical fundamental frequency for an English speaker.

By preserving the rhythms and dynamics introduced by punctuation and stress, we can produce surprisingly structured-sounding motifs from simple sentences.

That sound element is perhaps the most hypnotic part: just turn on the site and let it run, and you get a sense of Twitter streaming by, of words and rhythms, and you can only guess what they have to say.

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