Twitter Invests $10M in Establishing the Laboratory for Social Machine at MIT

The astronomical diversity of Twitter users and topics never ceases to expand and amaze. Everyone and their neighbor from #anthropologists to #zoologists and countless others post approximately 500 million Tweets each day. This produces a virtual ocean of highly valuable data and accompanying analytics that have found applications in, among a multitude of other areas, e-commerce, marketing, entertainment, government, sports, academia, science, medicine and law. For example, two recent Subway Fold posts here have looked at the mappings of Twitter networks and the analysis of Twitter traffic about TV shows to examine this phenomenon.

Taking this to yet another level of involvement and sophistication was an announcement on October 1, 2014 that was posted on Gigaom.com entitled Twitter Gives MIT $10M and Access to the Firehose to Build a Laboratory for Social Machines, by Matthew Ingram. To briefly recap, Twitter is providing funding for a new undertaking at MIT called the Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM). Its mandate is to examine the effects of social media on society, including the creation of new tools (such as pattern recognition and data visualization), and methodologies for doing so. They further intend to create a platform where the findings can be openly discussed and possibly acted upon by the interested parties.

LSM will have access to the entire quantum of Twitter posts going back to the social platform’s launch in 2006. Other planned participants will include journalists, “social groups and movements”. Their website provides more fine-grained details about their objectives, approaches and personnel. I highly recommend clicking through to the LSM site to learn more and get a genuine sense that this could really be something big. As well, their own new Twitter feed is @mitlsm.

Additional coverage of this story can be found here on The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog and here on the Boston Business Journal’s techflash blog.

What a remarkable and admirable leap forward this is for Twitter and MIT. At its outset, this sounds like a venture that is destined to produce practical and actionable benefits to nterested groups across the real and virtual worlds, not to mention the positive publicity and good will this announcement has already generated.

My own questions include:

  • Will other interested parties be invited to provide funding or is this an exclusive venture between Twitter and MIT?
  • What types of new startups will the work of LSM inspire and support? Will LSM expand itself to become an incubator of some sort?
  • What policies will guide the LSM’s decision-making on the types of studies, tools, movements and so on to pursue? Is establishing an advisory board in their current plans?
  • Will other universities build comparable labs for social media studies?
  • Will professional organizations, trade associations, and other specific interest groups likewise create their own such labs?

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