Twitter Invests $10 Million in MIT Lab To Study Its Potential
Millions of people have used Twitter to join in global conversations about "Bendgate," "Guardians of the Galaxy" or the latest foibles of Justin Bieber, but there's so much more for which social media tools could be used. Twitter itself sees its platform's potential for helping to solve social problems, which is why it's just invested $10 million to help launch a new Laboratory for Social Machines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Twitter's five-year commitment to the MIT program is aimed at helping to develop new technologies that can make sense of patterns in social media conversations. Ultimately, Twitter believes such technologies could help "enable new forms of public communication and social organization."
While it will be funded by Twitter, the Laboratory for Social Machines will have "complete operational and academic independence," according to a news release issued by MIT. The lab, which will be based at MIT's Media Lab, will also get full access to Twitter's real-time public tweet stream, as well as its archive of tweets dating to the very beginning.
The goal of the new lab is to combine human and computing power to find new solutions to society's complex problems.
"The Laboratory for Social Machines will experiment in areas of public communication and social organization where humans and machines collaborate on problems that can't be solved manually or through automation alone," said Deb Roy, who will lead the lab. Roy, an associate professor at MIT's Media Lab and also Twitter's chief media scientist, added that better understanding of social data and media conversations can help create social feedback loops to increase public accountability and transparency.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo added, "With this investment, Twitter is seizing the opportunity to go deeper into research to understand the role Twitter and other platforms play in the way people communicate, the effect that rapid and fluid communication can have, and apply those findings to complex societal issues."
'An Exciting Step'
Since co-founder Jack Dorsey sent the first-ever tweet on March 21, 2006, Twitter has grown to handle more than 500 million tweets per day in over 35 languages around the world. All that information creates a rich data source for researchers looking to understand everything from the communication strategies of social protests to how news spreads during disease outbreaks.
Twitter itself has offered grants to researchers looking to use its data to mine meaning from the ever-growing body of tweets, and maintains an active community of researchers both within and outside of Twitter.
In a blog post on Twitter Thursday, Mark Gillis, who heads the company's business development, said: "This is an exciting step for all of us at Twitter as we continue to develop new ways to support the research community. Building on the success of the Twitter Data Grants program, which attracted more than 1,300 applications, we remain committed to making public Twitter data available to researchers, instructors and students. We've already seen Twitter data being used in everything from epidemiology to natural disaster response."