Creating Technology for Social Change

Successfully wading through the social media onslaught

I am a science writer.

As such, I am one of many who claim membership in the scicomm* community, which has a vibrant internet presence. When I first decided to pursue a career in science writing, I spent a lot of time seeking out scicomm blogs, videos, Twitter feeds, etc. etc. etc. Suddenly, my daily media diet was far too rich. It’s extremely difficult to keep tabs on what people are talking about, especially now that I am a full-time graduate student.

I suspect that I am not the only person who feels this way. That’s why I would like to develop a discussion strainer (tentatively nicknamed ‘Colander’).

The application would work like this:
* You point Colander to a list on Twitter and define time parameters, e.g. the past day or week
* Colandar develops an internal word frequency list
* Colander presents (1) a list of the top 10-20 terms, (2) a graph showing the changing popularity of those terms over the given time period, and (3) any particularly popular comments on the topic

I’ve seen many free applications to visualize personal data (e.g. Klout, Vizify, Wolfram Alpha) or to map social connections (e.g. TweetStats, MentionMap). To me, these tools are interesting, but not especially practical. However, it would be extremely helpful to use a tool like Colander because it would allow you to quickly see what is going on in a community that you’ve curated. This saves time, and allows you to focus your energy on important subjects rather than getting lost in the noise.

For now, Colander is going to be developed for Twitter only. However, if it works out well, I would love to expand its capabilities to include RSS feeds and/or other social media streams.

Of course, please let me know if you have any ideas or comments — or, alternatively, if you’ve already seen a tool like this out there. I have a nervous feeling that there must be a site out there that already does this, and I simply haven’t found it yet.

* literally “science communication”; predominantly a field of journalists, but also includes professional scientists, teachers and other kinds of educators, public relations specialists, hobbyist bloggers, etc.