big data | May 20, 2013

Cascade: Big Data Speaker Jer Thorp on the Secrets to Viral Content

Viral content: It's an internet buzz word that many claim to understand—but few actually do. Big data speaker Jer Thorp may be bringing us one step closer, however, to truly grasping the anatomy of viral content. And, through the use of his data visualization tool Cascades, the data artist is using Twitter to learn how content spreads across the web. Once we can pinpoint how  a piece of content moves throughout cyber space, we can better determine which content will become a sensation. Thus, we can craft content that will be more engaging and learn to cater certain content to the audiences who will enjoy it the most.

The data visualization project takes an isolated social-media event such as a a Tweet and shows you how and when the content caught fire. It can do this in real time, allowing you to track the movement of your own tweet and compare the way that the audience engages with other stories. "What we wanted to do was see the sharing activity happening in a really active way," Jer Thorp tells Fast Company. Essentially, they are creating a tool that takes some of the guesswork out of proliferating their content. Using this tool could eventually help editors and other web markets to shorten the route that a piece of content takes to get to an interested party. The project is, as Fast Company writes, "journalism’s most ambitious social-media data viz to date."

It is projects like this where Thorp shows us how we can humanize the data all around us. As a co-founder of The Office for Creative Research and a repeat lecturer at New York University, Thorp experiments with data in creative and meaningful ways. While he believes that data visualization is a process that doesn't need a definitive goal, his work exhibits the potential that effectively harnessing data can have. Whether it's displayed as art, or simply as a vessel for expanding our thinking, Thorp's work connects us to the data we produce—showing us that there's more to big data than just numbers. Because at the heart of the big data movement, he says, is people.