Someday in the near future, the chart you see below might be looked at as a hero’s roll call — the same way that war heroes are listed at the sites of famous battles. Or, it might simply be useful to social scientists, hoping to understand the role Twitter played in bringing about the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship. Either way, it’s an astounding document of a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Boguta, formerly a math whiz working for Wolfram Alpha, tells Co.Design that he started by hand picking a few Twitter accounts that were widely watched during the revolution. Then, he used algorithms to glean who those accounts were most connected to. And finally, he applied Google’s Pagerank algorithm to the follower lists, to determine who was most important–and mapped the results, awarding bigger bubbles to the bigger players in the network. The English-speaking accounts are in blue, while those in Arabic are in red:
Of course, in the wrong hands and during the revolution, the chart would basically have been a hitlist for Mubarak’s thugs. So Boguta, who was working on it during the uprising, has only published the chart now.
In hindsight, there are all kinds of sociological artifacts within it. For example, as Boguta notes, there’s a group of accounts dominated by journalists and foreign-policy types; it takes several intermediaries before connecting with activists on the ground:
Boguta points out that this process of translation and aggregation is key. Moreover, it’s also a form of protection: The sheer number of connections held by key players meant they couldn’t simply be “disappeared” without anyone noticing.
The biggest bubble, unsurprisingly, belongs to Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who created the Facebook page that became a clearing house for protest organizers, and who became a symbol of the cause following his arrest and emotional reappearance on Egyptian TV.
And the Tweeters most isolated from the protesters? That would be the White House and the State Department. Which is probably good news for Egyptians anxious to own their own future–and good news to the U.S., which kept careful distance from the events as they unfolded.