On February 11, 2011, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak bowed to two weeks of nonviolent pressure and resigned from power. Tahrir Square in Cairo was where the real action was, but an Italian network analyst named André Panisson was watching the news unfold on Twitter. Over the next hour, he visualized the explosion of tweets and retweets as a network graph, and even though it’s nothing more than dots and lines, the excitement is nearly as palpable as watching it live on CNN.
Each dot corresponds to a user tweeting with the hashtag #jan25 (the label that Twitterers used for Egypt-related posts). Every time another user retweeted one of those #jan25 posts, Panisson’s software drew a line between them (and threw in some funky movement to spice things up). What’s particularly fascinating is that you can actually see tweets start out as disparate and unrelated–and then spawn connections, become a full-blown protest network. Here’s what the “scene” looked like in the afternoon before Mubarak’s announcement:
Right after the resignation, unsurprisingly, the tweets and retweets started to pick up pace…
And then over the course of the next hour, the graph grew explosively right before Panisson’s eyes, like microorganisms in a petri dish. “It was very interesting to see, in real time, the exact moment when Tahrir Square, from a mass protest demonstration, has been transformed in a giant party, and the burst in the Twitter’s activity,” he writes. “It was like covering in real time a virtual event, a big event that was happening in the Twitter virtual world.”
Panisson used software called Gephi Graph Streaming to visually process and display the data, which he acquired from Twitter’s API. Two interesting sidebars: Panisson chose the #jan25 tag almost by accident — it happened to be active when he was noodling around with his servers. And also, Panisson found out that Twitter’s API only fed his graphing program 10% of the total tweets that were actually ricocheting around the network during Mubarak’s fall. Which means that the real “picture” is much, much bigger, and its pattern much more rich and complex.
Panisson is trying to get the full amount of data to re-run through Gephi. But until then, the snapshot he did manage to create still speaks volumes about that historic day in Egypt.