#AbdurChowdhury Georgetown on Wednesday.
Chowdhury, Twitter’s chief scientist and a veteran faculty member of Georgetown’s computer science department, spoke to a standing-room only audience in McShain Lounge, discussing the importance of using technology to connect the world.
As Twitter’s chief scientist, Chowdhury handles a tremendous amount of data from individuals across the world – 175 million people have Twitter accounts. Account holders range from everyday citizens to the president of Russia, who visited the Twitter office in person to set up an account. Among those accounts, 90 million tweets occur on average each day at a rate of one tweet per millisecond. These statistics, Chowdhury suggests, should not be taken at numerical face value. Rather, these numbers show what the world is talking about.
Chowdhury went on to describe the idea of “trend engines,” the key to understanding what is important and interesting to people. The first step to reaching this understanding, Chowdhury suggests, is to find trend entities – what people are talking about and who is doing the talking. Twitter analysts then notice trends in the conversations, and decide which trends are the most relevant to others across the globe.
“Trends change our awareness of the globe,” Chowdhury said. “Trends aren’t supposed to be news – they’re supposed to elicit what people are interested in.”
Trend engines in Twitter are used to keep tabs on these interests, by gauging what is important to people in a certain locale; the Twitter team then uses the information to consider focused interests as part of a larger, global picture.
“It’s like walking around the planet and getting quick insights into global minds,” Chowdhury said.
Chowdhury warned the audience that with trend engines comes some misuse. On a daily basis; Twitter addresses problems with ranking and gaming, both schemes to make popular, rather than interesting, topics the top trends of the day. Chowdhury used obsessive Justin Bieber fans as an example of such efforts.
He did suggest, however, that gaming can be beneficial when used to promote topics that have a wide reach. Twitter followers have organized trends such as “charity Tuesday,” a place for account holders to tweet about their favorite charities.
“It’s interesting to see how Twitter lets people work together, from all over the world, for things that matter the most to them,” Chowdhury said. “When people can get other people talking about a certain topic, it sends a powerful message.”
Computer science students found the lecture thought-provoking.
“It was nice to see a practical application for all we learn in our computer science courses,” Duncan Gillespie (COL ’13) said.
Tyler Sax (COL ’13) said knowing Chowdhury spent days in the computer science department 10 years ago was reassuring.
“It is always impressive to see a Hoya move on and do something as impressive as Twitter,” he said.
For Chowdhury, the promise technology holds for society is most important.
“I find most people seem to get more value from life by sharing it with others,” Chowdhury said. “Technology isn’t just bringing us together – it’s helping us understand each other, and ourselves, better.”