#twinkletweet: The use of
hashtags by astrophysicists
Bowman, T.D.*, Peters, I., Haustein, S., & Holmberg, K.
Understanding Twitter: The Basics
• 2006 – Twitter reports 200 million active users creating 400 million tweets
each day (Wickre, 2013).
• Pew found that 18% of online adults use Twitter and that all age groups are
showing an increase in usage. (Brenner & Smith, 2013)
• 1,372 faculty members from higher education and surveyed and 35%
respondents reported using Twitter(Faculty Focus, 2010)
• Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012) argue that current Twitter research gives us
little information on:
Faculty experiences and participation in SNS
Faculty find to be valuable in SNS
The barriers and issues faculty face when adopting these SNS
Scholarly Activity/ Altmetrics
• In today's world scholars gather information from more sources than just
traditional journals, meetings , and peers. (Thelwall, 2012)
• Altmetric measurements are increasingly advocated and used as early
indicators of article impact and usefulness. (Thelwall, et al., 2013)
• Researchers have shown that mentions on social media and citations were
not identical in terms of impact. (Haustein et al., in press; Thelwall, et al., 2013)
• There are disciplinary differences in the tweeting behaviors of scholars.
• Little is known about the extent to which social media are used in scholarly
Twitter Affordances: @, #,
• Scholars can make use of affordances in Twitter to add context and meaning
to their communications.
• The three widely known and often used affordances in Twitter are:
• @ symbol – used to direct messages at user(s) and/or to reply to user(s)
• # hashtag – used to contextualize or categorize the message
retweet – used to resend another's tweet
• Research on hashtags has shown that they
are found in a relatively large portion of
In-Depth Analysis: Research Questions
• R1: Which hashtags are popular among astrophysicists?
• R2: Is the use of hashtags dependent on the tweeting behavior
• R3: To what extent do astrophysicists use hashtags during
• R4: Do communities evolve around hashtags (reflected by strong
hashtag sharing behavior)?
Data was Collected from 37 Astrophysicists on Twitter
• 37 Astrophysicists were identified in two previous studies
(Holmberg, 2013, in press;
Holmberg & Thelwall, 2013, in press).
• Up to 3,200 tweets were download for each astrophysicist
The entire set of tweets made by 25 astrophysicists were collected
The most recent 3,200 tweets were collected for the remaining 12
• 68,232 of a possible total of 289,368 tweets were analyzed to
determine #hashtag use
Preliminary In-depth Analysis of 37 Astrophysicists
Num of Total Tweets
Num of Tweets w/Hashtags
Num of Unique Hashtags
Num of Hashtags Used Only Once
% of Top Ten Hashtags Used
% of Tweets w/Hashtags Using Unique Hashtags
On average, 23.42% of tweets tweeted by astrophysicists
contain at least one hashtag
Top Ten Hashtags
507, 12, 9, 5, <3
321, 49, 37, 1..
173, 63, 45, 13, 10, <10
324, 4, 3, 1.
169, 26, 13, 10, <10
208, 6, 2
140, 48, 3, 2, 1
142, 11, 8, 1
What we found
R1: Which hashtags are popular among astrophysicists?
We identified the Top 10 Hashtags in this sample
R2: Is the use of hashtags dependent on the tweeting behavior of astrophysicists?
Regular Twitter users tended to add hashtags to their tweets
more often than infrequent users.
R3: To what extent do astrophysicists use hashtags during tweeting?
On average, approximatley 23% of tweets contained at least one
R4: Do communities evolve around hashtags (reflected by strong hashtag sharing behavior)?
Our results suggest that the astrophysicist community is not
sharing hashtags; we found a high number of unique hashtags
used only once suggesting quite the opposite
"Astronomers can engage in
conversations with members
of the public, from any part of the
world, socioeconomic scale, age, or
gender. This type of open access to
scientists has not been previously
available, and I have personally found it
to be more rewarding than anything."
(Bauer, 2012, p. 4)
• Scholars are using Twitter but we aren't quite sure how and why they are
• Altmetrics is a concept that has gained traction, but it can be argued that
scholars are not quite sure what value altmetrics provides.
• Affordances exist in Twitter that allow people to frame and contextualize
• In-depth analyses of affordances in Twitter at this time with this sample of
astrophysicists yields useful insight
Haustein, S., Bowman, T.D., Holmberg, K., Larivière, V., & Peters, I., (submitted).
Astrophysicists on Twitter: An in-depth analysis of tweeting and scientific publication
behavior. Aslib Proceedings
First let me say that I want to frame this discussion by taking a step back from our results and attempt to address the critiques our submission received from the SIG/MET reviewers. Basically our reviewers said "So what?" It's a valid criticism. We submitted an abstract discussing our findings from a preliminary analysis of 37 astrophysicists' use of hashtags. Other work has described hashtag use in Twitter from much larger samples. So… so what?Web 2.0 application like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Mendeley, and countless other social media platforms have introduced new environments in which we connect with, and share information with others.The ubiquitous nature of social media in today's world introduces questions about the way in which technology mediates interaction. The evolution of these environments has created interesting challenges for researchers wishing to examine the consumption and distribution of information. As Murthy argues from an article published in 2013, “[g]iven the importance of mediated communication in modernity, understanding Twitter is an important task.”
We know that Twitter is the number one microblogging service world wide and it is the 10th most visited site according to Alexis; there are reportedly 200 million active users who generate over 400 million tweets each dayPew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project surveys have found that Twitter use is on the rise for all age groups and that 18% of online adults reported using Twitter.Despite this increase in usage, little is known about how scholars use Twitter. In 2011 Rowlandsand colleagues suggested that scientists may use social media tools for collaborative authoring, scheduling meetings, conferencing, disseminating research results and discovering new information and research ideas.In a 2012 article, Veletsianos and Kimmonsargue that current research “provides little information on faculty experiences and participation in SNS, is inconclusive on what it is about SNS that faculty find to be valuable, and leaves questions about what barriers and issues faculty face when adopting such technologies into their practice.”They go on to contest in a follow up article from 2013 that by investigating scholars using of social media, we can begin to have better understanding of scholars' values and how those values align with academic culture and practice.In an article that is currenltyin press, Mahrt and colleagues contend that Twitter is used by scholars to perform various scholarly activities. After an extensive review of literature on Twitter, Williams, Terras, and Warwick (2013) found that “[m]uch of the published academic work on microblogging has focused on the Twitter platform." This suggests that studies focusing on an understanding of how and why people use Twitter are lacking.
We are all aware of the challenges we face as scholars in today's world as we navigate our engagement with social media and the inconsistent academic capital associated with any contributions made in these environments.In an online 2012 article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Martin Weller described the modern scholar as someone who not only references a list of publications to represent their career, but someone who may also point to videos, online presentations, blog posts, digital collections, and social network activity as a representation of their scholarly activity.Based on the academic and popular literature available on scholarly activity in social networks, it seems that the notion of what represents the work of an academic is evolving as represented by the discourse surrounding altmetrics.As noted by Thelwall and colleagues in a 2012 article on altmetrics, scholars searching for the most current information may need to turn to keyword searches or online browsing instead of the more traditional journals, meetings, and peer discussion. One might follow Thelwall's logic and argue that this behavior might reinforce itself as these same scholars tweet about their own recent work. In a 2013 publication, Holmberg and Thelwall found that the impact of mentions and citations may differ between journals and specialties, as there are disciplinary differences in researchers’ tweeting behavior. As Haustein and colleagues argue in a 2013 article currently in press, we don't yet understand how social media like Twitter is being used to promote scholarship and how this use may affect traditional research impact indicators. To be able to understand how scholars use social media, we need to understand all the various ways scholars can make use of social media affordances when they communicate and disseminate information. That is why we chose to step away from a general examination of Twitter use and instead focus on a specific type of affordance used in Twitter: the use of hashtags.
There is a lack of work focusing on understanding how and why scholars use social media to communicate.One way to address this is to focus on understanding what affordances scholars make use of when using social media; in this case we want to begin to understand how and why scholars make use of the hashtag affordance in Twitter communications.In 1977, JJ Gibson introduced the concept of affordance to distinguish how agents distinguish the functional attributes of an object from its properties. It's important to note that Gibson theorized that affordances vary depending on both the context in which they are observed and by the agent doing the observing; thus they are subjective.As users tweet, they make use of the affordances found in the Twitter environment to add context and meaning to their messages.As the definition suggests, these affordances can be interpreted and used in different ways depending on who is perceiving them. Because of this, it is important for us to understand how scholars make use of these affordances AND it is important to examine how different groups of scholars make use of affordances because they may be used differently by different disciplines.The AT symbol is used in two ways; the first is to mention another user and the second is to reply to another user. They are distinguished by the position of the AT affordance. If the AT symbol is the first character in a message, it is considered a REPLY.The RETWEET is a re-posting of another's tweet.The HASHTAG is used to categorize tweets and add context to tweets.It has been shown in the literature that the use of hashtags is extremely popular during events such as majormedia events, sporting events, natural disasters, and even during scientific conferences. While other studies have reported on hashtag use, it seems to be a small part of a larger research project or the work is focused on a 'best of' or 'top ten' list of hashtags.Hashtags are an important area of research because they are often used. In 2010, boyd, Golder, and Lotan found that 5% of tweets contain hashtags;In 2013, Ma, Sun, and Cong found that 8.8% of their tweets contained hashtags.In 2013 Gerlitz and Rieder examined one percent of all tweets posted during a 24-hour period and found that 13.18% of tweets contained at least one hashtag.
For our analysis we wanted to examine the following research questions:Which hashtags are popular among astrophysicists?Is the use of hashtags dependent on the tweeting behavior of astrophysicists?To what extent do astrophysicists use hashtags during tweeting?Do communities evolve around hashtags (reflected by strong hashtag sharing behavior?
During the month of May, 2013, the Twitter stream of 37 astrophysicists was downloaded using the Twitter API. For 25 of the astrophysicists we were able to collect all the tweets they'd ever made.The remaining 12 astrophysicists had tweeted more than 3,200 times, so we were only able to collect their last 3,200 tweets due to the limitation of the Twitter API.Of the entire set of tweets made by the astrophysicists, we were able to collect 68,232.
Our analysis found 4,301 unique Hashtagsused 15,983 times across the 68,232 tweetsWe found that on average 23% of tweets that were tweeted by our sample contain at least one hashtag.The top ten tags hashtags were used in 19% of the tweets.We discovered that there was a large number of hashtags used only once in this population.Out of the 15,983 tweets with hashtags, approximately 44% contained unique hashtags.
To answer our first research question regarding Which hashtags are popular among astrophysicists?, we identified the top ten occurring hashtags.We see here that the use of the Top Ten occurring hashtags seems to be driven by the activity of a few scholars.It is important to note that 9 of the astrophysicists did not use any of the top ten hashtags.The most popular hasthag #fb is a hashtag that is an affordance of a third party twitter application that allows users to JWST – stands for James Webb Space TelescopeSFTC – Science & Technologies Facility Council#twinkletweet – a tag used by an astrophysics professor to distinguish his personal from professional tweets#AstroFact – a tag used by a astronomy professor to tweet astronomy facts and distinguish these facts from other tweetsaas218 – American Astronomical Society 218th Program
We identified the top 10 hashtags used by our sample of astrophysicistsWe found that the astrophysicists who tweeted more often during this time period tended to add hashtags more often than astrophysicists how didn't tweet as often.On average, approximately23.42% of tweets tweeted by astrophysicists contain at least one hashtagOur results suggest that astrophysicists are not sharing hashtags; instead we found evidence that suggests some astrophysicists are using hashtags as a way of distinguishing their professional tweets from their personal tweets. In addition, we found a high number of hashtags that were only used once.
In a recent article by Amanda Bauer, a.k.a. #astropixie, she writes that "Astronomers can engage in conversations with membersof the public, from any part of the world, socioeconomic scale, age, or gender. This type of open access to scientists has not been previously available, and I have personally found it to be more rewarding than anything"At the end of the article she offers the following statement: The main problem remains that academic researchers, particularly in the university sector, receive little to no professional credit fortheir outreach and engagement activities, preventing the full potential of new media and social networking capabilities to be achieved