Project Cascade: Does The New York Times Have The Best Tool For Explaining How Content Spreads Online?

cascade-example

There are innumerable companies (and individuals) in the business of trying to measure things like how content spreads on the web, why some content goes viral, and which social media users are most influential in making it happen. (Here at Marketing Land and Search Engine Land, we seem to get a new PR pitch on the subject every week.)

But it may be that the New York Times — traditional media’s “Gray Lady” — has the best tool of all to explain that.

It’s called Project Cascade — a 3D visualization tool developed by the Times Research & Development Lab that you (and I) may not have heard about before, but has been around since last spring.

This short video shows how Project Cascade works, and the visualizations are nothing short of stunning:

This Fast Company Design article explains it this way:

Cascade takes an isolated social-media event, like a tweet, and shows the entire chain of reactions that results — what Thorp and his colleagues call a Twitter “cascade.” It can do this in real time. And it can tell you not just that a story caught fire, but how, exactly, the story caught fire; how a tweet from a network scientist made the article “But Will It Make You Happy?” on cutting back one’s material possessions go viral.

Project Cascade is being used internally for the New York Times properties but, as the video above says in its final 40 seconds, the Times will work with other publishers to analyze their data and may offer a version of Project Cascade “to any entity that uses social media to initiate, conduct or encourage conversation.”

(tip via Visual News)

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Marketing Tools: Analytics | Marketing Tools: Social Media | Social Media Marketing

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Marketing Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://twitter.com/Winooski Winooski

    I dunno, I’m a little skeptical about the degree to which modern “infographic” visual representations actually bring insight into relationships of multiple variables. There’s no denying their appeal, especially if the infographic producer wants to use them to intimidate the user into thinking that the producer has some intellectual “secret sauce” at work (“Whoa, that’s so complex…these guys MUST be super smart!”), but most of these types of representations I’ve seen in, e.g., Wired or Scientific American seem to obscure as much as they purport to make clear.

    The glimpses of Project Cascade follow suit. So there you are, having generated this gorgeous 3D-graph-plus-video-game that seems to represent the relationships between a specific instance of content generation and the myriad social network events and (hopefully) subsequent conversion events, and the question is: So what? Just because you now have God-like abilities to discern each drop of water in this gushing Niagara of data doesn’t mean you have God-like abilities to repeat that waterfall, i.e., understand the phenomenon to the extent that you can replicate it reliably. *That’s* what Project Cascade users would really want, not just the cool-looking data representation.

    And that’s not to say that the attempt to understand and harness data is a waste of time, just that being able to represent a phenomenon in a supremely complex system is not the same as being able to repeat it reliably. In the end, I have more faith in our abilities to take snapshots than in our abilities to recreate the picture.

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