Visualization of the Week: Twitter's Global Pulse

Visualizations show the flow of tweets after Japan's March 2011 earthquake.

This post is part of a new series exploring visualizations. Some weeks we’ll point the way to intriguing examples we find in our web travels. Other times we’ll dive into our own datasets and imagery. We’re always looking for leads, so please drop us a line if there’s a visualization you think we should know about.

Although not the record-breaking event for Tweets per second, the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan in March caused a massive spike in activity on Twitter as news of the quake and the subsequent tsunami spread. Twitter has released two visualizations that highlight the volume of tweets, as well as the ways in which news (Tweets and retweets in this case) spread globally.

The first visualization (above) focuses on what Twitter describes as “personal messages” as people from Japan reached out immediately after the earthquake. Twitter says it experienced a 500% increase in Tweets emanating from Japan in this time period, and the video shows the volume of @replies into and out of Japan in the hour prior to and then following the quake. Replies to users in Japan are shown in pink and messages from Japan are shown in yellow.

The second visualization (below) depicts worldwide retweets of Tweets originating in Japan for the hour after the earthquake. In this case, the original tweets are in red and retweets are in green.

These visualizations help demonstrate Twitter’s power to distribute messages globally. By providing a video, rather than just a static graph, the visualizations also demonstrate the speed with which those messages are spread.

Both visualizations were created by Twitter’s Miguel Rios.

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