Twitter / Oct 10, 2011 / 2:30 pm

Twitter Goes Next Level

LeBron James

LeBron James (photo. Nike Basketball)

The last few NBA Finals were unique for me, completely different than any I had witnessed before. The game wasn’t limited to the television. It was on my phone, on my computer, instant, fresh and funny. It actually made me feel bad for LeBron. No one in NBA history had to deal with that level of criticism: constant, unrelenting and immediate, from all sides. Of course, he didn’t do much to help himself either, but that’s beside the point.

At times, there was so much information I found trouble trying to digest it all. It moved so fast, nearly too fast. Overwhelming. I’d lose focus on the game, miss a play or two, look up and realize someone had four fouls in the third quarter and yet I hadn’t seen it coming. Was it a good or a bad thing? I’m not sure. But it was definitely more entertaining. In the past, the computer represented an outlet. But in the last few years, Twitter took everything and revved it up. Information is moving faster than I can keep up.

Recently, Rice University released a study where they used Twitter to monitor fans’ excitement during NFL games. The program – SportSense – tracks tweets, and can tell within seconds when touchdowns, interceptions and big plays occurred. The study analyzed a recent Dallas and Detroit game – a ridiculous collapse by the Cowboys – that produced 28 tweets per second, by far the most of any NFL game that weekend.

Rice University writes:

“People don’t often think of themselves as being sensors, but each of us constantly senses and reacts to our environment,” said SportSense co-creator Lin Zhong, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and of computer science at Rice. “Thanks to social media sites like Twitter, it is now possible to capture those reactions — for millions of people — in real time. That’s what SportSense does.”

In collaboration with engineers from the Betaworks group at the Motorola Mobility Applied Research Center, Zhong and his students began creating software to monitor and analyze tweets in 2010.

“We chose football because touchdowns, interceptions and other events in the game cause a lot of excitement and lead a lot of people to tweet,” Zhong said. “We found that a careful examination of the tweets could tell us what was happening in the game. The program can usually tell within 20 seconds when a big play like a touchdown occurs. Often, we see that even before it appears on the scrolling banners on ESPN and other sites.”

This news comes not long after we heard the Suns were hiring a sideline Twitter reporter to provide updates, info and interviews that you wouldn’t otherwise receive. This may not change the way games are broadcasted, but it will affect the way you receive them. If other teams start hiring Twitter reporters rather than just fielding a Twitter “presence,” that account becomes the go-to spot for game day information. A Twitter sideline reporter could open the blinds to showcase the inner workings of an NBA team. What did the coach just say? What are the players talking about? Who’s sulking on the bench? Of course, a team-hired presence won’t release the good (ugly) details, but we will be closer than ever before.

Back in the day, I’d watch the Finals with chips and salsa in front of me and a remote on my lap. Then, as live stats and Facebook came into the mainstream, I started following with a laptop beside me. Twitter is the next step, and for the last few years companies were trying to figure out exactly how to use it. With programs deciphering an event’s excitement level and the immersion of Twitter reporters into the fold, the game is changing. Is it for the better? Like I said, I don’t know. But it’s definitely more entertaining.

Would you want to see this?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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  • http://www.dimemag.com Aron Phillips

    Great piece, Sean. The world is so different than it was just five years ago.

  • http://deleted dagwaller

    Eh. Twitter reporters? How is that any different from the same guy updating the team website?