The Meedan Blog Archive

Finding Tweets to Tell Stories: A Bit More on Our Curation Process

 As Paul enters Jordan, we reflect on our curation process with Out of Eden Walk.

Last time we wrote about Translatedesk and the Out of Eden Walk project, our journey with Paul had just begun, as he walked camelside through Saudi Arabia, hugging the coast of the Red Sea. Four milestones in, he's traded the camels for donkeys and is now on his way through Jordan.

Although Paul has physically traversed only two countries, some of the tweets we've included have come from nearby Egypt and Israel, whose borders fall within the 100 mile radius from which we pull Tweets. We've since translated Tweets from five languages (Arabic, Hebrew, Spanish, Japanese and English), coming from tourists, teenagers, students, journalists, soldiers, and so many other walks of life as they visit coffee shops, buy new homes, listen to music, talk about the news.

We wrote previously about the entire process of translating Tweets, a multi-step process involving a lot of hands and data. But let's zoom into the process of curation. As we develop Translatedesk, we know that translation is only part of the story; finding and selecting the best messages to translate is a critical part of shedding light on a region and telling an effective story. As we have emphasized in our writing, the changing role of the translator in the social media era has much to do with the translator as the curator.  After Todd Mostak's team at MapD hands us a set of nearly 10,000 Tweets from a given milestone, the most difficult part of our work is curating the small subset of these Tweets we evaluate for translation.

 A selection of translations curated by Anas Qtiesh, our Arabic translator, and Adi Weinberger, our Hebrew translator, from Paul's Milestone 17, in southern Jordan.

Our mandate with this project is to bring insight into a slice of the world, especially insight that might normally be missed in news stories from major outlets. “Moving at the slow beat of his footsteps,” notes the Out of Eden Walk site, “Paul is also seeking the quieter, hidden stories of people who rarely make the news.” Pulling through Tweets from the region is one way to find those hidden stories.

As you'll see below skillful curation is more of an art than a science, but there are a number of ways to make sorting through tweets a more efficient and effective process. Basic filters—how many times has a message been retweeted? Does the message contain an image? Is the message an @reply or is it something directly tweeted out?--provide a helpful starting point for the curator to sort out messages. But after an initial pass with different filters, the work of the human curator comes in.

When we curate, we often ask ourselves, what does this tweet say about the region? How can it be used as a vehicle for storytelling? Is it interesting by itself, or is it interesting when supported by other documents, like a link to a news story or an entry in Wikipedia? And more specifically, we look for Tweets that can do any of the following.

Show an image of the region – As so much of Paul's story is told through images, finding Tweets with photos helps show more angles on the parts of the world he travels through. And images for the most part can cross language barriers without too much effort.

Provide insight into a cultural nuance – A simple Tweets recently about Mizrahi music recently gave us a chance to talk about Mizrahi music and share some favorites from our Hebrew translator. These glimpses bring texture to the region

Share a bit of humor or whimsy – Jokes, humor and levity can be important bridge topics. Humor can be risky, of course, as not all humor translates well, especially over the internet. However, with skillful annotation and curation, humor breaks down cultural barriers.

Show the mundane – This is the most difficult but often the most important. One stereotype of Twitter is that it's used to share pictures of our lunch, and yet the way people have lunch and do other mundane activities becomes a lot more interesting when it's happening in a different part of the world. In our recent selection from Jordan, we found a number of Tweets about the weather—with photos of snow.

Shed light on current events of local, national or international importance – Getting a local perspective on a story can be especially compelling, especially if it's a story that a foreign reader may have heard of.

With any luck, the range of Tweets we bring together augments that amazing storytelling from Paul and provides a few more angles on which to see each milestone, told in the voices of people living there or simply passing through. Here are the most recent milestones so far:

Milestone 18: Near Ghor al Safi, Jordan (January 10, 2014)

Milestone 17: Wadi Rum, Jordan (December 21, 2013)

Milestone 16: Near Maqna, Saudi Arabia (November 12, 2013)

Milestone 15: On the pilgrim trail from Cairo to Mecca (October 29, 2013)

How did we do? We’d love to know what you think.  Are there other types of Tweets and stories you’d want to hear about?  Your feedback, as always, is most welcome. Thanks for joining us on the journey.