ASIST2010: Questions are Content: a taxonomy of questions in a microblogging environment

Miles Efron (UIUC) and Megan Winget (Texas)

How people engage in question asking on twitter. How it is used as a social search? They defined a taxonomy of questions asked on twitter.

hypothesis that question asking is a crucial and native part of how people use twitter (not something they stop their normal twitter use to do)

the output to understand how people use twitter but also to support development in information retrieval.

method – 5 judges created taxonomies using card sorting, looking at a pile of tweets with questions in them, then the researchers used these to create a single taxonomy. To find twitters, they found people in IR, HCI, LIS, and then looked at them and their followers – about 9k people.

They showed examples of questions – one appears to be spam (make income!) and another they interpret as rhetorical, but I’ve found in practice that it is not. (how is everyone doing today? – actually receives responses on friendfeed, the tweeter actually cares how everyone is)

How do they define a question? Karttunen’s 1977 theory of question discourse and question-embedding verbs. I* [try*,like,need] to find… etc.

Gathered tweets – got the 5 people to classify wrt purpose, not topic.

  • query/answer (promotional) – spam
  • query/answer (social)
  • request for factual information
  • request for opinion
  • invite an action
  • express an opinion or current status (rhetorical questions)
  • coordinate action
  • not clear/miscellaneous

They showed a complicated graph about interrater agreement.

Social role of questions – not like ad hoc information retrieval requests, they serve a social function, provide momentum in a conversation, but they are still information requests. People ask questions they want answered but also ones that will engage people.


twitter is a “guerilla” social search service

(rq: if a question is answerable via google, why do people ask it via twitter)

users may expect to be presented with questions that they would otherwise not have considered.

next steps: create a system to locate answered questions on twitter

One response so far

  • Full paper:

    I especially like the section on information needs in microblogs--as they point out, you can get a lot of different tidbits from one tweet. Also useful is their observation that questions and information needs are not coextensional: "many statements of information need on Twitter are not phrased as questions. Phrases such as I need to find, I’m looking for, I need, I’m trying all indicate appeals for the input of others. Likewise, not all tweets containing questions express an information need, as the first tweet shows. In a similar vein, questions may be rhetorical, expressing an opinion without necessarily inviting a response."