Twitter and Gnip Begin New Program to Help Researchers Use Big Data

The impact big data could have on the commercial world and industries like finance and advertising is well established, but it’s also changing the way social scientists, historians, and public health experts are studying the world.

Access to Twitter’s (NYSE: TWTR) firehose of more than 500 million public tweets per day has helped researchers track public sentiment about elections and historical events like the 2011 Arab Spring protests, as well as disaster response and epidemics.

To help further that trend, Twitter announced yesterday it has created a new program that will make its public and historical information available for academic researchers, including those in the emerging field of “data science.” It will work with Boulder, CO-based Gnip on the project, which they call the Twitter Data Grants program.

Gnip (pronounced “guh’nip”) is one of Twitter’s certified data resellers. The company collects, repackages, and resells public information it gleans from Twitter and also other social networks like Facebook and Tumblr.

Gnip will provide a small number of researchers doing non-commercial academic work free access to Twitter data sets. Twitter itself will offer the selected researchers the chance to collaborate with its engineers and researchers.

As you’d expect, Gnip and Twitter are true believers when it comes to the potential of the information that can be gleaned from their archive of every public tweet. But how to get that information and knowing what to do with it isn’t always clear to researchers.

“It has been challenging for researchers outside the company who are tackling big questions to collaborate with us to access our public, historical data. Our Data Grants program aims to change that by connecting research institutions and academics with the data they need,” Twitter vice president for platform engineering Raffi Krikorian wrote on the company’s engineering blog.

Both companies said the Data Grants program is a small pilot project, but Gnip CEO Chris Moody hinted more collaborations between his company and researchers could be on their way.

“This is an important first step, and we’re just getting started,” Moody wrote in a post on Gnip’s blog.

Researchers will have until March 15 to apply. More information will be available at and @TwitterEng.

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