The Aggregate 🔬 December 23rd, 2019

Venkatesh Rao's Threadapalooza 2019 Edition

Hello! I am Lars E. Schonander, a writer for MediaFile and a blogger on international affairs, tech, and general wonkery. Happy Monday! Here is my weekly newsletter with a weekly analysis with interesting data, along with links related to things I found particularly interesting that week. Any Questions? Send me a message or just respond to this email!

The Weekly Data:

Venkatesh Rao, head of the famous blog Ribbonfarm among other things, recently spurred on Twitter Threadapalooza. To put it simply, Threadapalooza was trying to make as many people as possible make very long Twitter threads based on topics that he picked for people, but later spread out of his control, and other people decided to run with the format.

Thanks to some users, the data regarding Threadapalooza has been collected, so trends can be analyzed from all the posting.

Dorian Taylor at @doriantaylor and Artem Litvinovich at @theartlav provided the data, thank you two so much for taking the time to provide this data!

The data itself is fairly simple but can be interesting to clean up, as both formats of the data WAD and JSON files, involved using R’s functional programming features as one needs to extract data from multiple JSON files, convert them into dataframes, and then merge all the dataframes together into a single master dataframe.

Before we begin, here are a few basic statistics. The mean length of a thread was 49, and the mean post got one retweet and twelve likes.

Tracking Activity

There are multiple ways to track how much activity was going on regarding Threadapalooza. One way to look at activity is to see how many likes have been given for each hour of each day. This method has been visualized below:

As seen below, the hour with the most amount of likes occurred on the 14th, but the 18th and 19th had favorites spread more consistently during the day. While VGR started the event on the 12/13th, it only kicked off on the fourteenth, which is also where the hour that contains the most amount of likes was.

Measures of Popularity

An alternative way to measure who had the “best” thread is not only looking at total tweets, by comparing the ratio of tweets to likes. Someone may have few tweets in their thread, but they would have a much higher ratio as each post would have gotten a lot more likes.

@yashkaf is the only person to appear both on the measure of the top via total tweets, but by his tweet to like ratio as well.

A Season of Tweets

Another way to track how intense this event was is to look at how many tweets per hour & by day for each individual person who tweeted during this event.

Much like the first chart, this is a decent indicator of activity.


I posted some graphics of an earlier version of the dataset on Twitter. If you didn’t get the chance to see them, here they are!

Now, some links…

Andrew Brown (Foreign Policy): Jeremy Corbyn’s Followers Are Stuck in the 1970s

Even before they lost, the reverence with which Labour activists spoke of “the manifesto”—the promises the party made before and during the campaign—was astonishing. By Election Day, the party was promising not just to rescue the National Health Service and to renationalize the railways but also free tuition, free broadband, and a four-day week for everyone. They talked as if there were no difference—no distance—between having a good idea and implementing it. But the chasm between desire and action is where all real politics takes place and all the real choices must be made. 

Seth D. Kaplan (The American Interest): How Do America’s Elites Stack Up?

The American elite has many worries—maintaining geopolitical stability, reducing inequality, ending discrimination, and the like. But what if the greatest threat to the United States is not these things, but rather elites themselves—in particular their unwillingness to accept responsibility as stewards of society and their disengagement from the rest of the population? This “pulling away” by elites compromises the country’s ability to address the various challenges it faces. Compounding this threat, American elites’ hubristic confidence that they are on “the right side of history” limits what they might otherwise learn from the rise and fall of other societies.

Zai Liang (Development and Society): Foreign Investment, Economic Growth, and Temporary Migration: The Case of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, China

This paper examines the flow of foreign investment and the rise of temporary migration in Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, China, during 1979-1994. I show that the unprecedented growth of Shenzhen’s economy is closely linked to both foreign investment and growth of temporary migrants. I also explore factors that led to the large increase of foreign capital investment and highlight Shenzhen’s geographic proximity to Hong Kong and the availability of abundant migrant labor. Finally, based on the experience of temporary worker programs in Western Europe and the United States and the experience of Shenzhen, I examine several conditions which either facilitate or hinder the likelihood of integration of temporary migrants.

Sheying Chen, Ann Yinyi Chen and Eric Shan Zhong (American Journal of Chinese Studies): Special Economic Zones and Globalization of Chinese Cities: The Case of Shenzhen

The rapid growth of special economic zones has been one of the most important indicators of urban and regional develop- ment in China. Recent changes, however, have posed serious challenges to those special cities. This article reviews the develop- ment of the cities, identifies the issues, and attempts to address them by redefining their roles and choosing Shenzhen as the case. The main argument is that those cities can no longer just stay as "windows" and "laboratories" of the country. What used to be special has become common, while what remains particular may not be duplicable elsewhere. Globalization as a new ap- proach to promoting the cities' economy should include both na- tional and international dimensions. The new demands upon Shenzhen to do more for the nation actually represents a viable way out. As Shenzhen takes steps toward its new goal of becom- ing a world-class or "modern cosmopolitan" city, this experience may have a significant impact on the country's urban and re- gional development in the 21st century. Issues concerning social development are also add.

Patrick Collison: Fast

Some examples of people quickly accomplishing ambitious things together.

  • BankAmericard. Dee Hock was given 90 days to launch the BankAmericard card (which became the Visa card), starting from scratch. He did. In that period, he signed up more than 100,000 customers. Source: Electronic Value Exchange.

  • P-80 Shooting Star. Kelly Johnson and his team designed and delivered the P-80 Shooting Star, the first jet fighter used by the USAF, in 143 days. Source: Skunk Works.

What I’m Reading

I am currently reading Peter Frankopan’s book The Silk Roads: A New History of the World.

It’s an enjoyable book, but after reading Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane by S. Frederick Starr, Peter’s book on the time before 1800 AD is more of a refresher, if a very good one. I do admit however, the virtue of Peter’s book compared to Starr’s, is the book also covers the region after Tamerlane, which is important for explaining certain major events in the 20th century. An example would be the story of how William Knox D'Arcy got oil concessions from Persia, which lead to the creation of British Petroleum.

What I’m Working On

I recently got a research position at the SF/DC thinktank Lincoln Network for the next few months. There I will be doing a mix of research on tech policy along with various data journalism projects. I am very excited as it’s a combination of the type of tech work I enjoy, along with conducting research on topics that I have been following for some time, but now will be getting paid to research and write about.


Thanks for taking the time to read this, I will be back next Monday. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter or reach out via email.