Blake and Data: William Blake on Twitter and the Web, June 2018

The following is a brief analysis of data collected on William Blake trends on Twitter and via Google Search/News for June 2018. Tweets were collated via Twitter Archiver and a data miner plug-in for Chrome used to collect Google items. For a general explanation of some of the assumptions made in the following stats, please see the post at zoamorphosis.com/2018/06/blake-and-data-searches-and-twitter-may-2018/.

Twitter

There was a great deal of variation in June, caused principally by a spike on 16 July which, as can be seen from the frequency chart below, is an extreme outlier caused by a large number of people retweeting a story from the Spanish news site, El Pais. This anomaly (nearly 1200 tweets) skewed the distribution too far to the right, with a standard deviation of nearly 200 above or below an average of some 400 tweets. As such, the chart below shows the distribution across the other 29 days of June, with a mean of 366 tweets per day and a standard deviation of 120 which is comparable to the previous month. Likewise, the total number of tweets – 11,690 – was comparable to the number in May which was slightly more than 11,000.

In contrast to last month, the most popular tweet by a considerable margin was not a quotation by Blake or one of his images but a story form El Pais.

Published on 16 June, the story in El Pais, entitled “La pesadilla de William Blake” (“The nightmare of William Blake”) and about how our docility towards machines and automation has left us susceptible to such things as fake news, is fascinating for a number of reasons. First of all, it is an extremely well-written and thoughtful piece that demonstrates a detailed knowledge of Blake’s work and philosophy: this is far from a mindless invocation of Blake, and while I would not necessarily agree with every aspect of Jordi Soler’s analysis, very much does strike a chord with me and I can appreciated his work. That such a piece was widely shared on Twitter made me optimistic about the demand of a wider audience for more than mere Blake platitudes.

The second observation, however, is that this is a story that largely passed by the English speaking world. It was not translated or offered in English and so (as far as I am able to tell) the vast majority if not all retweets were in the Spanish-speaking world. At this stage (and I doubt this will change much in the future) Blake-related items on Twitter are dominated by the USA and UK, so the fact that this story went viral is interesting in and of itself.

Of the other tweets that topped more than 100 shares, two stand out for different reasons. The first was the announcement by Tate of their upcoming series of exhibitions for 2019, which includes William Blake as well as Van Gogh and Dorothea Tanning. While there were 269 retweets of this specific tweet itself in June, there were many others which repurposed the material in some shape or form.

The final tweet to catch my eye was by @ArtLify. The reason for this was not that there was a particularly huge amount of shares (212) but that it is one of the more esoteric of Blake’s quotes: “Some see nature all ridicule and deformity and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” Taken from a letter to the Revd. Dr Trusler in 1799, this is an unusual Blake quote and almost certainly was widely shared as much because of the associated image by Irene Suchocki as for the words themselves, it demonstrates how more obscure elements of Blake’s works can circulate widely when repackaged.

As with last month, the following numbers are drawn from self-identified locations in Twitter.

Once again, the USA and UK dominate, a pattern that I would fully expect to be consistent across forthcoming months. As such, it is what happens below these two entries that is most interesting. Something that is perhaps consonant with the popularity of the El Pais story is the strong showing of a number of Spanish and South/Central American countries: leaving aside Brazil, this group constitutes some 896 entries (including a number of countries such as Peru and Honduras not listed on the above chart). Again, leaving aside the UK and USA, this distribution can be visualised as follows:

Twitter results (excluding USA/UK) June 2018

As can be seen from this map, there is a significant distribution of tweets from across the continents, with a greater density from Europe, South America and India.

Google Search/News

In terms of more general, non-social media items posted to the web in June, this comprised 238 general items and 200 news stories. Main headline items included the El Pais and Tate stories noted above, although obviously these tend not to aggregate in the same way as Twitter items. Combining both together (not all entries had a date) gives a number of daily posts as follows:

As with the Twitter frequency analysis, one entry (in this case 1 story on 17 June) is very much an outlier. Removing this provides a mean across the month of just over 14 posts a day with a standard deviation of 5.25.

With regard to categories into which the various stories/posts could be classified, Arts (including anything with a visual element and also dramatic performances, but mainly Blake’s images) was clearly the largest, followed by Poetry (mostly self-explanatory, but also including quotations), Culture and Society (a more portmanteau term) and Music.

Finally, where possible all sources for sites posting information about Blake were identified as follows:

As with Twitter, the UK and USA dominate, but activity below these two provides a visually interesting map of stories about Blake below:

Google search/news results (excluding USA/UK) June 2018

Europe dominates (with Italy in the lead in this instance), but there is also a significant showing across South and Central America again, along with a scattering of stories from Asia, Turkey, Canada and Australia.

Blake and Data – searches and Twitter, May 2018

The following is a brief analysis of data collected on William Blake trends on Twitter and via Google Search/News for May 2018. Tweets were collated via Twitter Archiver and a data miner plug-in for Chrome used to collect Google items. The various data is included in a spreadsheet with “raw” and, where possible, “cleaned” (i.e. references to William Blake that do not reference the Romantic artist/poet removed) versions provided.

Twitter

During May, 11,236 tweets were posted, the majority of them retweets. The chart below shows the daily number of tweets that included the phrase “William Blake” in reference to the artist/poet.

As the above chart shows, there was considerable variation across the month with regard to how many tweets were posted or retweeted. The spike on day 13 is almost entirely due to the appearance of a tweet by @41Strange of Blake’s paintings of The Great Red Dragon (discussed later). The average number of tweets was 360 per day, with a standard distribution as illustrated below – which also shows the 836 tweets on May 13 to be very much a statistical anomaly.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of popular tweets were either short quotations from Blake or posts of his pictures.

The most surprising thing about this chart for me is that clearly the most popular shared tweet for May 2018 was an image of Oberon, Titania and Puck with dancing fairies. The image appeared on multiples sources, but the most commonly retweeted was a modified version of the painting posted by @ArtPicsChannel at the end of April (the account regularly retweets this image).

The original painting is held at Tate Britain in London and is watercolour and graphite on paper (it is included below for comparison to the Art Pics Channel version). As the Tate catalogue entry indicates, it probably represents an attempt by Blake to capitalise on the popularity of depictions of Shakespeare’s works in the 1780s, in this instance by illustrating Titania’s instructions to her fairy train in the final scene of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

What is particularly significant about this illustration to me is that of all the works by Blake I would have expected to see shared among hundred of users, it would not have been this painting.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1786 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02686

Newton and the Ancient of Days, for example, were shared, but only 87 times in the case of the former and a mere 36 times in the case of the latter. With over 285k followers, @ArtPicsChannel tweets tend to be disseminated widely, and this has been the only image by Blake posted to the account since March 9 (when an illustration from Dante’s Divine Comedy did not appear to gain much traction). The fact that other Blake pictures do not go viral in the same way from the account – including the original version rather than the red-tinged one – indicates that there is something about this particular image that appeals to Twitter users, probably because the dramatic red and black looks effective on a range of devices. @ArtPicsChannel has itself retweeted the image 43 times this year alone (and only once for the original), seeming to return to it every few days as a means of gaining audience.

Less surprising to me was the prevalence of retweets of a series of Blake paintings dealing with the theme of the Great Red Dragon from the Book of Revelation. The original source for this was @41Strange on 13 May and this tweet quickly went viral and continues to be shared. This account has a similar number of followers as @ArtPicsChannel (214k in this instance) and this is a collection of images which attracted a significant number of comments discussing the Hannibal Lecter series of films, novels and television programmes.

Of the remaining tweets above 100, “The Tyger” or variants thereof is (for me unsurprisingly) popular, but I personally didn’t expect to see so many references to “Night” from Songs of Innocence. Nearly all the retweets of “The moon, like a flower…” come from the popular account @ArtLify (37.5k followers). “The Tyger” was also the source for another popular tweet, a tribute by @C3rmenDraws which, frankly, does a better job of capturing tigers than Blake’s original. Most of the remaining popular tweets are fairly unexceptional and largely represent proverbs from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, a perennial favourite on Twitter. Of the foreign language ones, “Para la abeja laboriosa no hay tiempo de estar triste” is a Spanish translation of “The busy bee has no time for sorrow”, “Vedere un mondo in un granello di sabbia…” is Italian for “To see a world in a grain of sand…”, and Google Translate informs me that “Deneyim dedi?imiz ?ey, yitirdi?imiz masumiyetimizdir” is Turkish for “What we call experience is our innocence”, which strictly speaking doesn’t seem to be verbatim Blake at all. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Spanish “La exuberancia es belleza” (112 tweets) was slightly more popular than the English original, “Exuberance is beauty” (111).

Regarding the point of origin for these and other tweets, where Twitter stores location information the top sources for tweets were as follows:

Unsurprisingly, the USA was by far the largest source of tweets, at nearly 3,000, with the UK in a rather distant second at 1,011. At this stage, it is too early in this project to begin drawing any conclusions regarding other countries: this is simply something I wish to track over the coming year to gain some sense of which countries tend to interact with Blake most in this very general sense. One thing to note is that this list is far from complete, particularly where Twitter provides information in a non-Latin script. The chart below offers another visualisation of the data above:

Tweets on William Blake, May 2018, by country of origin

Google Search/News

Using a data miner plug in to scrape Google searches on a regular basis, a data set of some 286 search entries (that is pages indexed by Google during this period) and 210 news stories was collated, which are treated as part of the same data set in the charts below.

Google searches (general search and news) May 2018

Although there was considerable variation from day to day in terms of the number of posts, the standard deviation was considerably less than for Twitter (which was not surprising, considering that there were only slightly fewer than 500 entries compared to more than 11,000 in Twitter. The average number of posts a day for this group was slightly more than 15.5 with a variance of nearly 8.

The various pages indexed by Google could also be broken down into the following categories: art tends to refer to pictorial representations but can include such things as posters and cards, anything with a visual representation of Blake’s work. Poetry, the next biggest category, can include quotations and snippets as well as extended pieces, while Books tends to reference sales/downloads of Blake-related books. The Music category was quite substantial this month because it included a number of posts relating to U2’s Songs of Experience tour. “Essay mill” refers to the rather dispiriting practice of offering essays for sale – these tend to go down very quickly, and I have been in two minds whether to include them for a number of reasons, but in the end they represent part of the exchange of information about Blake online.

Google search and news items by category

Finally, the following two charts give some indication of the sources of origin for posts about Blake. As with Twitter usage, by far and away the largest number of posts come from the United States followed by Britain.