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Kanye West is an a**hole and other Twitter moments from the MTV Video Music Awards

As promised, here are some screenshots and photos taken during yesterday’s music awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall.

Radian6 polled twitter data in real time, searching for MTV, VMA, and a few other event-related terms, as well as the names of all the celebrities that we knew would be at the event. The idea was to provide a rolling snapshot of activity that we would use to build a real-time visualization of who was being talked about at the awards, as well as what people were saying about them. Not surprisingly, just before the event, by far the dominant character was “MTV” itself:

For the first hour and a half (we started at 8am EST), things went pretty much as expected. Celebrities arrived, walked down the red carpet, preened, and went into the venue, and you could see their twitter traffic rise and fall accordingly. Fans noticed that Pink and Shakira were wearing the same dress, you could see this reflected in the keywords about those two celebrities, and their charts started going up and down at about the same rate — below, somewhere between 10 and 50 tweets every 30 seconds, which if you think about it, is kind of a lot.

At around 9:25, Taylor Swift accepted the award for best female video — her line is the red one on the bottom of the screen below, and you can see it just jump to 2261 in 30 seconds — which again is kind of a lot. Kanye West, who hadn’t yet stormed the stage & taken the microphone from her, was at about 8 tweets every 30 seconds.

Immediately afterwards, Kanye’s #’s shot through the roof, to almost 5000 tweets in 30 seconds, and remained upwards of 2000 tweets every 30 seconds for most of the night. Note that the keywords associated with Kanye were at this point still fairly benign: “love,” “performance,” etc.

After Radian6’s servers had a few minutes to chew on the huge numbers of tweets they were receiving, a few other words crept in, see below. These were of course quickly removed by MTV — not that anyone on TV ever saw this, but still.

It wasn’t all excitement — we spent most of our time in a 10′ x 10′ tent on 51st Street, hunched over our laptops (like in Mike’s recent trip to Camp Roberts, surrounded by a different kind of star):

watching Justine talk about the visualization on a tiny little monitor, with huge crowds gathering on 6th Avenue behind her:

We did get a few chances to duck into the venue though, and if you ever get a chance to see the prep for a major concert, let me highly recommend it. The way a mostly empty Radio City Music Hall, buzzing with activity and booming with rock and roll and pyrotechnic tests but strangely quiet and professional, sends an anticipatory chill up the spine, is not something I’ll soon forget.

Having been through this it’s a bit easier for me to understand why TV people have such a hard time with the internet (and believe me, I ran into a few on the set): there’s something profoundly exciting and, yes, visceral about 1000 qualified professionals all quietly working for months to providing 3 hours of the best-crafted pop in the world, that makes it hard to believe that people would prefer passing 140 character messages around in mostly quiet rooms. But more on that later.

All in all it’s been a really memorable experience for me — Sha totally kicked ass again, coding in the tent while Green Day made the sidewalk rumble, Deborah ran logistics and made sure we could work effectively, Shawn backed us up in San Francisco, Justine did a great job on top of the marquee at Radio City, Radian6 totally made it happen, Chloe from twitter pulled the whole live thing off swimmingly, and Michael Scogin and his team at MTV were as supportive as I could have ever hoped. We did the whole thing in a month, the visualization (which is still live, by the way) stayed up the whole time, it was shown on live MTV, and I’m about to take the rest of the day off and stroll around on a gorgeous New York City afternoon.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Published: 09.14.09
Updated: 09.20.22

About Stamen

Stamen is a globally recognized strategic design partner and one of the most established cartography and data visualization studios in the industry. For over two decades, Stamen has been helping industry giants, universities, and civic-minded organizations alike bring their ideas to life through designing and storytelling with data. We specialize in translating raw data into interactive visuals that inform, inspire and incite action. At the heart of this is our commitment to research and ensuring we understand the challenges we face. We embrace ambiguity, we thrive in data, and we exist to build tools that educate and inspire our audiences to act.