Progress Report: Historical Twitter Account of Francesco Foscari

Update on Progress

The goal of this project is to create a twitter feed for Francesco Foscari, one of the great political figures from the Republic of Venice. As can be seen in the Gantt Chart below, the project has been divided into four phases:

  1. Research on Francesco Foscari and Venice in the 15th Century.
  2. Research Twitter culture and other historical twitter accounts.
  3. Build a bank of tweets.
  4. Tweet from @F_Foscari.

The third phase of this project will be completed at the end of this week. Over the past few weeks we have been building a bank of tweets that will be broadcast from the account @F_Foscari. This blog post will discuss how communication occurs  on Twitter. Furthermore, we will look at how aspects of communication impact our project.

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Communication on Twitter

It is important to understand the complex communication environment on Twitter, in order to understand some of the phenomena observed. In their article Structural Layers of Communication on Twitter, published in the book ‘Twitter and Society” Axel Bruns and Hallvard Moe posit there are three distinct levels of communication on twitter: micro, meso and macro. Each level has its own characteristics and reaches a different subset of the twitter population.  The diagram below shows the three different layers of communication on Twitter.

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The default communication level, or meso, is the communication that occurs between a particular account and all the account followers. Tweets from any given account are automatically disseminated into the feed of all followers.

The macro communication environment is the communication that occurs between Twitter users using hashtags, surrounding a particular subject. This communication does not require that users follow each other in order to participate or follow a conversation. According to Bruns and Moe, “the communicative flows which result from the establishment of active hashtag exchanges, at least in the short term, are usually less predictable than those enabled by follower-followee networks—but they are also amongst the most visible phenomena on Twitter”.

The final layer of communication on Twitter, as described by Bruns and Moe, is the micro layer, or the @reply communication level. Any tweets including a user’s address (@username), will be displayed in their mentions feed. Mentions are “seen, therefore, as attempts to strike up a conversation with another Twitter user; any known Twitter user may be addressed in this way, regardless of whether the addressee is already connected to the sender […]”.  Tweets that begin with an @username are excluded from broadcast to a general feed, and although these tweets are not private, they generally only concern the sender and receiver.

It is important to note that communication is not confined to a specific layer, and tweets may transition between the different layers.  For example, a micro layer tweet, directed a single user, may also contain a hashtag that will broadcast this tweet on the macro level.  A tweet can be moved from the micro level to the meso level through the use of the ‘Twitter dot” or placing a ‘.’ before the @username. This ‘tricks’ Twitter into broadcasting the tweet to all followers of the account rather than just the mentioned recipient.

One of the most important ways that tweets transition between communication layers is the retweet.  “Retweets – another user-generated communicative convention on Twitter – constitute a mechanism which is inherently designed to move tweets across layer boundaries: Twitter users habitually use them to bring messages from the hashtag level to the attention of their own followers […], or even to that of specific recipients, e.g., through manual retweets to which they have added an @mention of the intended addressee”.

Twitter is a very complex environment, but by breaking down the layers of communication on Twitter it is possible to better understand how to effectively communicate. The three layers of communication each address different audiences and subsets of the Twitter population. By understanding which audience you are intending to reach, it is possible to understand how to craft tweets. For our project we are looking at reaching primarily our followers, and therefore should craft our tweets to fall within the meso layer of communication. In certain circumstances we will be communicating directly with our followers, and thus this would fall in the micro layer of communication. In general, we do not plan on participating in a macro conversation, because we are not participating in current conversation, although our tweets will contain hashtags that could be tracked on a macro level.

Effective Tweeting

Beyond the different layers of communication, there are other features of communicating on the microblogging site to take into consideration. Twitter imposes a limit of 140 characters per tweet. This requirement makes creativity important. A tweet needs to convey emotion and personality while also relating historically accurate facts.  As discussed in the previous blogpost, he use of Twitter elements (emojis, hashtags, etc.) can help convey ideas in fewer characters. Many of the tweets will employ these elements. This character limit will also make it difficult to accurately convey In our profile biography, we will include a limited bibliography as well as a link to our project on the Venice Atlas site, in order to provide further context to our tweets.

Broadcasting our Twitter Feed

In order to broadcast the tweets we have composed, we need to determine the most effective way at releasing and at what frequency we should release the tweets.  There are many applications available online that will tweet from a bank of tweets including HootSuite, Buffer and Circular. The latter is an open-source option whereas the other two services require a subscription fee. For the purposes of this project we will use Circular to broadcast our tweets. In general, we will release one tweet per day, although on some days we will release more than one tweet – depending on the events being covered on that particular day.

Engagement with the audience

One question that is important to address in regards to our Twitter account is how to address tweets directed at Francesco Foscari by followers. Should we respond or ignore these tweets? If we look at existing historical Twitter accounts for some advice, we can see both examples. Twitter accounts that are impersonating historical figures, as we are intending to do, tend to respond tweets, as long as they are within the scope of their account. For our account, we will respond to relevant tweets, in character as Francesco Foscari. Questions or comments that Foscari would not understand or would not be relevant to his experience will be ignored.

Next Steps

At the end of this week, we will have completed the third phase of our project. We are completing the bank of tweets, which will be disseminated starting on Monday, April 27th. As mentioned in the previous blog post, we will be covering the events immediately following Foscari’s election win to become the Doge of Venice. We will touch on the many ceremonies that took place, the arrival of the plague in Venice, and the impending political crisis in Thessalonica. Over the next month we will be monitoring our account to make sure that the tweets are being correctly broadcast, as well as to see if we are receiving any feedback from our followers. We will also be responding to any interactions we receive with our Twitter account.


  • Structural Layers of Communication on Twitter by Katrin Weller, Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Merja Mahrt, and Cornelius Puschmann in Twitter and Society.