Because it’s Friday: Evolution of a research paper about Reddit

November 30, 2012
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(This article was first published on Revolutions, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Computer Science PhD student Tim Weninger wrote a 10-page paper for the World Wide Web conference looking at how Reddit users interact on the discussion pages of the social news site. During the process, he saved 463 revisions of the paper in a source-code control system. Then, he wrote a computer program to animate each revision of the paper. The result: a film showing how a typical research paper evolves from an outline to a complete thesis:

 

Note how the paper starts with just a title, outline and figures (which look as though they were generated using R). Then the narrative is added and edited. The reference section (automatically generated by LaTeX) grows over time as citations are added to the narrative. The title of the paper also goes though several iterations over its lifetime, before settling on "An Exploration of Discussion Threads in Social News Sites: A Case Study of the Reddit Community".

Tim shares how he made the video in the YouTube comments:

I wrote a computer program that converted the pdf files into images with the page layout, and then used another program called ffmpeg to stitch the pages together at 10 frames per second.

It's a lovely visualization of the creative process. I'd love to see a similar video for some of my own writings, but sadly I'm not as diligent about checking in documents as I am for code.

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