People take to Twitter to talk about everything from politics to breakfast to Justin Bieber in what feels like a chaotic stream of messages.
So it may come as a surprise that the conversations on the short messaging service fit into just six distinct patterns.
The Pew Research Center, working with the Social Media Research Foundation and using a special software tool, analyzed and mapped millions of public tweets, retweets, hashtags and replies that form the backbone of Twitter chatter.
The resulting diagrams show how people, brands, news outlets and celebrities interact on Twitter, depending on the topic of conversation.
When it comes to politics, for example, Twitter's citizens tend to form two distinct groups that rarely interact with one another, divided along liberal and conservative lines, according to the report, which was published yesterday.
Liberals tend to post links to mainstream news sources, while conservatives link to sites with a conservative blend, according to the study, whose authors likened their methods to taking aerial photos of crowds gathered in public places.
The researchers are quick to note that not everyone uses Twitter, only 14 percent of the US population, and not all who do use it to talk about politics, for example.
Still, looking at how conversations flow on social media can provide new insights into how people communicate in a way that was not possible until very recently.
"You could never do that in the old days when you were running around with a pen and clipboard," said Marc A. Smith, one of the study's authors and director of the Social Media Research Foundation.
What emerged in maps of political conversations that the liberal and conservative groups are not even arguing with one another. Rather, they are "ignoring one another while pointing to different web resources and using different hashtags," according to the study.