Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two mass media mistakes Twitter is making

Twitter is a great environment for adhoc communities to form around common purposes. Groups form for every niche. So why does it remain fascinated with mass media-style editorialising?

Here's two mistakes I think it's making:

1. Trends.
Showing what is most talked about by everyone isn't 'taking the pulse of the planet' - it's just broadcasting spam at the majority of us (and I don't just mean the spammers who take advantage of our interest in the trending topics to spam us).

The effect of seeing what is 'most talked about' is to surface the lowest common denominator and that, by definition in a world in which we can organise around things we care about, is spam for the vast majority (think of the long tail, folks).

It's not even a tyranny-of-the-majority model. It's an imposition by the biggest single group on all the rest of the smaller groups (which collectively make up the true majority). Tyranny by a small elite.

More valuable would be trends among friends: ie what is being talked about among the group of people you follow.

The things you consider useful and good would still be surfaced - the irrelevant (to you) avoided. This would work for everyone - not just those in the small elite.

2. The suggested user list:
A further expression of the mass media thinking at Twitter HQ is the Suggested User List, brought to my attention by a Twitter tirade by Robert Scoble this morning.

That's editorialising by the team - them making lowest common denominator suggestions for people to be broadcast at by (a lot of the SUs are not particularly conversational).

I would much rather be on my followers' suggested user lists than Twitter's.

You will make the intros and connections that are most relevant and therfore of most value to all parties because we know what matters to each other.

Twitter (no centralised authority) knows me like my peers.

  • The image used here is from the National Library of Scotland's Flickr account. I'm shocked to say it's there without a creative commons licence. I took a screengrab anyway. A National Library that doesn't share?

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  1. Love the idea of "trends within friends"; and it extends to other types of groups of interest and relevancy; for example, creating geo maps of trends. Joel Mark Witt pointed out Trendsmap on his site yesterday:

    Granted, geo-meta data is going to be pretty messy, but if there is value there people and companies will be incented to clean it up.

  2. Agreed - 'Trends within friends' would be great!

  3. number 1 is a great observation and in my opinion hugely important, avoiding the descent to lowest common denominator ...

    which brings up stocktwits, one of the coolest thing on twitter, because it is the only thing i know where cream rises ... a worthy model for several other fields

  4. So, anyone in a position to have a tinker with the api for a Trends Within Friends app? Would love to see it happen.

  5. I completely agree. And it's making it harder to follow conversations on Twitter as the noise amplifies itself.

  6. Love the 'Friend's Trends' option... but it could be a drop down box with LOTS of options, like:

    People with lots of followers
    People who tweet less than once a day

    ...or indeed let YOU define the search crowd by asking you to specifiy words which are:

    Included in bio
    Mentioned 5%+ of the time in tweets

    ...etc etc etc

    Basically, it lets you decide any type of group amongst which you can search for trends.

  7. David I really enjoy your posts but this one really touched me. I find that celebrity Twitters leave me cold because it is a totally one way diatribe rather than a conversation, not even a potential conversation. It echoes of old media where we were interrupted by messages whether we wanted them or not. On Twitter I find that on a similar level with a lot of people that they blast their messages out but often fail to participate with others (unless they have some higher standing in the community). I have always loved communication but it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Why can't there be more communication on Twitter instead of everyone madly trying to get their message across. I read the other day on a post that the only way to influence a conversation is to become involved in social media. As a coach, I immediately bristled at the word 'influence' - that does not necessarily mean communicate. Old habits die hard, me thinks, this smacks of the broadcast flavor more than the communicate flavor? What do you think?

  8. Hi pemo. Agree. Fane is a mass media by product - take a look at s post I wrote about fame (chapter also in the book' which clay shirky waded in on too.
    Would point you at a link but am on iPhone ;-)
    try a search for 'fame' on here.

  9. Spot on, David.

    At a grand strategic level, this speaks to the same instinct that has brought Yahoo! low: the need to look like the media that came before...


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?