When 5000 followers isn’t enough: the future of Twitter

Twitter Bird

Around 2 o’clock in the afternoon UK time, America gets online.

I have no need for a clock. I know it is around 2 o’clock because my Twitter feed suddenly goes apes**t. I see it accelerate exponentially over the course of a few minutes. I can no quicker press the ‘(x) new tweets’ banner to refresh the page, than it appears again.

I follow only 200 people (give or take a few).

Which leads me to wonder what your Twitter feed must be like if you follow 5,000 people. Or even 10,000? I daren’t imagine.

At this point in time, I can only see two reasons why you would follow 5,000 people:

  1. You are hell bent on gathering a massive following yourself. And you are following people in the vain hope that they will follow back[1].
  2. You have the latest cyber-implant from Sarif Industries which allows you to directly upload and pre-process Twitter’s firehose feed into your brain, so it’s no issue.

The end result of this is always the same, an unmanageable torrent of content. How are we supposed to make anything of this? How is it in anyway ‘useful’? Surely following a small number of people whose opinions and judgement you respect and value would be a better way to go? Yes, you’ll miss out on a few links here and there, but the majority of information you get will be useful to you.

However, there are opportunities lurking in the large datasets that Twitter is home to.

Twitter’s opportunity

Let’s face it; having a constructive conversation over Twitter is about as easy as playing pat-a-cake with your arms cut off. But what Twitter does do very well is facilitate the sharing of content. Even back in September 2010, a whole year ago, Twitter was sending 22.5 million tweets containing links.

Twitter Trending Topics
Twitter's Trending Topics in the UK (22/11/2011)

Twitter’s Trending Topics (TTs) are a fairly feeble attempt at uncovering the trends within their dataset, and suffer from being self-referential; as soon as a topic starts to trend, it immediately trends more as people start to investigate it and as the Twitter spam accounts start broadcasting tweets that simply repeat the TTs. They do nothing but scratch the surface of what is possible.

TTs incorrectly focus on common words and hashtags, instead of looking at something much more valuable: what people are sharing. Twitter could be seen as a content producer in some (limited) ways, but its value lies in its ability to distribute content quickly to large numbers of people. And it is here that the opportunity lies.

Social content

By mining its data stores, Twitter can understand the most popular content at any one time, across the whole network, by country, or even within our own sphere of interest.

Imagine a Twitter where we could see the most influential content available, ranked and ready for our attention. Suddenly, following 5,000 or even 10,000 people is not an issue, because we are being presented with the salient data from those people without having to wade through every tweet.

Twitter has enough data to be able to do this. It can provide its users with targeted and valuable content because:

  1. They know who we follow and who follows us
  2. They know what we have shared in the past (first tweet and retweeting)
  3. They know who we engage with most regularly, either through DMs or open tweets.
  4. They know what content is being shared (even that which is obfuscated behind URL shorteners)

From this they can provide us with a new view based on content relevancy and social importance. Alongside our standard view, of course, because this isn’t about either/or, it’s about augmenting what we have with a layer of intelligence.

Twitter always argued that they don’t want to lose the simplicity of the product, but by enhancing the third party tools that people use to access Twitter they can have the best of both worlds.With the purchase of Tweetdeck earlier this year, and with the greater control it is now exercising over the third-party applications that work with the service, Twitter is now well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity. As in, right now.

One step further – Goodbye Google Ripples, Goodbye Klout?

No, not really…   but kind of.

Google Ripples is an experimental visualisation of how a piece of content is shared, emanating from the source like the titular ripples from a stone thrown into water. It enables you to see how content moves through your social ecosystem and provides valuable insight to marketers. But compared to Twitter in terms of the amount of content, it’s a minnow. Imagine seeing ripples for Twitter; they could do that right now.

Klout purports to be the standard for measuring influence across the web. It’s going through a little bit of a sticky patch right now due to a change in the way it works (although I’m not complaining. my score went up from 45 to 69), but it could get a lot worse. Its weakness is that it measures from the outside and only has access to a limited set of information from each of the networks it interfaces with. Twitter has access to everything you do on their platform, so could easily understand who is producing content and how it is being shared. If it is true that Klout base their scores heavily on your primary network, why have a Klout score if you could have an ‘official’ Twitter ranking that shows the true value of the content you produce? They could do this right now.

Opportunities, opportunities

Twitter hasn’t ever had a problem with its product, but it has always had a problem with understanding what its business is.  As one of the principle ‘big data’ companies, now is the time to start making more of its most valuable asset. Content suggestion and referral, arm-in-arm with their nascent advertising model, could be a powerful product.


[1] The sad fact of this is that there are many people out there who profess to ‘Always follow back’. Quite why you would offer to follow someone back without at least looking at their content first, I don’t know.

This article is also available at , also available at Business2Community.

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