[LINK] Stil Twittering Away Time
Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Mon Sep 19 16:39:57 AEST 2011
[Here's a useful distillation of the spirit of twitterdom. (Sorry).
[A couple of comments embedded and at the end.
Trends on Twitter brief but telling, just like in the real world
September 19 2011
The Sydney Morning Herald
Trends in the hyper-paced world of Twitter make the catwalks of Milan
look positively passe. Most don't last half an hour.
But they do provide an insight into what the world is talking about
and, for some, they're serious business - even if they only reflect
the obsessions of a tapped-in slice of society and have been known to
be manipulated in support of a dirty joke.
Twitter lists the 10 most-tweeted subjects on their website as
''Trending Topics''. For marketers, that's prime real estate. If you
can get your topic '''to trend'', for a short time you'll cut through
the cacophony of tweets and put your message in front of 100 million
active Twitter users - 5 per cent of the online population, but some
of the most connected.
For everyone else, it's a fascinating display of human nature, the
warts-and-all reality of what catches people's attention - but
something that probably shouldn't be taken too seriously.
Twitter trending isn't just about popularity, otherwise everyday
subjects such as the weather and late-running CityRail trains would
trend forever. Instead, it's about topics that become suddenly
popular. The faster more people tweet about something, the more it
You can blame Justin Bieber for that. During the first half of last
year about 3 per cent of all tweets were Bieber fans talking about
their idol. To avert a permanent Biebertrend, Twitter switched the
focus to traffic ''spikes''.
Any sudden news event, or any widely-shared experience, is almost
guaranteed to trend, as are the names of the people involved.
Natural disasters, sports matches, celebrities in the news -
especially their deaths - newly-released films and books and anything
made by Apple. But there can be surprises, such as ''vuvuzela'' last
year because so many people complained about them, or ''Laurel-Ann
Hardie'', because people debated whether the woman's name was real
Trending topics are often hashtags, Twitter's system for tagging
tweets with a keyword, because the hashtag is the only word common to
all tweets on a topic - such as #eqnz for the New Zealand earthquake
Hashtags often trend when they're used for fun, like when people
suggest #oneletteroffmovies such as Apocalypse Cow.
Or, when they're angry, like the US political hashtag
#f**kyouwashington. Or, when they're completely tasteless, like
#thingsdarkiessay, which supposedly started as an insiders joke in
South Africa but was obviously offensive.
Depressingly, for those of us who live online, many trending topics
are about TV programs. Indeed, live TV has now become a shared
experience as the home audience discusses the program via Twitter.
You can even see the names of individual contestants in shows such as
American Idol trend in sequence as they appear on screen.
Members of hacktivist group Anonymous have been so disturbed by the
prevalence of pop culture trending topics that they've created
software called URGE, the Universal Rapid Gamma Emitter [Twitter
edition]. ''This is not a hacking tool nor is it an exploit tool,''
they stress. URGE allows you to select an undesirable low-brow
hashtag, such as #jerseyshore, and automatically send large numbers
of tweets using that hashtag, but with more illuminating content.
That's called hashtag hijacking, and Twitter frowns upon it because
it's essentially spam.
[But surely the program is as sentient as most of the other posters ...]
Also frowned upon is sending lots of tweets with the same hashtag but
little relevant content in an attempt to get your topic to trend, and
tweeting about every trending topic in sight in an attempt to draw
attention to yourself.
A more legitimate method for getting topics to trend is to persuade
Twitter's ''influencers'' - users with large numbers of followers who
tweet regularly - to broadcast your message. Web services such as
Klout claim to measure your online influence.
But it's rubbish. Researchers at Hewlett-Packard's social computing
lab analysed Twitter's trending topics and discovered that user
activity and number of followers don't have much effect on how trends
are created and spread. Trending content often originates from
traditional media sources, and is then repeated around Twitter.
''We find that the resonance of the content with the users of the
social network plays a major role in causing trends,'' they wrote.
[Um, do we have a little bit of circularity here? Presumably
'resonance' is measured ex post facto, i.e. if lots of people
twittered, then it must have captured the zeitgeist?]
Trends take off almost at random, simply because they started when
people happened to be in the right mood. A light-hearted topic is
unlikely to trend if the day's news is about a terrorist attack.
Or, conversely, a ridiculous topic might trend simply because it
spread faster than a more serious one.
Yahoo! researcher Duncan Watts warned markets off wasting their money
on social media influencers in 2006 for these same reasons. It's too
unpredictable. Buy TV and newspaper advertising instead, he suggested.
I demonstrated this myself in 2009 when, for a laugh, I caused a
certain sexual practice, that I won't name in a family newspaper, to
become the number one trending topic globally in less than an hour,
simply by asking people to use a smutty hashtag.
A boring Saturday night, a longstanding tradition of Aussie
disrespect and the sleaze factor created a perfect storm that night,
but a similar attempt a week later failed.
That particular experiment couldn't be repeated today. The surge of
sleazy tweets would still count as a post-Bieber traffic spike, but
Twitter now filters its trends for profanity.
HP's researchers reckon few trends stay at the top for more than 40
minutes. Indeed, trends are usually so short-lived that you can see
them repeated hourly as the TV programs that triggered them followed
the time zones.
The only reliable way to get a topic to trend is to pay Twitter for a
''Promoted Trend''. But how tacky is that?
Stilgherrian is a writer, broadcaster and prolific Twitter user with
6175 followers. He changed his name by deed poll and does not have a
surname. Twitter: @stilgherrian.
[No he didn't.
[He changed his name.
[And he then executed a deep poll in order to provide documentary
evidence of the name-change of a nature that will satisfy
[And what a pity readers can't email the bloke ...
Roger Clarke http://www.rogerclarke.com/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd 78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au http://www.xamax.com.au/
Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre Uni of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science Australian National University
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