Twidiots of the World, Unite!


Twitter, as the latest social networking fad brilliant microblogging innovation, is attracting a huge following.    The appeal of Twitter is hard to explain until you’ve actively participated for some time, but I’m finding it’s a very enjoyable distraction from more pressing concerns.     Not only can you eavesdrop on usually intelligent tiny written conversations going on all over the world, through the “following” and “followers” features you can filter those conversations and control what you see and send to others.    Arguably the most important feature is that you can link out to blog posts or other URLs of interest, making Twitter a way to filter the increasingly overwhelming stream of data a bit more coherently than otherwise.    Twitter’s most practical application is probably simply “keeping in touch” with others both when they are distant and when you find common ground (e.g. at a  conference).   Tweetups are real life meetings where people who gather online get together for real – usually at a conference or in a city such as the one scheduled for CES 2009 in Las Vegas.

Loic LeMeur, the very popular Seesmic Founder, LeWeb Conference Organizer, and Twitter guy suggested improvements to Twitter search that would rank the material by the *authority* of the person writing, and this sparked a nice debate about how to assign value to the massive and constant stream of human commentary at Twitter.     I didn’t like that idea:

NO.   I’m OK with Scoble’s approach but I think the search by “authority” will deliver the same problems we have now with blogging – the best posts about a topic are not generally surfaced by authority measures. Instead, we get the most algorithmically appealing posts which are usually either a product of old A list bloggers sticking together and linking very opportunistically or overly SEO’d posts that suck but do a great job fooling the algos. Mostly ranking is now a combination of those two factors (old stuff and SEO measures).

One of the *great* things about Twitter is that it limits exposure fairly democratically. Authority search will help the twitter “rich” get richer, but I hardly think that’s a noble objective – it’s the same problem we have now where early adopters with a superficial voice are elevated above quality journalists.

Unless I’m missing something it sounds like you and Mike want to make sure Twitter does not threaten the status quo with more democratic ranking. I think it’s a great idea. In fact I think it would be interesting to *reverse* the algo you suggest – I’d rather hear from some Grandmas in Peoria about their iPhone experiences than from Jason Calacanis about [groan] the wonders of Mahalo.


Mike at TechCrunch
had a somewhat opportunistic take on the situation saying this was a fine idea.   I didn’t agree with him either:

Mike my beef with the idea is the notion that popularity or even authority *in any form* is something we should work hard to protect and promote. I’m tiring of a mostly regurgitated news stream and increasingly I want to know what Peoria is thinking as much as what Mountain View thinks.

Even though Peoria is rarely as interesting or well articulated or technologically sophisticated, it’s far more *representative* and if I’m looking for business ideas or social trends…I’d like to hear from Grandma as much as from you and Loic.

The game as it stands mostly retains the status quo and limits the debate. There’s a much better way and, collectively, I think we’ll find it soon.

Scoble was getting closer but still missed the key point here that we need to work *away* from the elitist “my speech is more valuable than your speech” nonsense that somewhat ironically now drives many of the Web 2.0 debates:

Robert I appreciate the fact you are arguing against something that would benefit you far more than others. However my beef with Loic is the idea that popularity or even authority *in any form* is something we should work hard to protect and promote. Call me a digital anarchist, but I’m tired of TechCrunch’s often regurgitated news stream. I find that increasingly I want to know what Peoria is thinking as much as what Mountain View thinks. Even though Peoria is rarely as interesting or well articulated or technologically sophisticated, it’s far more *representative* and if I’m looking for business ideas or social trends…I’d like to know that.