There is a huge amount of power in online aggregation. Search engines have had this power for some time, and now so too does twitter.
twitter trends are currently shown by keywords which appear bottom right on the twitter interface. When a topic is trending hundreds of posts can be added for a keyword each minute – in line with whatever the momentous topic is, or as people hop on the bandwagon and add the relevant topic / hashtag to their tweets. The keywords themselves can delight, shock, amuse, annoy and often confuse its users (as per the recent #thingsdarkiessay hashtag scandal). But does that mean there needs to be another level of moderation?
Jolie O’Dell over on ReadWriteWeb reports that twitter is working to ‘fix’ trending topics:
Twitter rep @jennadawn (no real name given, and no link from her Twitter profile, either) wrote on the official Twitter blog, “We’ve noticed an increasing amount of clutter in the public timeline, especially with trending topics. Trends began as a useful way to find out what’s going on but has grown less interesting due to the noisiness of the conversation.
“So, today we’re starting to experiment with improvements to trends that will help you find more relevant tweets. Specifically, we’re working to show higher quality results for trend queries by returning tweets that are more useful. The improvement won’t be very noticeable at first, but this is a small step toward unearthing more value in search and getting you more relevant results.”
But how will twitter will decide what is useful: what is in, or out, and what are the implications? Stephen Anderson comments on the above piece:
“The technological…er…elite?…create a way of sharing ideas and invite the whole world to join, and are then appalled at the ideas the world wants to share :)”
Lawrence Lessig has warned about the constraints we face from code; technology can impair our field of vision and inscribe power in a way which is not immediately apparent nor easily reversible. It represents a significant change if twitter trends become ‘safe’ topics originated and popularised by ‘big media’ and ‘trusted brands.’ While trends are arguably not as important as its search mechanism, which is democratic in the sense that it just shows the most recent mentions, twitter’s minimalist design means they are very visible to users, and often gamed by marketers trying to exploit that fact.
If twitter is indeed going to implement a ‘fix’ to trends, given their extensive reach and the political power that can be wielded via their platform it is essential that they are transparent in explaining what exactly the algorithm is that deciding what may trend, and what may not. And also that they give the users they glean their power from a chance to challenge that algorithm.