Thoughts on Twitter #4: Do the folks at Twitter just not get that Trending Topics is seriously broken?


[Note: You can view all my “Thoughts on Twitter” posts displayed chronologically here: ]

As you can see from the tweet above, a week or so ago I came to the conclusion that the folks running Twitter either don’t use it, don’t care or are clueless that the Trending Topics feature has turned into nothing more than a spam magnet.

On Saturday, search-guru Danny Sullivan provided an insightful break-down of what the problem is:

“Because of how prominent trends are — people will click trends links out of curiosity — people are putting out tweets that contain the trending words but which have nothing to do with the topic.

How can the folks at Twitter continue to promote something so prominently — Trending Topics is a part of the sidebar navigation — that is doing little more than encouraging spammers to find ways to hack the service? Could it be that the folks at Twitter never click on those Trending Topics links?

During the past week or so, Dave Winer started and others like Marshall Kirkpatrick followed in taking an indepth look at the way in which the people who work at Twitter use it and how that may influence their perception, and thus, their focus on what may, or may not, be policies and priorities for the service. It is logical — and obvious — that how those who run and own Twitter use it as individuals — or don’t use it — means a lot to what it will become.

Like the internet, itself, Twitter is one of those “blind men and the elephant” things that can be whatever people use it for. I have — in a light-hearted way, but with sincere belief — characterized this as the Twitter “get it” paradox. Simply, that when one believes he or she “gets” what Twitter is, they don’t. Indeed, believing that you “get it” blinds you to newer and more profound ways of understanding and using it. (This “blinded by the light” seems especially true among those who assume they’ve “gotten it” when they realize Twitter can be used blast out marketing messages.)

Twitter is never just what you think it is.

For example, last week, an event media team from Hammock created and managed a real-time site for a client’s annual conference that allowed — among other things — anyone to watch a stream of tweets from attendees. Tech-oriented conferences have done this for a couple of years and heavy users of Twitter can easily recognize and “get” what we were doing. But the simple act of making the “back-channel” of Twitter part of the front page of an event made many of the attendees (most of whom who are not techies) change their minds about the potential of the service — to see it as something more than where people say what they are eating for lunch.

The versatility of what can be done with Twitter — that the service can be used by developers, editors and producers like our event media folks — underscores the importance for those who run it to not, themselves, begin to believe it is any one thing.

What Danny Sullivan, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Dave Winer and others (including my small voice) seem to be doing is trying to avoid the train-wreck of unintended consequences that happen when founders and owners start believing their own hype.

I don’t get Twitter. But I follow more users and tweet more than the people who work there. If you don’t know what that means, you missed the Clue Train when it pulled out of the station.

Here is one thing everyone should get: Twitter is nothing without the people who use it.

It is they (we) who will make it into whatever it becomes. Or who will leave it to move onto the next thing if, like many others before them, those who believe they have the power to control what Twitter is, try to force it into being something that it’s not.