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Wikileaks Drama Forces Twitter to ‘Explain’ Trending Service

Apparently, Twitter would rather not be the target of Wikileaks supporters who have been taking down sites around the globe if there any indication of a slight against the document leaking entity. Who wouldn’t?

People have been wondering aloud for some time as to why certain things that are “popular” are not seen as trending in Twitter (an example is #iranelection). The Wikileaks concern has a lot of people talking but it’s not necessarily trending in Twitter. So the question is in the forefront again but this time Twitter is talking.

Twitter explains a little about their trending offering in their blog

This week, people are wondering about WikiLeaks, with some asking if Twitter has blocked #wikileaks, #cablegate or other related topics from appearing in the list of top Trends.

The answer: Absolutely not. In fact, some of these terms, including #wikileaks and #cablegate, have previously trended either worldwide or in specific locations.

Actually that part was the not so veiled “Please don’t touch us, please!” cry to hackers. Now for the trending explanation. First what a trend is.

Twitter Trends are automatically generated by an algorithm that attempts to identify topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously. The Trends list is designed to help people discover the ‘most breaking’ breaking news from across the world, in real-time. The Trends list captures the hottest emerging topics, not just what’s most popular. Put another way, Twitter favors novelty over popularity (as BuzzFeed noted in a great article & infographic earlier this week).

Possible translation: Twitter Trends has nothing to do with substance but everything to do with helping to increase levels of ADHD in an already distracted world. Wow, that was revealing and a little bit sad all at once.

It continues with an explanation of what makes a trend a trend.

Twitter users now send more than 95 million Tweets a day, on just about every topic imaginable. We track the volume of terms mentioned on Twitter on an ongoing basis. Topics break into the Trends list when the volume of Tweets about that topic at a given moment dramatically increases.

Sometimes a topic doesn’t break into the Trends list because its popularity isn’t as widespread as people believe. And, sometimes, popular terms don’t make the Trends list because the velocity of conversation isn’t increasing quickly enough, relative to the baseline level of conversation happening on an average day; this is what happened with #wikileaks this week.

Possible translation: I really don’t know since there has been no other story getting the attention that Wikileaks has this week and the plot thickens everyday as more big players get taken out by Wikileaks supporters. How much more ‘velocity’ does a subject need?

In the end, Twitter, like any other major site doesn’t want to be the target of hackers. That makes sense. Playing on the Internet though, and proclaiming to have the pulse of the world through your product (in this case, tweets) but not really reflecting what is being talked about is well, suspicious at best.

What’s your take? Does Twitter trends really reflect what people are talking about that is important or is it just about The Bieb and other novelty subjects? If it really is about novelty over popularity does that change how you view Twitter’s ability to really tell us what is important in the world?

  • http://immeria.net Stephane Hamel

    I think the explanation is in “an algorithm that attempts to identify topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously” – so, basically, if a topic was higher today then yesterday, it shows up in the trends. But if it was already high yesterday, and is still high today, then, based on this simple explanation, it’s not a trend anymore… hmm… go figure!

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      @Stephanie – Weird isn’t it? Twitter is now trying to define the time that something can be called a trend. That is my concern about this whole “gotta have something new right now” mentality it is fostering. I don’t think it is how normal people actually view things. I know I tend to be more cynical than most but this definition of trend is insufficient in my book.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

      • Phil

        So when you create your own service like Twitter, I guess you can define the term however you like. Either that, or ask Twitter for a refund of your subscription fees.

  • http://Twitter.com/ed Ed

    A lot of Twitter’s motivation to post that came from incessant accusations that they were censoring Wikileaks out of trends.
    Even when @Delbius @JoshElman @CPen and @SG and others tweeted or left
    blog comments that Twitter in fact did not moderate trending topics (except spam and raunch -TOS violations), they still saw the rumor growing, so they made an official post.

    Ev and Biz have always had one core belief: Stay out of the users way.
    I actually think they should be tougher on content that breaks TOS (namely lude content).

  • http://www.newmoov.com Michael

    As far as Twitter’s ability to tell us what’s important in the world. It still does that, although we might not always like what we learn. Could simple ‘payola’ explain why some trends are hot and others aren’t?

  • http://lissnup.wordpress.com lissnup

    I think Twitter’s denial of TT “tampering” should be considered relative to other possible causes, eg secret user ranking. This is mentioned in my recent post here: http://bit.ly/fb2p6Y

  • CVan

    A prime example of the urgency of information security needs in corporate and government organizations.

    It’s not necessarily that these organiations were hacked, news coverage seems to be pointing to insiders leaking the documents to WikiLeaks. Wikileaks posted the classified information, there’s no evidence that it hacked to get the info.

    Information assurance training can be taken online and prep individuals for high security positions.