Firstly, let me start by saying that any global tragedy such as what happened in Ferguson, Missouri is an uncomfortable topic to base a technological blog post on. However, the events that have unfolded there over the last week have, in a strange way, put the spotlight on one of the algorithms that powers the social media world – the Twitter trending algorithm.
You all know what Twitter trends are – the box on the bottom left that normally is full of hashtags based around music groups, sport teams and news items.
Now, in the past few weeks, a lot of people in America (and beyond) were expecting the #ferguson hashtag to be the top of their list – in the last week alone it’s been estimated that there have been over 7.8 million tweets with the hashtag – however, sheer quantity doesn’t seem to be the only factor in determining trending status.
A lot of people thought that the absence of #ferguson in the trending list may have been due to intervention from the police or government. However, as is the central intention behind any social media site, the emphasis on the content is to make it personal to you so the trends aim to reflect this. The trends that you see on your screen are trends that should be relevant to you; what your friends are talking about; what’s going on in your location etc.
With #ferguson, though, this was a trend that was being talked about everywhere in (and many places outside of) the USA. So why was it not showing up for people? For that, we need to think about the word “trend”. A trend is normally something that happens at one point in time and is particularly popular before people’s interest begins to fade. Twitter trends reflect this: they aren’t determined solely by a volume of tweets, but also how quickly those tweet counts rise and fall in relation to other hashtags and subjects as well.
So, how exactly does this affect the #ferguson hashtag? Why did such a popular phrase miss so many American users, despite filling up their feeds? The answer is, simply, that Twitter wants to keep your experience personal and so the trends reflect the topics and subjects most likely to interest you, so while the hashtag will have shown for some users, unless you were in a ‘high density’ area or your friends were all talking about it, Twitters algorithm would have presented you with other interests.
Over to you.
What do you think? Have you noticed anything interesting about the Twitter algorithms?