Mike and Loic are wrong about Twitter search

Bob Warfield has it all right: Loic Le Meur’s call for authority-based Twitter searches is all wrong.

What is Loic’s idea? To let you do Twitter searches with results ranked according to number of followers.

You’d think I’d be all over that idea, right? After all I have a lot more followers than Loic or Arrington has.

But you’d be wrong. Ranking by # of followers is a stupid idea. Dave Winer agrees. Mike Arrington, on the other hand, plays the wrong side of the field by backing Loic’s dumb idea.

Here’s why it’s a stupid idea: everyone is gaming the number of followers. And, even if everyone weren’t, popularity on Twitter isn’t a good way to measure whether a Tweet is any good or not.

It would increase noise, not decrease it. After all, if such a system were in effect you’d see my Tweets at the top of the page, even for things that I don’t have any business being at the top of the page for.

For instance, let’s say we were talking about something in China. How about something affecting supply chain management. Who should be at the top of such a result? @liamcasey because he runs a sizeable supply chain management company in China. But, no, he won’t be at top if Loic gets his way. I would be. That’s really lame.

So, what’s a better idea? Study the metadata that really matters.

Here’s some on Twitter:

1. Number of retweets of that tweet.
2. Number of favorites of that tweet.
3. Number of inbound links to that tweet.
4. Number of clicks on an item in Twitter search.

On friendfeed there’s even more to study:

1. Number of likes of that tweet.
2. Number of comments on that tweet.
3. Amount of resharing of that tweet.
4. Clicks on each tweet.
5. Velocity of commenting and liking behavior.

On both services you should see a bias of tweets made by people you’re actually following. Who you are following is a LOT more important than who is following you. Why? Those are active choices YOU made, which should tell the system something about you and who brings you the most value. The numbers of people following you is almost totally irrelevant.

I really hope that the Twitter team doesn’t listen to the popular users on this issue.

Oh, and friendfeed, why is your search so bad?

I can’t pull much value out of the search engine. Why can’t I say “show me all tweets that include the word ‘obama’ and that have two or more likes and three or more comments?” If we had the ability to actually pull value out of friendfeed’s database this whole argument would be moot.

To Loic and Mike: since when did “authority” have anything to do with “popularity?”

103 thoughts on “Mike and Loic are wrong about Twitter search

  1. Thank you Scoble, for sticking up for little people, or, ummm, rabbits like us. That’s why you are smarter than the rest. People just want to game a system, or perpetuate a status quo. The net is to be organic, and information not related to power.

  2. Thank you Scoble, for sticking up for little people, or, ummm, rabbits like us. That’s why you are smarter than the rest. People just want to game a system, or perpetuate a status quo. The net is to be organic, and information not related to power.

  3. Does this option to sort results the way I prefer, lessen your Twitter experience (again, built in as an option)?
    What’s the fuss?

  4. Does this option to sort results the way I prefer, lessen your Twitter experience (again, built in as an option)?
    What’s the fuss?

  5. That’s a pretty basic concept you’ve used to beat this idea with Robert. After all, Google uses popularity as part of its ranking algorithm but it hasn’t resulted in you ranking for Britney Spears related searches has it. I think we have to give the folks at Twitter a modicum of common sense.

    Is it really so far fetched to see Twitter apeing Google and using the number of followers, and in turn the reputation of each of those followers as ‘part’ of a ranking algorithm? Doesn’t seem to require much creativity to find a workaround to the problem you highlighted.

  6. That’s a pretty basic concept you’ve used to beat this idea with Robert. After all, Google uses popularity as part of its ranking algorithm but it hasn’t resulted in you ranking for Britney Spears related searches has it. I think we have to give the folks at Twitter a modicum of common sense.

    Is it really so far fetched to see Twitter apeing Google and using the number of followers, and in turn the reputation of each of those followers as ‘part’ of a ranking algorithm? Doesn’t seem to require much creativity to find a workaround to the problem you highlighted.

  7. 99% agree with you. IMO Technorati ‘authority’ does not work if you are outside the valley crowd, if it even really works there. One disagreement, I use favourites to mark tweets a lot but I am one of the few I know who do. Since it has low usage – I’m not sure how useful it is.

    Great that you are blogging more again

  8. 99% agree with you. IMO Technorati ‘authority’ does not work if you are outside the valley crowd, if it even really works there. One disagreement, I use favourites to mark tweets a lot but I am one of the few I know who do. Since it has low usage – I’m not sure how useful it is.

    Great that you are blogging more again

  9. I agree that aligning # of followers does not always indicate authority. But I see little harm in the option being added to search. You know I’m a big advocate for the little guy, and I try not to let # of RSS subscribers, followers etc. measure somebody. But why not enable the Twitter search database to be very flexible and include this option? Maybe I’d use it.

  10. I agree that aligning # of followers does not always indicate authority. But I see little harm in the option being added to search. You know I’m a big advocate for the little guy, and I try not to let # of RSS subscribers, followers etc. measure somebody. But why not enable the Twitter search database to be very flexible and include this option? Maybe I’d use it.

  11. I like the fact on Google, the network determines the authority.

    There’s a lot of precision though and relevancy is king. It’s about the authority links for the relevant keywords.

  12. I like the fact on Google, the network determines the authority.

    There’s a lot of precision though and relevancy is king. It’s about the authority links for the relevant keywords.

  13. The gaming of followers is growing exponentially. Anyone who wishes to see it can simply record results for major Twitter users using Twinfluence and check back in a few days. The number of new users with huge numbers of followers is growing rapidly.

    Just as being a celebrity is not an indication of quality, numbers of followers is not either.

  14. The gaming of followers is growing exponentially. Anyone who wishes to see it can simply record results for major Twitter users using Twinfluence and check back in a few days. The number of new users with huge numbers of followers is growing rapidly.

    Just as being a celebrity is not an indication of quality, numbers of followers is not either.

  15. Completely agreed. Just because someone has a large number of followers does not make them an authoritative speaker on anything they write about. If twitter were to sort searches by “authority” then anyone with a lot of followers merely mentioning a single word will ultimately be displayed well ahead of the really smart people

    Arrington advocating this idea does not surprise me. Loic advocating it does.

  16. Completely agreed. Just because someone has a large number of followers does not make them an authoritative speaker on anything they write about. If twitter were to sort searches by “authority” then anyone with a lot of followers merely mentioning a single word will ultimately be displayed well ahead of the really smart people

    Arrington advocating this idea does not surprise me. Loic advocating it does.

  17. Agree with you about popularity vs importance, but then again, as geeks we ALL know that lesson first hand!

    Got one to add to your list:
    1. Number of retweets of that tweet.
    2. Number of favorites of that tweet.
    3. Number of inbound links to that tweet.
    4. Number of clicks on an item in Twitter search.
    and
    5. Number of past tweets including searched keyword
    (that would help you get a few more subject matter experts)

  18. Agree with you about popularity vs importance, but then again, as geeks we ALL know that lesson first hand!

    Got one to add to your list:
    1. Number of retweets of that tweet.
    2. Number of favorites of that tweet.
    3. Number of inbound links to that tweet.
    4. Number of clicks on an item in Twitter search.
    and
    5. Number of past tweets including searched keyword
    (that would help you get a few more subject matter experts)

  19. Robert:

    A couple of notes on your post. I think the spirit of this discussion is the right one. Your suggestions are excellent but probably not enough.

    Anytime you reveal how search works, it can be instantly gamed. There are many smart people in the world. I can already see some smart engineers developing a system to take advantage of your ideas. Spam is a serious full-time product problem.

    Expert search products need to solve the cold start problem for people with true authority. While many on Twitter call themselves experts, the real experts may not be tweeting. When and if they do, their opinion may get lost in all the noise. For example, David Ku (VP Engineering, Yahoo! Search) is not tweeting (at least, I have not seen him) but if he did, I am not sure everyone would appreciate his brilliance, authority or expertise as it pertains to the topic of search. Something other than the volume of X or Y must be a factor and relevancy consideration. You must also be able to motivate experts to maintain their presence.

    We can learn some excellent lessons from Yahoo! Answers and Naver from Korea. To support your point, the experts at Yahoo! Answers
    lack serious credibility. Many of the experts respond in volume but their answers lack quality.

    Twitter is sitting on a big idea. Developing a set of search algorithms
    to take advantage of this opportunity should not be rushed. I hope they hire someone with serious experience to lead them in this area.

  20. Robert:

    A couple of notes on your post. I think the spirit of this discussion is the right one. Your suggestions are excellent but probably not enough.

    Anytime you reveal how search works, it can be instantly gamed. There are many smart people in the world. I can already see some smart engineers developing a system to take advantage of your ideas. Spam is a serious full-time product problem.

    Expert search products need to solve the cold start problem for people with true authority. While many on Twitter call themselves experts, the real experts may not be tweeting. When and if they do, their opinion may get lost in all the noise. For example, David Ku (VP Engineering, Yahoo! Search) is not tweeting (at least, I have not seen him) but if he did, I am not sure everyone would appreciate his brilliance, authority or expertise as it pertains to the topic of search. Something other than the volume of X or Y must be a factor and relevancy consideration. You must also be able to motivate experts to maintain their presence.

    We can learn some excellent lessons from Yahoo! Answers and Naver from Korea. To support your point, the experts at Yahoo! Answers
    lack serious credibility. Many of the experts respond in volume but their answers lack quality.

    Twitter is sitting on a big idea. Developing a set of search algorithms
    to take advantage of this opportunity should not be rushed. I hope they hire someone with serious experience to lead them in this area.

  21. Filtering by follower numbers isn’t anyone’s be-all-end-all but providing filtering is a good idea. You know even the people who say it’s a bad idea for a follower filter would test the filter regularly, and when it helped, they’d be grateful for it.

  22. Filtering by follower numbers isn’t anyone’s be-all-end-all but providing filtering is a good idea. You know even the people who say it’s a bad idea for a follower filter would test the filter regularly, and when it helped, they’d be grateful for it.

  23. Robert Schoble,

    I don’t really care how they do with this authority ranking. I have no problem with belonging of the very end of the very long tail… ;) It would be great if you could have a good search engine for Twitter and FriendFeed so could find new interesting individuals.

    By the way: Thanks for mentioning a supply chain expert. I will now follow @liamcasey. I worked as a purchaser between 1989 – 1997 and I am a member of a purchasing and logistics association in Sweden, so I am interested in following what is going on in this field.

  24. Robert Schoble,

    I don’t really care how they do with this authority ranking. I have no problem with belonging of the very end of the very long tail… ;) It would be great if you could have a good search engine for Twitter and FriendFeed so could find new interesting individuals.

    By the way: Thanks for mentioning a supply chain expert. I will now follow @liamcasey. I worked as a purchaser between 1989 – 1997 and I am a member of a purchasing and logistics association in Sweden, so I am interested in following what is going on in this field.

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