30-Day Job Promotion, by Susan Britton Whitcomb
Online Merchandising Lessons

OK, I Took the Twitter Challenge...Where's the Beef?

TwitterChris Webb told me to try it out and so I did.  I took his advice, created a Twitter account and gave IM tracking a shot.  I decided to  track two different phrases to start: Leopard and Twitter itself.  I figure Apple's Leopard release is probably the biggest thing happening in the tech world right now so there ought to be a lot of chatter.  Tracking Twitter itself simply enabled me to do some comparisons on buzz levels.

If I were to Twitter my initial reaction it would be the following: "Signal-to-noise ratio is awful...calibration options required!"  (Fortunately I managed to keep the message below the 140-character ceiling.)  Here, for your reading pleasure, are the first 5 IMs that came through for my "Leopard" and "Twitter" tracks:

TwitterIM (3:41:36 PM): (missusP): Freakin' grouchy today. Going tpo order a new Mac w/ Leopard - maybe that will cheer me up.

TwitterIM (3:41:52 PM): (xxdesmus): ...here goes nothing, formatting, and installing Leopard (attempt #2)...

TwitterIM (3:42:06 PM): (cyeary): Pre-Leopard backing up. The excitement builds.

TwitterIM (3:42:13 PM): (sixfoot6): Greetings from leopard! Powerbook G4 handled upgrade well. The big winner is Quicklook, but insane photomosaic screensaver a close second.

TwitterIM (3:42:25 PM): (thericketandoo): sitting on the couch with Michele. my twitter is so awesome.

See what I mean about the poor signal-to-noise ratio?  I'd say maybe two out of five were (sort of) worthwhile bits of information; xxdesmus is apparently having trouble installing Leopard while sixfoot6 made it through with flying colors.  But do I really have to skip over three other messages just to find two that have some value?  After scanning through the last 10 minutes worth of recent track messages I'd say the 3-for-2 rate is pretty accurate, at least for these two phrases.

Despite all that, I see promise for a service like this.  They need to start by adding more filtering and other calibration features.  For example, I could easily live without seeing any further messages from thericketandoo, so is there any way for me to filter those message from my future feeds?  To be fair, filtering individual users would require more work than I'm likely to invest in this, so how about another option?...

Is there any way to rate other users?  What if I determine I really like what sixfoot6 has to say and I'd like to let others know they're likely to find value from his/her messages?  Why not offer a feature where when I say "track xyz" I can also say I only want to see messages from users who average a 4-star rating out of 5?  If that doesn't result in enough tweets to suit my needs, let me ratchet that setting down to 3-star ratings, but please, oh please, don't make me sift through all these other random, content-free messages!

Do customization features like this already exist in Twitter?  I couldn't find them, but if I missed them, please let me know because I'd like to test it further.


Don Crowley

My take: If I don't like someone on twitter I just click the stop following button on their twitter page. That is the vote/ rating system. I go through my contacts once every three months to weed out the ones annoying me the most. I'm liberal though, I have 200+ contacts. I don't care if lots of it is uninteresting. I'm filtering for the good stuff anyway.

Joe Wikert

Hi Don. I'm not sure if that approach filters out those feeds in Twitter's IM track tool, but even if it does it's too much tweaking than I've got time for. On any given track there are probably dozens if not hundreds of contributors I'd like to filter out. Making a configuration change for each and every one would be a major hassle and you're probably starting over with a completely new set of people to filter out for a different track phrase. That's where the community rating feature I mentioned in the post could come in handy. You write meaningful, useful messages and your rating goes up.


Regardless, that's 2 out of 5 that has helped you out. It could've been....0 out of 5. I think it's a pretty good ratio considering the tool and the network itself and what it's truly all about.

Joe Wikert

Corvida, well, I'm not sure I'd really say those 2 out of 5 "helped me out". I was just trying to be generous and say they were less worthless than the other, throw-away messages. And if you're settling for a system where 40% of the information you get doesn't suck, well, I think you're settling for too little!

Let's draw the comparison to blogs... If the blogoshpere and RSS feeds were like Twitter everyone's RSS reader would come pre-loaded with the feeds of all 70 million blogs on the planet. You'd then have to go in and either ignore or unsubscribe to all the feeds you don't care about. I don't have the time for that and I certainly don't have the time to manually filter out all the "I think Twitter is awesome" messages from these track feeds.

If I don't like a blog I don't subscribe to its feed. All I'm asking for is something similar to that in the Twitter world.

Chris Webb


I'm really glad you tried it, and I'm encouraged that you are beginning to see possibilities for value. The little challenge was just to get you started. The real value is beyond just the track feature. Here are a few suggestions based on the way I use twitter that might help you get more from the tool:

1. IM is the least useful way to use twitter in my opinion. Try one of the standalone clients like Snitter or Spaz (both AIR clients) or TeleTwitter (or one of the many, many others.) They offer more features, and are not as intrusive as an IM client.

2. Try being a bit more proactive in selecting conversations to follow. You can search profiles from the web site to look for Twitter users with common interests. For example, you will find many from the publishing industry including our competitors. Note you can see the last time they sent a "tweet" and what its content was. I generally ignore anyone who has not used the service in the past several days/weeks.

In addition, there are some content providers who are providing updates via Twitter. Check out ESPN for example.

3. You can search the conversations with a Google Custom Search like the one I created here. The difference is that it searches conversations, not user profiles. Since I know you use Firefox, this post on my blog describes how to add this search to your Firefox search bar.

4. Once you find some interesting people saying interesting things, you might choose to "follow" them. You can do that via the website, or using the command "follow username" via your twitter client.

5. When viewing a user profile you can also see a representation of the users they are following. I use this to find "birds of a feather" to follow. This is not the same as your suggested rating system (which I think adds value) but might be a step closer to finding good sources from your own selected sources.

Once you start implementing some of these suggestions, I think you will find your signal to noise ratio more favorable. And of course when you contribute to the conversation and add value of your own you help to improve the ratio for everyone.

Stephen Tiano

This reminds me of just how much of the Internet is really kind of worthless to me. I mean, Joe, realistically, even your two “worthwhile” bits of info didn’t provide very much. And if it’s true that there are so very many “I think Twitter is awesome” messages, then, for the life of me, there's just way too much waste to bother with. (Of course,noone’s telling me I have to bother with it.)

But it brings to mind kind of a developing beef I have ... with networking. Specifically, I’ve been trying LinkedIn for a few months. And while I have a few hundred contacts, truth is, very few of them --5%, if I'm lucky--involve people in publishing or who do the kind of work I do, book design and layout.

I hear what you’re saying about not subscribing to blogs that aren’t of interest to you. Problem is, Twitter sounds like such an indulgence--I mean, who the hell wants to hear all the minutiae going on in strangers‘ lives? I can barely tolerate my own.

That said, if the signal-to-noise ration really is so low, what is the attraction of Twitter for functioning adults with jobs and lives?

Morgan Ramsay
...what is the attraction of Twitter for functioning adults with jobs and lives?
Geekdom. Aside from that, the only truly meaningful use of Twitter that I've seen was KPBS' reporting of news about the California wildfires.

I looked at using Twitter briefly. Then I saw its true colors. It's merely a blog with a character limit. (And a blog is merely a website with a stupid name.) Sure, you can remotely use Twitter, but you can do that with Truemors.com, Guy Kawasaki's venture, which is powered by WordPress.

Oops, I shouldn't have said that. Now I'll have weirdos calling me a "luddite" again.


The new tracking feature is just that: new. It's also just a tad experimental. It's not the core Twitter experience that enthusiasts are enthusiastic about.

Also, it's not about signal to noise ratio, really. Unless, of course, you find signal in a tweet like "Looking foward to mocking Bradley's hair." [1]

To find signal in that, you'd have to know and care who Arlo Rose and Bradley Horowitz are and have followed some tweets from them before. [2]

For me, the sequence in [2] and [1] happen all the time. Really, it's not so much about literal signal as it is about staying fuzzily in touch with a group of people you've fuzzily assembled to follow.

[1]: http://twitter.com/Arlo/statuses/390593862
[2]: http://twitter.com/elatable/statuses/390441762


Also, I second Chris' suggestion that IM is the least useful way to follow Twitter - next to reloading the website itself.

Twitter's got a magic mojo bubble that's a subtle thing to entertain. [1]

[1]: http://decafbad.com/blog/2007/10/17/twitters-mojo-bubble


Randomly googling my username has only shown me that I should protect my Twitter updates.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)