“Snape” and “Serverus” are trending, my Harry Potter obsessed daughter told me. “On Twitter?” I asked. Yes and the theory she had was that it had something to do with a push for a National Harry Potter Day or that Potter’s fictional birthday is on July 31. She was excited that the Tweeting world shared her obsession — except it didn’t.
She was a victim of Twitter’s new Tailored Trends.
Later that same week, a co-worker excitedly told me how a Mashable Story was trending globally on Twitter. “The whole headline!” she cried. Except that wasn’t so.
She, too, was a victim of Twitter’s Tailored Trends.
It’s been almost a month since Twitter unveiled Tailored Trends, a recalibration of the old Twitter trends algorithm designed to “tailor Trends based on your location and who you follow on Twitter”. Twitter even made this adjustment the new normal. Now every Twitter member’s homepage would list Trends that said more about them than they did the Tweeting activities of the world at large.
Allow me to explain.
Before this change, Twitter Trends were a great window into the wider-world of Twitter activity. It’s true, you likely tweeted about things that interested you and followed those with either similar interests or those who would provide you with updates that aligned with your interests. The great thing about Twitter Trends, which you could set to show worldwide, your country (including the U.S. — you can even filter by state), was that you learned about things outside your own particular passion.
I’ve always treated Twitter as a news feed. Like others, I learned of the deaths of both Steve Jobs and Whitney Houston first on Twitter. While Trends covers big stories they’re just as often a reflection of busy conversations about smaller news events or unusual, viral stories that had people talking (and Tweeting). I’d see a trending hashtag or term and click the link to learn more. I guess my doing so was sort of self-perpetuating, but I swear I learned about stuff I would otherwise have missed thanks to Twitter trends.
I truly believe this was always Twitter’s intention with Trends. Take a look at the mobile app and you’ll find Trends under the “Discover” tab. According to Merriam Webster, Discover means, “to obtain sight or knowledge of for the first time.”
The new Twitter trends, which most of you likely now have by default, is an exercise in navel gazing, searching for the unknown, but only within your known. It makes Twitter a much more local activity since it filters by your location and shields you from things you don’t care about because it’s based on who you follow. This change is like a leech on Twitter, sucking all the serendipity from the experience.
It also leads to people thinking their interests are much more important, relevant and exciting than they really are. Yes, I know my daughter loves Harry Potter, but Mr. Potter does not own the Twitter stream. Prior to this change, she would, almost daily, mention odd Twitter trends she’d stumbled upon. She had no idea that Twitter had made a change that, in a matter of weeks, would shrink her Twitter world. When she did realize what was going on, she was not happy.
As soon as my co-worker mentioned her Twitter Trend discovery, I told her to make sure Twitter wasn’t filtering her Trends for her. It was and once she changed it, she saw once again saw the Twitterverse with fresh eyes.
I know that some people find unfiltered or non-tailored trends useless because, as one Twitter follower told me “most are meaningless” to him. For him, perhaps the filtered view is a boon. For most, though, I suspect that what Twitter friend @ds_33 told me is true: It projects a kind of “confirmation bias”. Your Twitter feed becomes a kind of “yes man” for your interests and will also serve to verify your beliefs because the trends you see are all generated by the people you choose to follow (and even where you chose to live).
When Twitter announced Tailored Trends, it didn’t spend a lot of time explaining the reasoning behind the change. In a short blog post, Twitter simply said it wanted to show “emerging trends that matter more to you.” Twitter is right, of course, you will see what matters to you most. If you like your world small and self-satisfying, this is a good thing. If you want Twitter to open up your world, then do as I’ve done and turn off Tailored Trends.
It’ll be an eye-opener.