So Much For Twitter's Trending Topics To Indicate Breaking News

Twitter‘s near real-time search capabilities and the ability for them and third parties to mine the collective data from user messages for indicators of what’s buzzing online is the intrinsic core value of the company now that it has grown to the size it is at the moment.

We already know Twitter can be quite the source for breaking news, but critics have in the past correctly pointed out that one should be aware of the fact that the mob isn’t always right, and unverified claims on the micro-sharing service – often from a single user or even a single message – can quickly lead to false or incomplete stories circulating rapidly and viciously until the dust settles and the truth surfaces. And even then, it’s often too late as most people will have probably moved on unless it was a topic they have a continued interest in. Case in point: the Prop8 debacle.

Up until recently, Twitter’s trending topics – which are prominently displayed on their Search homepage and now also in the sidebar when you’re using the Twitter website – were an awesome way to get a feel of what was buzzing on the Web, in a way that virtually no other web service was able to do. And even if you couldn’t quite make sense of why a certain word, term or hashtag was trending, wiki-based services like WhatTheTrend were able to lay it out for you (most of the time, anyway). It was simply a great way to stay on top of news that was breaking online.

Which brings me to my rant. Today, when you look at Twitter’s trending topics, you’ll notice that the large majority of trends are memes started by a single user or a group of users, with the main goal offering entertainment rather than spreading information. That’s all fine and dandy – no harm in having fun – and I realize well that Twitter’s trending topics are not necessarily required to be giving you and me an overview of stuff that really matters, but I can’t help but think it’s a pity that that list is starting to turn into the top 10 of chain letters people used to circulate through e-mail messages in the late nineties.

Fine with me if people want to share what they consider to be lies that boys tell, or which 3 words should follow after sex, or what their moms used to tell them when they were little, but as I said before I think it’s a shame considering how powerful that trending feature and how valuable that list could be instead.

Maybe Twitter needs to add a feature that allows for people to customize that list by enabling them to remove topics out of their attention stream at the very least. We’ll make sure to add it to our list of 300 things we think Twitter should do before a TV show.