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How Twitter's 'Top Tweets' Works

As Twitter continues to roll out its new home page, more users — new and old — are being exposed to the new “Top Tweets” feature. As we said yesterday, Top Tweets shows a collection of recent messages that scroll every couple seconds.

That’s what it does, but the bigger question is, How does it work?

For the answer to that question, we went to Twitter’s Chief Scientist, Abdur Chowdhury, who explained that there’s no wizard behind the scenes choosing which tweets to show on the new home page. It’s all algorithmic.

“Top Tweets is a new algorithm we developed that finds tweets that are catching the attention of other users,” he says. “The algorithm looks at all kinds of interactions with tweets including retweets, favorites, and more to identify the tweets with the highest velocity beyond expectations.”

That last bit there is important: “… the tweets with the highest velocity beyond expectations.” Obviously, there’s all kinds of science and computation going on here. Every Twitter user, it seems, has an expected level of attention and interaction for his/her tweets. If a tweet surpasses expectations, it might hit Top Tweets. And while the home page currently seems to focus on celebrity Twitter users, Chowdhury says that shouldn’t always be the case.

“This is intended to highlight Tweets from all users and doesn’t favor those with large follower counts.”

As we mentioned yesterday, Twitter has an @TopTweets account that’s tied to the new home page display. The account retweets a variety of messages in order to use a format that Twitter users already know. “We reuse the existing paradigms of Twitter for our Top Tweets account” Chowdhury says. “So, the interesting tweets we find are retweeted to that account. Thus, people can follow it and get them in a natural way rather than invent a new approach to this.”

The @TopTweets account adds even more to its Favorites. That’s one of Twitter’s most under-utilized functions, yet it’s what feeds the “Top Tweets” on Twitter’s new home page.

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“Favorites to this account are posted at a much higher rate than the retweets,” Chowdhury says. “Thus, people can follow the account and get a cool new stream of information they may not have been exposed to without it overwhelming their timeline and allowing people to use favorite widgets.”

Chowdhury also says that Twitter is getting language-specific “to make the tweets more relevant to users.” It identifies Top Tweets in different languages, including Japanese, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.

How about the news that Twitter Search itself would gain a most popular tweets feature, someting that Twitter’s dev people have talked about within the past couple weeks? Chowdhury told us that “search will be launching a similar feature soon.”


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