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Twitter Quietly Rolls Out 'Most Popular Tweets'

Twitter’s search results have changed thanks to the addition of a feature that wasn’t much of a secret in recent weeks. When using search.twitter.com, or the search box on Twitter.com, the results now show up to three “most popular tweets” at the top, above the most recent results. For example, a search tonight for ipad looks like this:

Twitter Popular Results

The display shows the tweet, when it was posted, and how many times it’s been retweeted — suggesting that that’s a key element of how popular tweets are determined. In a message today to developers, Twitter’s Taylor Singletary explains some of what determines a popular tweet:

With this new project, we want to make real-time search even more valuable by surfacing the best tweets about a particular topic, by considering recency, but also the interactions on a tweet. This means analyzing the author’s profile, as well as the number times the tweet has been retweeted, favorited, replied, and more. It’s an evolving algorithm that we’ll be iterating on & tuning until practically the end of time.

I should add that “most popular tweets” doesn’t show up on all searches. It shows up on more popular words and phrases like iPad, ncaa, and a sports team name like mariners; but you don’t get popular tweets for a sports team name like islanders or a celebrity like katie couric. (Depending on when you’re reading this, those results may or may not show popular tweets.)

The implementation, frankly, could be better. This display seems to further reward Twitter’s most powerful and popular users at the expense of the most recent messages from all users. I’d prefer to see a two-tabbed approach (like Sency does, for example), where the searcher can see Most Recent results in one tab, or click to see Most Popular Results in a separate tab. With Twitter saying that it’s doing a better job of fighting spam, there’s no reason not to let the most recent results continue to be the default search option.

Twitter first mentioned most popular tweets about two weeks ago in a note to developers. Earlier this week in our conversation about the new “Top Tweets” feature on Twitter’s home page, Chief Scientist Abdur Chowdhury told us that a similar feature was coming soon to Twitter’s search results.

There’s more discussion on Techmeme.

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