Wednesday, 1 July 2009

A simple guide to understanding Trending Topics on Twitter

Twitter Trending Topics - An internet popularity contest
Twitter gives users the ability to share information. Fast. Using the 'Trending Topics' (the list on the right hand side of the homepage), users can quickly view the most talked about subjects at any particular time.

Here's how the system works:

This is a keyword - examples include celebrity names, locations or events. Only one user has tweeted using this keyword. It's very lonely.

Another Twitter user (usually a follower of the original user) has seen the previous tweet featuring our keyword. This user will either 'retweet' the original message or make their own unique tweet. This tweet will include the above keyword. Now there are two tweets featuring this keyword.

The keyword has spread through Twitter. Many followers - either from the original user, or their followers - have seen the use of this keyword and have now tweeted or retweeted featuring this particular term. These users may also be in other countries. See the recent #iranelection trend for an example of this.

So many users have tweeted this keyword that it has become famous. Famous keywords feature on the top 10 Trending Topics. This list is of the most popular words or phrases being used at any one time.

Sometimes, a keyword is so popular that it crashes Twitter. This usually happens when millions of users post their tweets around the same time. Twitter explodes. Or at least, its server starts smoking. Global events like the death of popstar Michael Jackson is one such example of this.

Occasionally, companies try to use Twitter to market their wares. A very dubious way of doing this is to use a popular keyword in a tweet, followed by what it is they are trying to sell. This is frowned upon.

Trending Topics can vary greatly depending on the circumstances. A trending topic may disappear completely or it may remain in the top 10 list for quite some time.

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