I’ve been in two minds to blog about the scourge of ‘who is important on twitter’ answers but am moved to do so today by the collaboration between the Independent newspaper and PeerIndex. The reason why I’m moved to blog is that whilst both participants say that tools like PeerIndex and Klout aren’t perfect, they say their system to find the “UK Twitterati” is better because they’ve done more human stuff to the results.
PeerIndex is a “social capital” monitoring tool which is part of ongoing attempts to give the huge quantity of the web some meaning.
The Independent is a national UK daily newspaper which recently launched a condensed version for just 20 pence – it is known as ‘i’.
In support of their argument for the value of “the Twitter 100” that this 100 is better than all the other lists, the Independent wrote:
Twitter is not yet evenly distributed: some fields, like technology and science, have very large communities of fans; others, like literature or art, have more incipient Twitter communities – but are none the less plainly influential. So we also searched specifically (further down the rankings) for people who had particular resonance in certain fields; and further refined our list by focusing on those who were especially trusted by other experts.
PeerIndex wrote on their blog:
On the PeerIndex side we found any candidates in various domains. For every user we capture dozens of features of their ‘interest graph’ – that is the things they talk about and the extend other people seem to care about that. (Simplifying the maths.) We also looked at how trusted people coincided with other trusted people on particular subjects.
The Independent appointed a heavily media-focused ‘Expert Panel’ and appear to have chosen as their ‘certain fields’ some professions they don’t think the raw figures support.
Hooray! Someone in the mainstream media is going to write about the value of twitter’s breadth, I hear you call. But you’d be wrong.
If you look at the paper you’ll find that the categories they appear to have chosen to highlight are very limited and somewhat predictable.
- Showbusiness Tweeters
- Tweeting Sports Stars
- Business Tweeters (well done Lucy Marcus for getting on this list)
- Fashion Tweeters
- Science Tweeters
- Political Tweeters
- Er, that’s it.
Leave out these categories they highlight and you’re left with just a couple of other categories in the top 100. Firstly, Broadcasters, Journalists and Writers e.g. Richard Bacon, Fearne Cotton, Felix Salmon, Jemima Kiss, India Knight etc), and almost all the rest are social media and/or technology people/bloggers such as Zee M Kane (editor of TheNextWeb), Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing Technology).
The problem is that virtually all of these people are already well known as being active on twitter, and the puffing of this ‘research’ only teaches people what they already know.
What twitter is really good at isn’t the broad brush famousness of the famous. It is good at the niche, specialist, small world of the ordinary. What most ordinary people who aren’t using twitter need to know is that world, not the one they already know about.
This exercise fails to find the important people in non-celebrity business, or anyone in the arts outside celebrity, no-one in the creative industries, design or construction. No tweeting professionals like doctors, lawyers, architects. In an ironic twist their ‘top of the class : twitters by profession’ contains hardly any professionals. Why can’t a collaboration like this tell us something useful about Twitter – puff the real people using twitter well. If PeerIndex can’t do this then I agree that Peerindex is broken, or alternatively their claim to show us where the real action is going on in twitter isn’t their real aim at all. It certainly wasn’t the aim of this collaboration.
Twitter isn’t about celebrity anymore, it is real life. Both the Independent and PeerIndex have wasted an opportunity.
Azeem Azhar says
Your right – twitter and the web as a whole is a truly post-modern phenomenon, rich with multiple points of view. And unlike mainstream media it doesn’t gravitate us all to a grey mainstream – so i think the Independent deserves credit for launching a paper like The i in the first place; and secondly’ i deserves credit for raising the attention of Twitter and it’s wide range of voices.
Could the list have been broader and more obscure? Of course – but there is a tightrope any mainstream publication has to walk between broad relevance and whatever is ont he other side of it. It’s a difficult one to navigate.
As for PeerIndex – you can dig through our data to find people you haven’t come acros before – 2,466 people talking about Wine (for example) see here: http://www.peerindex.net/topic/wine (a caveat topic exploration is still an alpha product with lots of noise we are clearing out).
And unlikely other platforms for surfacing great people, anyone can get a PeerIndex profile and participate, share and enjoy.
Keep it coming!
Alan Rae says
Interesting. I have been following the NFU annual conference via the hashtag today and have identified a couple of new people who will add to my Paper.Li list.
I have 2 IDs on twitter @alanrae which is what I use for general business tweeting to front http://www.howtodobusiness.com
and @intelligarden which I use for “horticultural” stuff. http://www.theintelligentgarden.com is a hybrid between a brand extension for our own core plant business and the need for a working example of social media driven e-commerce.
Both IDs use a list to create a paper.li newspaper which is embedded into the site and both tweet.
@alanrae has been running longer and I’ve worked really hard at it and it has about 3000 followers. @intelligarden has about 90 followers and has had a lot less attention lavished on it.
the intelligarden paper has about twice as many subscribers and the kolut and peerindes seem to b e catching up @alanrae fast. I’ve also found that I’ve made more money via The Intelligent Garden this year than I ever have through How to do Business although both are crowded markets.
Sell what people want to buy and stop chasing your vanity
I appreciate your platform is in beta and I applaud your attempts to make twitter more penetrable.
You’re right about the fine line – it is difficult. But just because you’re a national newspaper doesn’t mean you have to churn out the same old stuff. Not least the Indie!
Way over half the people in your top 100 are celebrities. I could see fewer than 20 I’d not heard of before. I wonder what percentage have been on TV? As for being a mainstream newspaper, the point I’m making is that your list is in no way representative of the mainstream of twitter. Though it might be representative of the mainstream traditional print press…
Look I agree with you on many of your observations – except this: the Independent was explicit about the methodology – and being very clear that there was a human element put over the top of all of this.
What I am hearing is an intuitive point from you – which is that twitter is much more interesting and diverse than a bunch of celebrities. To which my personal inclination is yet, it is. (Check who I follow for that).
However – and this is a however – you don’t really talk about what the ‘mainstream of twitter’ and what criteria you might use. It’s interesting for us because it is something that we thing hard to identify. Seven per cent of twitter is (anecdotally) Justin Bieber.
So I’d throw two questions back at you:
1. What criteria would you use to define the mainstream of twitter?
2. What features could your measure in order to track those?
Joanne Jacobs says
The problem I have is that the list tends to pigeon hole people by either profession or topic. But most of us don’t limit our lives to our professions, nor do we limit what we tweet to our subject areas. (Indeed there is an argument that if we do, we limit our trustworthiness as voices in the twittersphere.) I am an ex-academic (and sort of current one, as an Adjunct), ex-business director, current consultant, working in e-marketing, digital pedagogies and interaction design. I also do a fair bit of public speaking. I don’t fit into any category and I like it that way. So I’ll never make an appearance in any lists based on these narrow categories because I don’t fit anywhere. Not that I particularly want to be on this kind of list – it’s not a list made up of thought leaders, but so-called ‘influencers’. And frankly, I’m less interested in influencing people than I am in listening and engaging with people, as well as sharing a few thoughts and resources.
But this all comes back to why any twitter 100 list was created in the first place. What’s it for exactly? Is it just a list of recommendations of people to follow? Is it a weird kind of award for being an ‘influencer’? (Who wants to be recognised as someone who invades others’ free thinking?) Is it a baseline for achievement in the twittersphere? As far as I can tell it looks like a brand awareness exercise for Peer Index (fair enough) and a column filler for the Independent (disappointing, but increasingly common, particularly as it’s seen as Old Media embracing New Media). Now I have no problems with brand awareness exercises or even attempts to normalize twitter as social behaviour. I guess I’d just prefer that the list was characterised as such. Instead, describing the list as the Who’s Who of the Twitter Elite is a tad deceptive. Not just because it fails to take into account various professions or subject areas, but because there is no elite on twitter. That’s kind of the point. Everyone has equal access, and equal voice.
I agree with Su – there is an opportunity to do something interesting with Peer Index to use the same measures (and perhaps a few more) to develop a profile of trust networks. These won’t be people, but rather clusters of people, and clusters of topics. The toughest part of social media is connecting the right people, to the right information at the right time. Next time I’d like to see snapshot in time of those trust networks, rather than a bland list of names.
We can do all of this – in fact if you drop me an email we’ll set you up with something you can write about on your blog.
Joanne Jacobs says
Excellent! Will be in touch over the weekend 🙂
(And might actually see if we can get the Guardian to do an in-depth on that!)
Paul Wilkinson says
Interesting post, Su, and some great comments – especially the final point by Joanne.
I like the idea of clusters of people and clusters of topics, particularly for use in B2B work. For example, I do a lot of work with Constructing Excellence, and it would be great to identify clusters of people involved with its work, especially on collaborative working, and to see what other related topics intersect with this (eg: sustainability, health and safety, etc). People in organisations like CE might then be able to make connections with like-minded professionals and raise the quality of their discussions.
Drop me an email aa [at] pi.mu and we can help
What is the mainstream of twitter? Well for me, it’s summed up in one word – interests. And this is why I love Twitter so much – because my interests are not just work, being social, photography, medicine, NHS, midwifery, iphones, gadgets, comedians, politics, infosec, quackery, astrophysics, current affairs, news, legal issues, family, travel, etc ( yes I could go on but you get my point) – and this platform allows me to follow expert users who generate the content that I want to read and converse with. They have the conversations that I like to participate in and feedback on.
People are invevitably interested in the Twiterati – yes I follow Stephen Fry – but this is a minor part of their twitstream – for the most part we need the to and fro of information sharing and echoing interests. (NB these change and Twitter allows that).
So to answer Azeem’s question #2 – have a look how many of your top 100 regularly have conversations longer than question|response – and track them. Oh, and tweeps who regularly post pictures of the restaurant meals they’re having should be disallowed 😉
Uh oh, then I’m stuffed…
Gemma Went says
Some great thoughts here guys, if a post like this could actually help to form something useful (to all twitter users) then I’m all for it.
To me Twitter has never been about celebrity, it just so happened to be hijacked by a few that made it seem that way. The real twitter is about real people hooking up with other people that genuinely interest them, so being able to identify clusters of people around subjects would be great. But as Joanne pointed out, this is tricky as we don’t all illustrate our various interests in our bios.
I guess one way of doing this would be to analyse peoples tweets and group them based on the various subjects they talk about. Can you do that please Azeem? End of the week would be fine 😉
Irene Koehler says
Fascinating discussion, Su.
I’ve been intrigued for some time with the concept of quantifying influence online and how this can/cannot be done effectively through algorithms and metrics. Many of my favorite people online – those with whom I interact the most and have the most interesting things to say – have relatively low influence, according to tools like PeerIndex and Klout.
Who is deemed interesting, influential and elite is very personal and different for each of us. Most of the “highly influential” on these sorts of lists are of no interest to me. That said, I know there is a large audience to whom they are influential. I agree with you, that there is a huge opportunity to discover less-well-known people who are smart and doing great things in areas which align with our own interests.
Sadly, I don’t think this is the kind of stuff newspapers are interested in. Joanne said that this kind of article is a way for Old Media to look like it’s embracing New Media. I’m not sure that I’d even go that far. I think there’s a chunk of it which is only about finding a way to look cool by talking about what the cool kids are talking about, which, in this case, happens to be related to New Media.
I don’t see this as solely a PeerIndex issue. There are other tools attempting to do the same thing while tying it into a unique and feasible business model. No easy task.
I had an opportunity to talk with Azeem at LeWeb in Paris about PeerIndex in December. He’s a smart guy working like crazy to bring attention to his product. I will say that it feels a bit richer now than it did then, so I’m willing to cut him some slack (just a little) to continue to refine and evolve.
Once again, Su, we have similar perspectives. I’m also working on a post about influence, but from a very different angle. Thanks for your excellent post.
Thanks also to Joanne for your well-articulated, substantive thoughts.
Peter L Masters says
Now I see where you are coming from.
Frankly, I see the ‘old school’ media people, just as Irene quite rightly pointed out, just toying with a little Social Media observation and inviting their ‘celebrity chums’ along for the ride. I don’t think they want to continue to look stuffy and out dated, so the band wagon is carefully getting jumped on. I don’t hear them admit they’re afraid of Social Media encroaching on their business, but you can be sure they are. They should be!
I also feel that what is important to Social Media advocates may not be important to the more traditional types. Twitter is indeed eclectic and the ‘mainstream’ very hard to define, but I think super stars and the celebs treat Twitter etc. in a far less personal way than you and I tend to. I can’t see Justin Beiber or even Stephen Fry personally sending Tweets about subjects such as this at 10.30 pm on a Sunday night.
I believe Klout has a few issues and is far from perfect, but it certainly is a start. The fact that I lost 15% of my Klout score because (maybe?) I adjusted my Twitter connections is something I have learned to live with. (It made a good story on my Blog!)
As I said, I’m not sure that Twitter has a mainstream, maybe that’s what makes it so interesting in many ways. There’s certainly a mainstream of people that don’t understand it and continue to deride it, but they’re probably the Luddites that enjoy tabloid news and believe what they read.
A good topic to consider in these changing times! Thank you!
Great blog post, glad I wasn’t the only one that noticed. Also slightly miffed to find with a PeerIndex score of 64 – the metric they claimed to be using – I wasn’t in the Top 100.
I’d like to see it re-run across all UK Twitter users and see what’s what then!
Follow me on Twitter – @AngryBritain
What precisely really encouraged u to publish “PeerIndex and the Independent tells us nothing about Twitter — Just Professionals”?
I personallyreally enjoyed reading the blog post! Thanks for
your time -Chadwick