This past weekend, I wrote a quick tool that estimates the incidence of certain words within the twitter stream using just a single search, not polling for weeks of data as some of my other tools do. This makes it pretty easy to look at a term like “flu” several times a day, discovering that flu-centric tweets have represented between 1.5% and 3% of all tweets for the past couple of days.
Twitter just overhauled its web interface, and added an interesting feature – terms that are trending. This information has been available in third-party tools for some time, but now it’s only one click to see what people are saying about #therescue.
I ran a set of these trending topics through my tool and got a pretty wide attention distribution:
1.918 % Swine Flu
0.241 % #swineflu
0.233 % H1N1
0.297 % Wolverine
0.152 % #therescue
0.097 % Mother’s Day
0.192 % Mexico
0.233 % Chrysler
0.043 % #wordkill
0.060 % Inbetweeners
(Percentage is an estimate of what percent of all recent tweets contained this term. It’s extrapolated by retrieving 100 instances of the term via Twitter’s search and calculating how many tweets transpired between mention 1 and mention 100.)
Makes sense. Showing the ten most popular terms on Twitter would likely be extremely boring – my guess is that “lunch”, “dinner” and “sleep” would dominate. (It’s evening here on the east coast of the US, and “dinner” is currently appearing in roughly 0.6% of tweets.) Much more interesting to show terms or tags that are higher now than they were an hour or a week ago… It’s interesting, though – do we read a list like this as a list of most popular topics, even if we know that there’s two orders of magnitude more interest in Swine Flu than in The Inbetweeners?
And then, of course, there’s the potential for using these terms to gain attention. Like this wonderful tweet from Beau Wade, demonstrating that the author clearly has his/her finger on the pulse of the planet. Or a particular subcommunity of wealthy, wired, worried people on that planet.