The Real Reason Twitter Radically Reworked Its Trending Topics Algorithm
A funny thing happened on the way to this week's Top 10 Most Tweeted Brands chart, a collaboration between Advertising Age and What the Trend: Someone named Bustin Jieber started to trend on Twitter. Which freaked me out a bit, because in preparing the April 26th edition of this charticle, I just couldn't bring myself to type the words "Justin" and "Bieber" one more time, so I joked that among that week's top Twitter topics was "some kid named Bustin Jieber -- or something like that." Later that day, J-14, an entertainment magazine for tweens, ran a piece on its website titled, "J-14 Exclusive: What Do the Jonas Brothers Really Think of Justin Bieber?" It read: "According to the Jonas Brothers, there's only room for one JB on the block. Nick Jonas dished to J-14 that he and his famous brothers have a nickname for the other JB, Justin Bieber. 'Bustin Jieber -- that's what we call him!' Nick told us."
And thus a meme was born -- or reborn. (I'm not sure what it says about me that I think just like a Jonas Brother.)
But "Bustin Jieber" only really came in handy last Friday when Justin Bieber suddenly, improbably disappeared from the Twitter Trending Topics list. (Keep in mind that this week Justin Bieber reclaimed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard albums chart with his "My World 2.0" -- the fourth time this year he's had the nation's best-selling album -- so it's not as if his star is actually dimming.) Turns out Twitter had changed its secret formula for determining what gets onto the Trending Topics list. Twitter offered this explanation, posted on Friday, May 14th in its "Help Resources" section:
"Twitter is about what is happening right now, and we have recently updated our trending topics algorithm to reflect this. The new algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis, to help people discover the 'most breaking' news stories from across the world ... We think that trending topics which capture the hottest emerging trends and topics of discussion on Twitter are the most interesting. While this is very much a work in progress, with this tweak we have taken a big step toward capturing how trends quickly emerge and grow on Twitter. We also think it's compelling to know what the 'most popular' topics are, and we will look to capture this in some way in the future."
Twittter's posted explanation went on to claim that "It is important to note that this new algorithm does not 'block' any topics from trending" (emphasis Twitter's). But I looked at the raw hourly tweet data on Trendrr last weekend, and "Justin Bieber" was in fact surging dramatically on Twitter -- he was newly and urgently "immediately popular," which Twitter's new algorithm is supposed to gauge and represent. Explanations about the new algorithm aside, it's pretty clear that Twitter did not want "Justin Bieber" to show up as a trending topic -- even though he was massively topical precisely because of Twitter's move to effectively ban him.
Justin Bieber fans, of course, freaked out. No matter how many times they tweeted things like "Let Justin Bieber trend!" the kid that People magazine recently dubbed the World's Biggest Pop Star just would not trend.
Thus the fan workarounds -- which included not only "Bustin Jieber," but "Twieber." Sample tweet: "Twieber: because bieber owns twitter." Which is also scary and uncanny because back in March, in a column-from-the-future titled "The Most Influential Brands of 2090" (this was for the 80th anniversary issue of Advertising Age) my grandson, Simon Dumenco III, looked back at the year 2010, when Justin Bieber was "a staple on something called Twitter. ... By 2011, 78% of all Twitter messages (aka 'tweets,' or what we know today as 'biebs') were about Justin Bieber. By 2012, that number had climbed to 94% -- at which point Twitter, whose endemic advertisers had dwindled to basically just Tampax and Hot Topic, threw in the towel. Justin Bieber acquired Twitter in 2012 for $1 and the assumption of debt, then renamed it [Bieber]."
I'm kicking myself -- or, rather, I'm kicking my unborn grandson -- for not thinking to call the Bieber-owned Twitter Twieber.
By the way, fans of the pop star have now started up both Twieber.com ("Find out what's being said on Twitter and Twieber about Justin Bieber") and Twieber.Shoutem.com ("So basically, this is Twitter for Beliebers: Twieber?! This website is for Justin Bieber fans ONLY!").
The big question: Why would Twitter choose to alienate so many of its most passionate, active users -- who happen to be fans of the World's Biggest Pop Star? Simple: Every hour and every day that the likes of Justin Bieber trend, the more Twitter seems to be (in the eyes of grown-up marketers) an inane playground for hormonally cracked-out tweens. And if that becomes Twitter's brand image, well, remember my, um, grandson's joke about "Twitter's advertisers dwindling to just Tampax and Hot Topic"?
As it happens, though, the smart folks at What the Trend monitor and consolidate all sorts of variations on trending topics, so despite Twitter's effective ban on the term "Justin Bieber" as a trending topic, thanks to various subtrends started up by his fans to bypass the ban, Mr. Bieber still managed to capture the No. 2 spot on our chart this week. Power to the Tweeple! Or Beeple. Or something.
Meanwhile, if you're curious about how a previously unknown boy from Oklahoma became one of the biggest entertainment brands -- or brands of any sort -- on Twitter this week, read this: Greyson Chance, 12-year-old YouTube and Twitter Superstar: How He Really Happened.
FYI: Other brands that loomed large on Twitter this week but didn't crack our Top 10: Google (thanks largely to the launch of Google TV), the London 2012 Olympics (thanks to the introduction of its ridiculously awful mascots), HTC (thanks to the launch of the HTC Wildfire smartphone), and -- somewhat oddly -- Ian Curtis, the frontman of legendary punk band Joy Division, on the 30th anniversary of his suicide (May 18, 1980).
(What the Trend Pro, the service I use to create this charticle, offers an in-depth look at hundreds of trends each week.)
How is this chart made? See Notes, below.
|Trend||Peak Position This Week||Peak Position Last Week||Points||Crowdsourced Description|
|1||Super Junior||1||1||6,677||BONAMANA is new single from a Korean boyband Super Junior. This song was released on May 10. Their fans E.L.F (everlasting friends) are celebrating their comeback.
Subtrends include: BONAMANA, EunHae, #sujucomeback, Eunhyuk oppa, Hyukjae, Kung-fu Choi, Youngstreet, #weloveeunhyuk, SUKIRA, Anchovy, Doojoon, Music Core, Daebak, Eunhyuk, Ryeowook, Donghae
|2||Justin Bieber||1||1||6,342||Fans tweeting about the 16-year-old pop star.
Subtrends include: Twieber, Jieber, bustin jieber, #pattiesson, #letbiebertrend, Bieber Trend, Eenie Meenie, Meenie, Kleber
|3||Jonas Brothers||1||1||5,658||Joe Jonas tweeted a picture of Nick Jonas with an afro, calling him Jick Nonas. People are talking about things that have happened because of the Jonas brothers. The Jonas brothers are going on tour this summer. Presales for some cities are on now. Nick Jonas was on I Get That Alot tonight and sang a song called Yellow Bag. It shall be his next hit! :D.
Subtrends include: Jick Nonas, #becauseofjonas, #jonasworldtour, Yellow Bag, Livechat, Presale
|4||American Idol||1||1||3,720||Fans tweeting about the hit TV show and its finalists.
Subtrends include: Lee Dewyze, Dewyze, Casey James, Idol tonight, Crystal Bowersox
|5||Greyson Chance||4||4||3,634||12-year-old Greyson Michael Chance did a cover on Lady GaGa's "Paparazzi" and posted it on YouTube. He reportedly just signed a deal with Interscope Records.
Subtrends include: Greyson
|6||Badminton||1||New||3,553||World Badminton competition held in Kuala Lumpur. Various teams and players discussed.
Subtrends include: Markis Kido, Simon Santoso, Wasit goblok, Thomas Cup, #thomascup, #indonesiaforthomas, Uber Cup, Chong Wei, Nonton Thomas Cup, Alvent, Chen Jin, Lindan, Korea Menang, Taufik, Kido-hendra, Tago, Simooon, Taufik Hidayat, Bao Chun, Thomas Indonesia, Kido, Game Point
|7||NBA||1||1||1,991||Various teams and players discussed.
Subtrends include: LeGone, NBA Draft Lottery, Craig Sager, Lakers won, Queen James, Cavs Lose, Cavs Lost, Grant Hill, Tony Allen, Reddick, Gortat, Draft Lottery, Quadruple Double, LBJ, Woodson, Cav Fans, Celtics won, Dragic, Kendrick Perkins, Mbenga, Cavs jersey, Vince Carter, About Lebron, Celts, Magic fans, Glen Davis, Shuttlesworth, Wizards got, Shanon Brown, Grant Hill got, Magics, Moe Williams, Paul Pierce, Shannon Brown, Game One, Evan Turner, Nets owner, Lebron going, Mashburn, Cavs, 1st Pick, Semifinales, Bron Bron, Prokhorov, Garnett, LeBron, Jamario, Suns, Kwame Brown, Jason Richardson, Jameer
|8||Big Bang||2||New||1,929||'Tell Me Goodbye' is a song by the Korean group BigBang. Users are tweeting it because BigBang just released the music video. Dong YoungBae. known as TaeYang, member BingBang, celebrated his birthday.
Subtrends include: #tellmegoodbye, #happybaeday, Taeyang
|9||Virada Cultural||4||New||1,888||Virada Cultural is an 24-hour cultural event that happens yearly in S?o Paulo. In 2010, it'll happen this weekend (May 15 and 16). A lot of cool stuff (performances, music shows, art, theatre and movies) happens all around the city.|
|10||Soccer/Football (various sports brands)||1||1||1,845||Various teams and players discussed.
Subtrends include: Mineir?o calou, Neymar, Iturra, #facupfinal, Celso Roth, Chicharito, Dunga, Bofo, Pachuca, Scudetto, Kleber expulso, Monarcas, Sorondo, Prudente, Boateng, Colocho, Toluca, Morelia, Bichi, Robben, Ombrinho, Madson, Atleti, Liborio, Pompey, Campions, Millwall, Borghi, Valladolid, Pichichi, Marlos, Ganso, CAMPIONI, Autogol, Ximenes, Diego Milito, Barcelona campeon, Navas, Nilmar, Zago, Milito, Kanu, Vaart, Crossbar, Chelsea Menang, Curico, Charlton, Felip?o, Hernanes, Malaga, Double Winner, Kalou, Capel
1. WTT tracks the appearance of topics on the Twitter Trending Topics list and each week ranks the brands (broadly defined to include marketers, products and celebrity/entertainment brands) with the most cumulative staying power. Explanations of trends are solicited from WTT users, Wikipedia-style; a community-voting system is designed to highlight the best explanations while burying lame or prank explanations.
2. For the purposes of this chart, we collect and process data until 12 midnight EST on Thursday night before each Friday's publication.
3. We broadly define "brands" to include major marketers (e.g., Apple) and branded products (e.g., iPad), as well as celebrity and entertainment brands (e.g., Lady GaGa, American Idol). Ad Age works with WTT to consolidate multiple threads of brand chatter (e.g., Apple, iPad, iTampon, Apple Tablet) into one position on the chart when it's clear related Twitter conversations are basically all about the same topic, even if they use different keywords.
4. In WTT's proprietary trend-tracking system, points are awarded for both duration and rank in the top 10 trending topics on Twitter. The longer the duration, and the higher the overall rank, the more points are awarded. Measurements are taken in five-minute increments.
5. The crowdsourced trend explanations above are quoted as they appear on WTT, and therefore may have stylistic and grammatical quirks that don't adhere to normal Ad Age editorial standards.
For more information about What the Trend, visit the WTT FAQ. And check out WTT's Week in Review, compiled by its in-house editors and covering an expanded general list of Top 20 trends (including hashtag trends) here.
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.