As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my goal with Twitterank was to experiment with a slightly different way of quantifying Twitter users, specifically, using @ replies. Quite a few people have asked why we can’t just use follow counts or the number of posts. My answer has been something along the lines of “there are other signals”, which is another way to say, if we use less obvious signals, we might get less obvious (and potentially better) results. Let me illustrate with a few examples…
Earlier today, I got a tweet from @erikvb who asked: “how is it that your secwet alrowithm calculates 224.941 for @google if they don’t have any tweets at all?” Indeed, @google is not following anyone, only has a few hundred followers, and has no tweets. Yet, it’s ranked in the top 20. Weird, huh?
Of course, if you look at all the @ replies that @google receives, you can see that the Twitterank algorithm is behaving as expected. Now, this is weird and surprising, but does that mean twitterank is “wrong”? I’d say “no”. In fact, it’s actually doing exactly what it’s supposed to do: it’s telling us something we might not have otherwise known. It’s actually telling us (or rather twitterers everywhere are telling us) how influential @google could be, if it were a real twitterer with real tweets. It’s like going to a crowded party and pin pointing influential individuals without even looking at them directly or them saying anything. It’s quite powerful stuff.
Here’s another example I stumbled across. Some of you may know (or know of/about) @caterina, who is probably most famous as the co-founder of Flickr. She has close to 3000 followers on Twitter, and you might think someone like her would be influential in twitterverse. As it turns out, her score is currently 59.35 (72.79 percentile, 1.2% confidence), which is high, but not high for someone with so many followers. It actually makes sense if you look at her tweets. She’s obviously not a heavy twitter user, and her tweets are somewhat cryptic, at least to a casual passerby. But how would she stack up against @joetheplumber? He only has 530 followers and 44 updates. Take a guess, then go find out. Were you surprised?
All this is mildly amusing, but Twitterank itself actually isn’t very interesting. Someone’s twitterank is metadata, not data. It’s a spice, not a main course. So, Twitterank still needs to find a main course to spice up, but that’ll come later.
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