If you are confused by today’s title then you are no doubt just as confused by some of the tweets you may be reading. Two weeks ago a British furniture store was ousted by the Twitter community for abusing the hashtag feature in twitter. They were caught using including terms from the top trends in their tweets when they had nothing to do with the subject. The furniture store has since apologized (and blamed an intern), but the damage has already been done. They may not repeat this act, but unfortunately many folks on twitter will.
New forms of Twitter spam pop up daily, and while it is fairly easy to filter out Viagra-hocking followers and ladies of the night, filtering out Twitter’s search feature is more difficult. Now that search is readily available in the sidebar on twitter.com, many users seem to think it fit to include one or many of the trending topics in with their tweets about chilling with their homies. These users are likely suffering from a bit of ignorance with regard to twitter etiquette because they see everyone else doing it. If you happen to be one of these people, you are now in the know that tacking on twitter trends to you tweets is not OK, so quit doing it. Even worse are twitter users who’s tweets consist of listing the current trending topics. Oh how much I would pay for a Ban button to block these buffoons from blasting more bad tweets.
The bigger problems with twitter trend spam are the formulaic spammers. For instance, the $2,612 scam is one of the most annoying. The tweets start with a trending topic and even the word ‘trend?’. Then, they are followed by a ridiculous fake new stories like bombs going off in NYC or Egypt, new virus outbreaks killing 3000, or anyone actually buying twitter (none of which are even remotely true). Then the tweet is followed by text along the lines of “earned $2,612 thanks to this to this” with a tiny.cc link to more web spam. This is disgusting and pretty evil at its core and will hopefully be shutdown soon by the twitter gods.
As a twitter user and someone who works in the search business, I tend to use twitter search quite a bit. Many of the spammy aspects of twitter can be frustrating, and they force you do make some changes to get the results you are looking for. Here are a few changes I have made.
- Narrowing the search – on Mondays, #musicmonday is almost always on the top trends. I like to use it to find bands similar to ones I already like, so I search “#musicmonday wilco” to discover related bands.
- Getting creative – instead of being lazy and clicking the link to the trending topic in the sidebar, I can search for something more specific, like “Roddick 3rd set” instead of “Wimbledon“.
- Look for Re-tweets – Another trick I use is to add RT or via to my searches. This lets me crowdsource the task of finding the things that real people want to point out. When I find a good nugget of info, I like to re-tweet it as well to spread the news.
There is one more action I have learned that has really taught me to use twitter as the service as it was intended: to connect with people. For instance, yesterday the 2009 Personal Democracy Forum (#pdf09) was a very popular subject on twitter, and was trending quite high for most of the day. By clicking on the link to the trend in the sidebar, I was brought to a sea of tweets with great content right next to dirty, dirty spammers. Relying on search alone would have been very difficult in my quest for useful information on a popular subject, so I decided to follow some new people. I added Clay Shirky (@cshirky) and Alex Steed (@alexsteed) to my followers and then I was able to track PDF09 from the comfort of my own home (twitter.com/home that is). And after the Forum, I am free to un-follow them if their other tweets are not something I am interested in.
The bottom line is that searching twitter for very popular subjects is a bit broken. The good news, though, is it forces you to be creative and follow new people to gain the valuable information you are seeking. Thanks to this you may discover a new favorite twitter-friend. So, the next time you are searching twitter for trending tweets, look for the good stuff, Re-tweet it, and never tack on trends to a tweet that isn’t about them.
Finally, I must add that using hashtags properly is a great asset to twitter, so please DO use them whenever you are joining the conversation. And for those of you that like to tag ridiculous things, that’s perfectly fine too.