Will User Reputation Scores Change Twitter?

Item #1:

“As the spam annoyance factor on Twitter goes up, the credentials/relevance go down meaning less user value. @biz huge deal!”

– Kim Patrick Kobza, President & CEO of Neighborhood America

Item #2:

“Twitter Search will also get a ‘reputation’ ranking system soon, Jayaram told me. When you do a search on a ‘trending’ topic – a topic that is so big it gets its own link in the Twitter.com sidebar – Twitter will take into account the reputation of the person who wrote each tweet and rank the search results in part based on that.”

– Rafe Needleman, cnet, May 6, 2009

Item #3:

“I guarantee that if Twitter implements a ranking system, the same old crowd will shove everyone else aside. If I want to read the same people over and over, I already have Techmeme.”

– Paul Boutin, VentureBeat, July 31, 2009

Rumors of an Upcoming Twitter Reputation System

Word of an upcoming Twitter reputation system has been dribbling out the past few months. It’s an intriguing idea, from a social web product perspective. Like any product, the devil is in the details of how it is built and how it is used.

The following are some thoughts about a reputation system on Twitter.

Let’s Admit: We Already Do This Implicitly

There is a pecking order out there. Really. And once you’ve been on Twitter, or reading blogs, or checking out Digg, or reading Hacker News, or hanging out on FriendFeed…you know it’s there.

Want to know who celebrity VC Fred Wilson pays attention to?

I use techmeme, hacker news, tim o’reilly’s twitter links, dave winer’s 40 most recent links for tech news

See? Fred Wilson doesn’t pay attention my tweeted links. Or yours (unless you’re Tim O’Reilly or Dave Winer reading this).

Arguments against assessing users’ authority are noble efforts to preserve an egalitarian ethos, but they don’t reflect the reality of human behavior. Like it or not, there is an unspoken reputation system already in play.

It Won’t Affect Your Experience…Unless You Want It To

We’ll talk about the basis for a Twitter reputation score in a second. Assuming they exist, how would that affect your daily use of Twitter?

You’re already deciding who you follow. If someone with low-grade authority is bugging you, what do you do? Unfollow. Same goes for high-grade authority.

Maybe if Twitter allowed you to view tweets only from those with a minimum authority level, it would affect your usage. You know, enable a “fake follow.”

OK, let’s hope they don’t do something like that.

Control the Trending Topics Spam

I’m all for crowdsourcing what’s buzzing. You can look at the trending topics on Twitter and get a sense for what’s going on now. Apparently it takes between 1,200 and 1,900 tweets per hour on a given topic to hit the trending topics. Once it does, people like to dive in and have fun. Exhibit A: see that #threewordsaftersex meme a couple months back.

Once it’s a trending topic, tricksters can’t help themselves by using the hashtag in an old tweet, whether related to the topic or not. This is a dynamic that will only get worse.

The Wall Street Journal wrote about this occurring during the recent #iranelection hashtag activity. People would set up fake accounts. They’d then spam the Twitter stream using #iranelection, and tweeting misinformation or links to spammy things.

It’s that trait…fake accounts…that the reputation scores would help. On searches, only show me tweets from accounts that have actually had a pulse for the last month or so.

What about people who pollute the Twitter stream, but are real accounts?

Can We Rate Tweets?

There are two mechanisms for indicating that you like a tweet: (1) retweet it; (2) favorite it. Both are positive rating actions. Favoriting doesn’t get much of a workout, retweeting is 3% of Twitter activity.

Suppose you put lightweight rating tools in the hands of users? Maybe simple arrows that accompany each tweet? People could positively or negatively rate tweets. My guess is that such easy voting would get higher usage. The negative votes would only come out for the egregious stuff that people post. And it would likely only occur on hashtag tweets that are godawful. Because if someone you follow consistently posts crap, you’re going to unfollow them anyway.

Digg and Slashdot have been doing this for years. Generally, the really inane stuff gets buried well.

If you let the community rate tweets, along with retweets and favorites, you’ve got a distributed community rating system. Of course, this will also give rise to the inevitable gaming that occurs in social media. “Hey, please rate this tweet up!” But on the whole, these community rating systems work.

Scores would take into account these community ratings, how often you’re retweeted, how often people click your links, how often you’re favorited, the average score of those who follow you, and your number of followers. You can imagine a pretty comprehensive score here.

Reputation Score Visibility

Now this would be something. How about if everyone’s Twitter Reputation Scores were visible? Consider what is available now:

  • Number the person is following
  • Number of followers
  • Number of tweets

We implicitly consider these numbers as part of the calculus in deciding whether to follow someone. They’re not the primary weight, well at least not for a lot of us. We’ll look at their page of tweets and bio as well.

But can you see Twitter making this information available? My guess is that the blogosphere and the Twittersphere will demand transparency. If reputation is affecting the display of tweets in any way, they will demand to know what each user’s score is.

And then people will incorporate yourr Twitter Reputation into their decision whether to follow.

Reputation Becomes the New Number of Followers

Right now, there’s an emphasis on your number of followers. It is an important metric, because there is an element of old-style media reach there. It is also something that people game by blindly following thousands of people, hoping for them to return follow.

Well, Twitter Reputation will become the new Number of Followers.

Bloggers would post their Twitter Reputation Scores on their blogs. People will talk about them endlessly. Social media shops will advise how you can improve your Twitter Reputation. Companies filling social media positions will go beyond requiring a certain number of Twitter followers. They’ll look for minimum Twitter Reputation scores.

Not Your Father’s Twitter

Twitter is in a position where it has to prepare for the coming onslaught of spammers who will take advantage of the system. Reputation scores have proven effective in other communities. But
Twitter is different from Digg or Slashdot. It’s more a mainstream communication platform, so using these traditional community management tools will likely cause quite a gnashing of teeth.

The challenge for Twitter is to ensure that reputation scores don’t kill enthusiasm for its service.

Hutch Carpenter is the Director of Marketing at Spigit. Spigit integrates social collaboration tools into a SaaS enterprise idea management platform used by global Fortune 2000 firms to drive innovation.

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Hutch Carpenter




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