Twitter Is Fighting With Their Users For Metadata

Twitter is placing itself in an interesting position. They love the growth of their user base, but sometimes they do not love the way people use the application. A simple example of this is the retweet. The community driven idea is copying someone’s tweet and prepending it with “RT” and possibly adding a short comment. Twitter really wanted to capture that information, because knowing what has been retweeted and by who is really interesting metadata. So they implement a retweet function that is purely metadata and completely unintuitive in its display. Allen Stern at CenterNetworks even gave them some pointers on how to incorporate their existing, poorly planned tabs.

Yesterday, Corvida at had a another good example of users fighting back against a Twitter “feature”. A while back, Twitter changed how @replies are handled. In their infinite wisdom, they decided to remove @replies from a user’s stream if the reply was not directed to them. As Corvida points out, the community changed its habits:

I think Twitter really underestimates the power of its community sometimes. These days Twitter users are starting to share many ways circumvent a lot of Twitter’s dysfunctional tweeting standards. Take for example how people on Twitter are  starting to put a period (.) right before replying to someone so that everyone can keep up with conversations that might be helpful.

The @replies changes really did change some of the Twitter dynamic as you no longer would see everything a user was tweeting. By now, many people have likely forgotten about that change, but it is interesting to see that parts of the user community are trying to change how many people can see their @replies.

Twitter has added more metadata recently with the geotagging API. It was an interesting release as the geotagging information is purely an API driven feature, and not something that will appear on Why include a feature that has no physical appearance on your own website? For metadata, of course.

Robert Scoble sees tweet metadata as the future basis for the advertising implementation. He calls it the “SuperTweet”, but the metadata already exists and we just can not see the information. Robert also has plans for displaying the metadata as well:

Think about all the metadata that exist OUTSIDE of the Tweet. How about you mouse-over a Tweet to see a new slide-down UI that shows you all the metadata.

What kinds of metadata do we already have?

1. How many times has the tweet been retweeted.
2. Where was the Tweet produced (geolocation).
3. What’s the tag cloud associated with the Tweet (get that from list names).
4. What tool produced the Tweet?
5. What are associated Tweets?
6. What are tweets in reply to this tweet?

As you can see, Twitter has slowly been growing the metadata for a given tweet. The bigger question is obviously, why gather all of this metadata? The answer lies in the data, specifically searching and mining the data. This is where the advertising comes in as well. Once Twitter has all of this metadata, they can sell data for data mining purposes to various companies. The metadata is also crucial for targeted advertising.

We are seeing the growth of the Twitter business model in the metadata. They already have search deals with Google and Microsoft. Slowly, they will increase the number of data deals with other large corporations. Targeted advertising is the holy grail for social media sites as well. Facebook has been trying to find a good implementation of targeted advertising for quite some time, and Twitter is slowly following in their footsteps.

The question Twitter must be careful with is how much they can control features without alienating their users. We cannot compare what Twitter is doing with what Facebook has done however. Facebook has a massive user base that will stick around for quite some time. Twitter does not have the luxury of 300 million users and could quickly become another tool that lost its way by not listening to its users.

3 thoughts on “Twitter Is Fighting With Their Users For Metadata

  1. As much as it pains me to admit it, I think we probably can compare Facebook and Twitter in this context. Facebook has a history of making changes that rile up their userbase, and they often stick to their guns and ride out the user revolt until people decide that they do in fact like the new features. And yes, Facebook has 300 million users now, but they didn’t when they first started doing stuff like this; they weren’t much bigger than Twitter is now.

    You have to listen to your users, but you also have to recognize that when you have tens or hundreds of millions of users, any change is going to cause literally millions of people to get worked up. People don’t like change. That can’t stop you from innovating though.


  2. Ryan

    I had thought about the point that Facebook may have been the same size, but Facebook has been changing the site based on external factors, like FriendFeed and Twitter itself. Twitter’s user base has standardized @replies and RTs which makes the situation a little different. Twitter is really community driven.

    I do agree that at some points, you do have to do what is best for the site or business and sometimes that will annoy users. It happens.


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