If you haven’t eaten moonfruit, then you’re missing out on a lot. It’s a delicacy in some parts of the world. But it’s rare and expensive, and not everyone can afford it.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a moon fruit. But there is a web development company called Moonfruit. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, they’ve recently run a Twitter campaign involving the giveaway of 10 MacBook Pros. The mechanics are simple: Just include the hashtag #moonfruit in your tweets and every day they select a winner at random from among those who mention the keyword in the past 24 hours.
Sounds interesting? Of course to the folks who want a free MacBook Pro, it is. And a lot have participated, resulting in #moonfruit being a trending topic. People have won, and Moonfruit has even sent special prizes to folks had been creative in using their keyword–some have sung, some have created poems, some have recorded videos.
So is everyone happy? Apparently not. According to the Moonfruit blog, Twitter imposed some kind of censorship, in particular by taking the #moonfruit keyword off the trending topics list.
Late Friday night 3rd July, around midnight UK time Moonfruit finally tumbled off the top of the trends list on Twitter. Now this wasn’t wholly unexpected with July 4th on the way and the resignation of Sarah Palin. But what was odd is how it that it never returned despite the stats being above other trending topics.
[I]f Twitter had come to us and said, “guys, enough is enough”, then we would have worked with them to limit the campaign, or complied with whatever they were demanding. However, if they have pulled the trending without explanation or communication, this sets rather a different tone.
Moonfruit provides some links to statistics, claiming that the #moonfruit hashtag continues to surpass most others, but is nowhere to be found in the trending topics list.
There are precedents here. Twitter is known to have taken off inappropriate terms from the trending list in the past. It’s understandable that Twitter needs to protect its network and technology. Adult and raunchy material definitely don’t fall under “acceptable” given Twitter’s diverse audience. I wouldn’t want my kid to read about those kinds of things. But what about keywords that are not necessarily offensive?
The argument here is whether Twitter’s trending topics list should be a pure numbers game, or whether it should involve some algorithm that determines which is eligible, and which is not.
Should there be an algorithm for trends rather than making trending topics a pure numbers game? Should the system be fixed so that #liesboystell doesn’t win out over truly important, significant, or newsworthy content? Should tweets, like images and other kinds of content, be screened for “adult” material and user preferences be set accordingly? Or do trends really belong to the lowest common denominator?
And if all else fails, should there be human intervention to flag something as spammy or obscene?
Other social media services involve some sort of algorithm to minimize or moderate the possibility of gaming. DIGG, for instance has its secret algorithm for bringing entries to frontpage. It’s not just a purely numbers game, but it also involves a host of other factors like aging, authority, timeliness of votes, and the like. Even Google doesn’t use a purely numeric algorithm in determining PageRank. It’s secret algorithm also uses a lot of factors. And even search results don’t rely solely on PageRank and the quantity of links.
The danger here is that using a simple numbers game would make Twitter prone to spam. I’ve already encountered my share of spammy marketers trying to push affiliate links at my face. Without some filtering or moderation mechanism, the Twitter trending topics list would be easy to fill up with useless keywords. Not that marketing on Twitter is bad. There is, after all, a better way of doing it, which does not involve in-your-face, pushy and spammy advertising. But if trivial, unimportant topics keep on edging out the more relevant keywords, this could dilute the value of Twitter as a live search platform.
Still, the question here is about “Twitocracy.” Is Twitter democratic at all? And is there sense in implementing a purely democratic system of presenting information? Or is pure social media democracy a pipe dream?