Lower Right

Twitter’s API changes have garnered quite a bit of attention, which reflects both the service’s large and still growing importance in our lives, but also how poorly the announcement was written in that curious dialect of California-M.B.A. It is becoming cliche, but the announcements of changes from social media companies are labeled as disingenuous before they are posted. And perhaps for good reason. But our cynicism might mask understanding.

As many have pointed out, the quadrant diagram, presented in the announcement by Michael Sippey as a model of the “Twitter ecosystem,” seemed designed to shoehorn third-party Twitter clients into a little ghetto for future elimination. Assuming an eventual forced sunset for third-party clients as the thinly-veiled agenda behind the quadrants in the first place, I’m sure many critics don’t want to take this little graphic for anything other than comic value – of which it has plenty. But let’s assume that this diagram maps how at least some people inside of Twitter view their business.

Critics are wrong to think that most of what is interesting in Twitter is happening – or will happen – in this upper left quadrant. And while I have loved the succession of Twitteriffic and Tweetie and Twitteriffic again and now Tweetboot along with everyone else, the lower right quadrant of “consumer-analytics” holds a lot of promise, and it’s another area where Twitter has seemingly done very little of it’s own development.

To my ears, consumer-analytics sounds like California-M.B.A. speak for cool hunting. Even though John Gruber uncorked a bit of great prose calling out Twitter’s hero of the lower right quadrant, Klout, as “utter vainglorious masturbatory nonsense,” what measures of tweets and of Twitter users would be more appealing to regular folks than tools for discovering cool people to follow, links to interesting articles around the web (long reads!), and yes even the occasional stupid video of a cute cat.

I’m not sure why a service like Klout that identifies highly regarded individuals, presumably as a way to discover new people to follow, gets an O.K. and Favstar.fm, which seems to do the same thing for highly regarded tweets, gets pushed out of analytics and into the dreaded third-party clients bin. Tapbots et al. seem determined to produce future wonders as $3 apps, but I’m more excited about websites like Jason Kottke’s Stellar and services that help me track down good stuff to read – not from the amorphous universe of Twitter, but from people I already think can find me good stuff.

Both Stellar and Instapaper both leverage Twitter to simply make recommendations out of our friends faves. There’s probably still a lot of low-hanging fruit to be found hanging on the branches of our weak ties, faves waiting to be plucked from the best tweets uncovered by our friends. And I have no doubt that algorithms will be the future, but when I’ve tried apps like Zite in the past, I’ve always been disappointed. That’s why I think of Flipboard as a discover tool and not a Twitter client. I love the way it strips out all of the status posts from a Twitter list, allowing a quick search the pre-fetched snippets of shared links. Try it with the list of 450+ political scientists that I’ve slowly been assembling since Twitter introduced the list feature. It’s like panning for gold.

So much of human endeavor can be reduced to filtering through huge piles of information to find brilliant little nuggets. The Netflix Prize. The Olympics. Elections. The Oscars. Markets. Academia’s peer-review publishing system is really just a gigantic analog recommendation engine. And an expensive one at that. Sure we’ve had Slashdot and Reddit and recommendation engines for a while, but they’ve always been for self-selected outsiders, standing on the banks of the river. Instead Twitter feels like the rushing flow of the realtime web itself. It’s heady stuff, but more on that later. Right now, let’s take that lower right quadrant, “consumer-analytics,” and let’s start calling that finding good stuff. And then let’s go find more good stuff and try to make some of our own good stuff to offer up along the way.


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