TechCrunch Squirrels Have Blogasm Counting Tweets

More ranting. Step back so no one gets hurt. I realize that this is useless for those at TechCrunch. They won’t listen. They’re confident they know everything. But, it is at the very least therapeutic for me. I’ll also be able to use this as just one more case study example of the cluelessness my students should avoid in sites like TechCrunch.

Does anyone else get really turned off by these lame attempts of people trying so desperately to assign rankings of authority to all things blog, Twitter, etc.? I do. And, I’m fed up.

First, let’s consider the term authority, please.

An authority is “a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested” and/or the authority is an “accepted source of information, advice, etc.” (Source, and isn’t it sad that we have to share a definition for something like this?)

Techorati has been touting authority in their indexing of sites for some time. They still put the technorati-authority image in their results. You have to click the lil’ “?” to see that it is only Technorati’s version of authority. Translation? They need to have a good word to try and make their results look legitimate – even when they are not legitimate. And Technorati’s claims of legitimate authority is ridiculous.

At least they have now decided to label it “Technorati Authority” in their definition, but they don’t use the “Technorati Authority” label throughout their site. This makes Technorati continue to be a laughing stock with regard to rankings and research.

What’s the problem with these uses of the term authority? Technorati, for instance, does not actually vet the sites and links they are using to assign these labels of authority and ranking. Gee, come to think of it … even Google doesn’t vet incoming links/clicks either. Hmmm? They are, quite simply, just counting things. Is counting enough? No. “In counting tests, an African Grey Parrot, Magpies, Ravens, and squirrels can ‘count’ up to 6.” (Source) Maybe the parrots, magpies, ravens, and squirrels are running some of these sites.

Yes, I’m sorry to tell you this but … squirrels are in charge of TechCrunch. Meet the co-editor squirrel at TechCrunch. Squirrel #2 put paws to keyboard and tapped out this little gem: It’s Not How Many Followers You Have That Counts, It’s How Many Times You Get Retweeted.

Squirrel boy is all excited. I think he had a blogasm. Seriously.

blogasm
[blawg az-uhm] –noun

the physical and emotional sensation experienced at the peak of blog comment excitation, usually resulting from stimulation of the social media link-bait blego (blog ego) and usually accompanied by (mostly males) commenting, tweeting and blogging with idiotic glee. Synonym: ignorance (is bliss)

Some people have created a few little toys that count things. Woo Hoo!. This has sent squirrel boy (and his friends; the parrots, magpies and ravens) into an apoplectic frenzy of sycophant reach-around joy. See Full Metal Jacket, if you’re not familiar with the phrase.

You see, they’ve found a new link bait post topic that will likely carry them through a few days of the startup downturn and holiday “we can’t find any real news” vacuum that exists today.

What these tools are doing (yes, the scripts & the people) is counting what is sort of an exponential shell game. Certainly the Twitter users with the most followers have a greater potential to be retweeted. That doesn’t mean they are influential. It doesn’t mean they are writing interesting content, either.

Has anyone followed back to see who the retweeters are? Has anyone followed back to see if the retweeters are making fun of the post? These are just a few of the possibilities. You see, the most influential and/or interesting retweets might well be taking place between a group of just three or four people. Has anyone looked into that? No. So, we now have just the simplest examples of why these simple counting scripts are pretty much worthless as a research tool.

One person is making some ridiculous claims with his lil’ toy, too.

My comment, which I chose to post here instead, is as follows:

Well, it is an interesting script that counts stuff. However, it really has very little meaning, now does it. In research, we tend to compare similar variables. When you write, “They are the once (sic) producing most interesting content across the twittersphere” you’re stating a falsehood. No, they are (at best) posting content of interest to their audience. That’s all. You have not vetted the content in each retweet instance. Therefore, you don’t know if they are making fun of the person or retweeting it because it is interesting or any number of other possibilities. You are, quite simply, counting RT. That’s it. This is nothing more than an exponential shell game and/or fetish with assigning ranks.

We won’t waste time by discussing independent, status and/or dependent variables here. The squirrels may be able to count, but they sure won’t understand the concepts behind research.

Folks, when you see people all excited about their new abacus (that’s a compliment, by the way … these guys probably couldn’t work an abacus) run the other way. They are clueless. It is more TechCrunch self-absorbed nonsense.

Would a more powerful and useful version of search for Twitter be welcomed? Yes. Do these new tools do that? No.

Yes, I realize this is perhaps the beginning of development of useful tools. But, don’t get all hyped up with terms like authority and rank when your current toys don’t accomplish the feat. Please, stop the insanity. I beg you.

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0 thoughts on “TechCrunch Squirrels Have Blogasm Counting Tweets

  1. Andrew Careaga

    Great rant, Robert. The assumption that TechCrunch, Retweetrank, Twitority, etc., make is that RTs are all about “retweetable” content. Many of the RTs are one-to-one conversations — back-and-forth banter between me and some other twit, er, I mean tweeter. Most of those RTs have very little value, and certainly shouldn’t be used as a data point to establish authority.

    But don’t be too harsh on these measuring instruments. They’re an attempt to try to quantify authority, and have some merit. (Just like the Ad Age 150! OK, let’s not go there again.) True, they’re far from statistically valid and should not be taken as gospel, or valid research. But perhaps the notion of “authority,” in our digitally-mediated world, should be expanded to include not just the human factors, but also some attempt at valid, objective measurements. After all, any “authority” figure assumes that position with a certain amount of hubris, no?

    As for your use of the term “blogasm,” I find that, well, quite twittilating. LOL. (Just what we need — another twitter word, right?)

    Reply
  2. Phil Gomes

    Bravo.

    First, as a career-native of Silicon Valley, I’ve long been critical of how TechCrunch frames the region I call my vocational home:

    http://www.philgomes.com/blog/2007/05/skewed-perspective-in-silicon-valley.htm

    http://www.philgomes.com/blog/2007/12/techcrunch-makes-katie-hafners-epic.htm

    http://www.philgomes.com/blog/2008/12/media-postions-gm-pr-adviser-as-auto.htm

    I sent TechCrunch HQ a copy of Freiberger and Swaine’s “Fire In The Valley” such that they’d get some kind of clue. As yet, no thank-you.

    As to various measures of “Authority” around the Web:

    – Too often, “Authority” is conflated with “Popularity”. I can think of a TON of blogs that, while not popular, are more authoritative than their A-list counterparts.

    – As a PR person, I find that seeking A-list attention is not the best (or even a “good”) measure of success. You’re better off working with several passionate enthusiasts with perhaps don’t necessarily feel the need to speak online in their “outdoor voice”.

    Best in the new year, sir.

    Reply
  3. Saurabh Sahni

    Hey Robert, Nice post.

    Though, a few retweets may be making fun of the originator, the percentage seems to be negligible. I couldn’t find any retweet in a negative context even after looking to last 200+ retweets: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=RT

    I believe retweets are one of the best indications for finding who is producing the most interesting content. It is better than the older rankings based on number of followers. What do you think can be the right way for finding the users producing the most interesting content?

    Retweetrank is just a small hack. As you say, its just the beginning, these small ideas will gradually evolve into a big really useful tool.

    Reply
  4. Robert

    @Andrew … Thank you. It is sad that so many get so wrapped up in numbers. Of course, they forget that supermarket tabloids have large readerships … yet, they have no authority and – more often than not – lie.

    The new words are fun to make up, aren’t they. ;o)

    @Phil … Thanks. TechCrunch has truly become the home base for sycophant techie wannabes. I’m not surprised they don’t change. It would require recognizing their clueless nature.

    I think what bothers me most about all these pseudo communities (like TechCrunch) is that they claim to understand online communication, but they haven’t any real clue. Still, they are followed. This might will just prove one thing. Online communication gives sycophant sheep an opportunity to feel like they have a voice.

    @Saurabh … You may well “believe retweets are one of the best indications for finding who is producing the most interesting content.” That still doesn’t make it true. I guess you just fail to (or refuse to) observe the obvious.

    Simply having one’s posts cut-n-pasted doesn’t mean anything except to (a) the person that does the RT and (b) the small number of people that might appreciate it. Still, your counting of RT doesn’t mean you know anything about (a) why the person retweeted, (b) what the motivation for the RT was and many dozens of other questions.

    Saurabh, such a study would need to take into account the differences between people with 4 followers and those with 4,000 followers. Don’t you see the exponential aspect of counting retweets and having the Twitter users with the most followers show up as being retweeted mor often? You aren’t learning anything that a freshman (in high school) mathematics student can’t figure out. What is that? Having more followers makes it more likely that you’ll have more things retweeted. It is so simple. Gee, is anyone actually stunned to see that happen?

    You and the others in this conversation (if we can call it that) seem to be so caught up in the fascination with counting things that you totally overlook determining if it (the simplistic act of counting) even means anything.

    When you give a deeper look at the relationships and can ‘prove’ that there is some form of correlation between RTs and authority, then I’ll look. Right now you’re just tilting at windmills.

    Reply
  5. Saurabh Sahni

    The community says “Usually when you come across an interesting tweet and you want to publish it as your own tweet so that people who follow you see it too – you retweet it.” (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_retweet)

    The debate is very same as “Why people bookmark a link?”.

    The first thing I checked after creating this hack was the overlap amongst the leaderboard at retweetrank and twitterholic (ranking based on #followers) and yeah that is just ~10%.

    Reply
  6. Robert

    OK, I’ll play. How many of your top Twitter users did you check? The Top 10 only?

    Your top 10 at Twitterholic:

    Guy Kawasaki
    44,008 Following; 42,679 Followers; 16,047 Updates
    9th on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter for 16 months
    Um, an officer in the “Ultimate Self-Promoter’s Club”

    JesseNewhart
    3,195 Following; 4,198 Followers; 2,353 Updates
    581st on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter for less than 4 months (Florida)

    Calvin Lee
    1,871 Following; 2,271; Followers 16,681; Updates
    1,743rd on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter for 7 months (Los Angeles)
    Promoting his business through Twitter.

    Chris Brogan
    24,773 Following; 30,410 Followers; 29,348 Updates
    22nd on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter for 26 months
    Ubiquitous social media user that apparently does little else but stay online.

    Michael Arrington (TechCrunch)
    531 Following; 37,669 Followers; 5,980 Updates
    16th on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter for 22 months
    Since this account retweets articles & URLs, it makes sense that their content will be retweeted.

    Reg Saddler – Shorty Awards (shortyawards)
    16,874 Following; 5,834 Followers; 17,436 Updates
    360th on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter – Less than 2 months
    Hmm? Self-promotional effort about Twitter get’s retweeted because that is part of the way to be involved with the awards. Go figure!

    Darren Rowse (problogger)
    8,853 Following; 25,728 Followers; 8,211 Updates
    29th on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter – 21 months
    Professional social media animal is being retweeted. Sheesh, is the really news to anyone?

    BNO News (BreakingNewsOn)
    8,158 Following; 15,271 Followers; 13,749 Updates
    77th on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter – 20 months
    Gee, a site tweeting breaking news is getting retweeted. Who knew that could happen?

    Pete Cashmore (mashable)
    1,621 Following; 26,280 Followers; 12,858 Updates
    30th on twitterholic
    Online @ Twitter – 20 months
    Yet another content producer has their story titles and URLs retweeted. Quick! Alert the media! Retweet it!

    My point, Saurabh, is that you must look deeper than the surface number count to draw any correlations between popularity (not authority, as you suggest) to see what might be driving the re-tweeting of content.

    These users have well over 2,000 Twitter accounts following them. Half of them have over 15 thousand followers. They have all posted a large number of tweets. Even the youngest users (those only on Twitter for months) have large numbers of posts and, if they keep up their tweet count, will equal or surpass the other more prolific Twitter users.

    They are from large population areas. Most are from popular Web sites. The similarities abound.

    Saurabh, these variables are just as likely (if not moreso) to be the determining factors which explain their rankings in your counts — not the simplistic counting, alone. You have to look deeper into the “why” of retweet popularity. Reliance upon simple number counts (frequency) will likely lead to incorrect conclusions.

    Also, please note the difference between popularity and authority, as Phil has noted in the comments above. All of you involved in this folly attempt to identify “authoritative” Twitter posts should really top using the words authority and influence as they are misnomers.

    This is a classic “can’t see the forest for the trees” situation. Broaden your look at the entire environment before looking at specifics.

    Reply
  7. Bob Johnson

    Thanks for this one… you had me laughing (in agreement) as I read through it.

    Personally, I’d always favor quality over quantity and have no interest in a rankings game based on frequency.

    Since starting http://twitter.com/HighEdMarketing in early November, I’ve had a steady if modest increase in the number of people following and just a handful of retweets. Works for me.

    Reply

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