Twitter can be a magical place full of 140-character bites of wisdom. It can also be an idiotic place full of incomprehensible jibberish being passed off as worthwhile. Science has confirmed that the latter takes up a third of all tweets.
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, MIT and Georgia Tech have published a study today that looks to investigate how much of Twitter is worthless.
"If we understood what is worth reading and why, we might design better tools for presenting and filtering content, as well as help people understand the expectations of other users," Paul André, a post-doctoral fellow in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) and lead author of the study, said.
Even though there are 200 million tweets being sent per day, nobody really ever cared to tell users how useless their tweets are. That’s why the researchers created “Who Gives a Tweet?” which sought to collect reader evaluation of tweets.
Over a period of 19 days, over 1,000 visitors to the site rated over 43,000 tweets from the accounts of over 20,000 Twitter users they followed.
The readers liked 36 percent of the tweets and disliked 25 percent. Another 39 percent caused no strong reaction.
"A well-received tweet is not all that common," Michael Bernstein, a researcher on the team, said. "A significant amount of content is considered not worth reading, for a variety of reasons."
Tweets that were part of someone else’s conversation or updates about mood or activity were the most disliked.
Tweets that included questions, shared information or self-promoted creative works were the most liked.
The researchers put together a few tips for those who want to be a successful Twitter user:
Old news is no news: Twitter emphasizes real-time information. Followers quickly get bored of even relatively fresh links seen multiple times.
Contribute to the story: Add an opinion, a pertinent fact or add to the conversation before hitting "send" on a link or a retweet.
Keep it short: Followers appreciate conciseness. Using as few characters as possible also leaves room for longer, more satisfying comments on retweets.
Limit Twitter-specific syntax: Overuse of #hashtags, @mentions and abbreviations makes tweets hard to read. But some syntax is helpful; if posing a question, adding a hashtag helps everyone follow along.
Keep it to yourself: The cliched "sandwich" tweets about pedestrian, personal details were largely disliked. Reviewers reserved a special hatred for Foursquare location check-ins.
Provide context: Tweets that are too short leave readers unable to understand their meaning. Simply linking to a blog or photo, without giving a reason to click on it, was "lame."
Don't whine: Negative sentiments and complaints were disliked.
Be a tease: News or professional organizations that want readers to click on their links need to hook them, not give away all of the news in the tweet itself.
For public figures: People often follow you to read professional insights and can be put off by personal gossip or everyday details.
The researchers hope that their work leads to personalized applications that filter out unwanted tweets.
They go on to say, however, that some users may put up with bad tweets out of a personal obligation. It’s an online extension of having to attend extended family gatherings even though your cousins are social rejects that make you feel horribly awkward.
"Social media technologies such as Twitter pose questions regarding privacy, etiquette and tensions between sharing and self-presentation, as well as content," André said.
What's your definition of a worthless tweet? Let us know in the comments.