September 26, 2009

Should Real-Time Trends Get Real-Time Definitions?

On Tuesday, we talked about Brizzly releasing a new API called "Let's Be Trends", which enables third party developers and services to tap into the company's definitions database for currently trending topics on Twitter. While not every definition requires multiple paragraphs to explain, I have been thinking about the real value of these definitions, and how they could be utilized as an ongoing news feed, similar to a real-time Wikipedia. After all, as trends age, the reason for their trending changes ever so slightly.

Note the real-time definitions for the real-time events.

Typically, Twitter's trending topics fall into four major categories:
  • Memes: Often hashtags for time-wasting games. (#iamsinglebecause)
  • Celebrity names: Either due to a death or other event with a person in the news. (Jay-Z)
  • Live events: Could include conferences or sporting events. (#sxsw09 or LSU)
  • Technology Tools: You can often see the words "iPhone" or "TweetDeck" trending.
Memes are the least likely to need updating. #iamsinglebecause and #cantlivewithout are fairly self-apparent. Complete the sentence and see what your friends think. Celebrity names, depending on the situation, could need updating. If Patrick Swayze passes away and becomes a trending topic, that's fairly clear. But if you have Barack Obama trending, it could be for a meeting with a world leader, or simply because he called Kanye a jack-ass. You can also see the need to make an update, as in the case of Conan O'Brien, who trended last night not because of his show, but because he had fallen and hit his head during a taping of that show.

Technology Tools like TweetDeck may trend ever higher because of a point release, or AT&T will trend because of the release of MMS, but often they trend just because people are talking about them often. (Like with the iPhone)

Live events to me seem like the biggest opportunity to have continuous definition updates. If you wanted to know why Michigan or LSU were trending this morning, the answer was yes, because there was a college football game. But what about the score? Why would LSU get more attention than Notre Dame? Maybe because of the team's ranking, or the excitement of the game? At this point, defining a trending topic (in Brizzly for example) becomes a lot like reporting on the news - so it would make sense to update the definition based on the score or the position of the game - is it the second quarter? Are we in overtime?

This may seem trivial today. We're talking about features on an API for a single service. But if we are to believe that microblogging is growing and that user contributions to the global service are going to play an expanding role, maybe this would be the time to start thinking about how we can utilize the opportunity to drive information back to those looking for it and inch our way further toward the future of media. And maybe, just maybe, Brizzly or somebody else can hire somebody whose job it is to consistently update live events.