Twitter Volume Controls

With a steady stream of tweets coming out today containing local election results, @GuardianData (as @datastore was recently renamed) asked whether or not regular, stream swamping updates were in order:

A similar problem can occur when folk are livetweeting an event – for a short period, one or two users can dominate a stream with a steady outpouring of live tweets.

Whilst I’m happy to see the stream, I did wonder about how we could easily wrangle a volume control, so here are a handful of possible approaches:

  • Tweets starting @USER ... are only seen in the stream of people following both the sender of the tweet and @USER. So if @GuardianData set up another, non-tweeting, account, @GuardianDataBlitz, and sent election results to that account (“@GuardianDataBlitz Mayor referendum results summary: Bradford NO (55.13% on ), Manchester NO (53.24%), Coventry NO (63.58%), Nottingham NO (57.49%) #vote2012” for example), only @GuardianData followers following @GuardianDataBlitz would see the result. There are a couple of problems with this approach, of course: for one, @GuardianDataBlitz takes up too many characters (although that can be easily addressed), but more significantly it means that most followers of @GuardianData will miss out on the data stream. (They can be expected to necessarily know about the full fat feed switch.)
  • For Twitter users using a Twitter client that supports global filtering of tweets across all streams within a client, we may be able to set up a filter to exclude tweets of the form (@GuardianData AND #vote2012). This is a high maintenance approach, though, and will lead to the global filter getting cluttered over time, or at least requiring maintenance.
  • The third approach – again targeted at folk who can set up global filters – is for @GuardianData to include a volume control in their tweets, eg Mayor referendum results summary: Bradford NO (55.13% on ), Manchester NO (53.24%), Coventry NO (63.58%), Nottingham NO (57.49%) #vote2012 #blitz. Now users can set a volume control by filtering out terms tagged #gblitz. To remind people that they have a volume filter in place, @GuardianData could occasionally post blitz items with #inblitz to show folk who have the filter turned on what they’re missing? Downsides to this approach are that it pollutes the tweets with more confusing metadata maybe confuses folk about what hashtag is being used.
  • A more generic approach might be to use a loudness indicator or channel that can be filtered against, so for example channel 11: ^11 or ^loud (reusing the ^ convention that is used to identify individuals tweeting on a team account)? Reminders to folk who may have a volume filter set could take the form ^on11 or ^onloud on some of the tweets? Semantic channels might also be defined: ^ER (Election Results), ^LT (Live Tweets) etc, again with occasional reminders to folk who’ve set filters (^onLT, etc, or “We’re tweeting local election results on the LT ^channel today”)). Again, this is a bit of a hack that’s only likely to appeal to “advanced” users and does require them to take some action; I guess it depends whether the extra clutter is worth it?

So – any other volume control approaches I’ve missed?

PS by the by, here’s a search query (just for @daveyp;-) that I’ve been using to try to track results as folk tweet them:

-RT (#atthecount OR #vote2012 OR #le2012) AND (gain OR held OR los OR hold) AND (con OR lib OR lab OR ukip)

I did wonder about trying to parse out ward names to try an automate the detection of possible results as they appeared in the stream, but opted to go to bed instead! It’s something I could imagine trying to work up on Datasift, though…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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