Move Over Time Sorting: Twitter Gets “Top Tweets” Search Results

Twitter has added a new “Top Tweets” search results feature, along with “Top Images” and “Top Videos.” It’s a major shift away from showing Twitter search results where the most recent tweet comes first, regardless of real relevancy or quality.

The change is welcome. Unlike regular search engines, which try to show the most relevant matches by default, Twitter has largely followed a “first in, last out” ordering of its search listings which left them open to noise.

Last year, Twitter experimented with improving relevancy by releasing “Top Tweets” into search results. Now — and somewhat confusingly — there’s a whole new type of “Top Tweets” that are available to Twitter searchers.

Three New “Top” Areas

Let’s take a look. Here’s an overview of the new search results screen you get from doing a search within

The three arrows highlight the major changes. The first on the left is pointing from the new “Top” menu option to show the Top Tweets you get back by using this. The two on the right point to the new Top Images and Top Videos boxes. I’ll get back to those. But first, more on the Top Tweets.

Promoted Tweets, Top Tweets & New Top Tweets

Below is a close-up look at the search results I got after searching for google on Twitter, using the new default setting of “Top.”

The first listing is a “Promoted Tweet,” an ad similar to the way Google shows AdWords ads in its results. Next comes a traditional “Top Tweet.” Both of these were launched last year, and our story below goes into detail about how they work:

The traditional Top Tweets are what are deemed especially popular over a long period of time, with “long” in Twitter terms meaning over a period of hours.

The unlabeled results after the “Promoted” and “Top Tweet” are the new Top Tweets that were released today. The results are those that are deemed interesting over a shorter period of time, say within the last hour.

The new Top Tweets are sort of like the old Top Tweets on steroids, giving anyone the chance to be relevant, the metaphorical 15 minutes of fame made real, versus the several hours of fame that a traditional Top Tweet might provide.

How About “Hot Tweets?”

Does your head hurt hearing about “old” or “traditional” Top Tweets versus “new” Top Tweets? Mine sure does. I wish Twitter had gone with another name for the new ones, such as “Popular” or “Hot.” In fact, I’m just going to unilaterally rename them “Hot Tweets” to keep from going insane, as I explain them more in this article.

Let’s look again at the search area. As said, by default, the “Top” option is selected. But you can change that to “All” by using a drop down menu, as shown in the screenshot on the right.

Top gives you those “Hot” or relevant results I’ve talked about, while “All” gives you the traditional reverse chronological view.

Top/Hot Versus “All” Tweets

Here’s a side-by-side, with the new default of “Top” or what I call “Hot” tweets showing up, versus the “All” view:

First, look closely at the time stamps. The Hot Tweets are about one per minute apart. In contrast, the All tweets come every few seconds. Hot Tweets don’t show you everything.

That’s good, because next look at the content of the All tweets. All three tweets are exactly the same. There’s no value in seeing them. It’s just garbage, at worse; perhaps not interesting to many, in other cases.

The new default view helps ensure that if you do a search, you’re not getting overwhelmed by noise. It’s trying to pick out the more interesting tweets, though if you want to tune into everything, you can.

What’s Hot?

How does Twitter decide what’s most relevant, what should show up as a Top/Hot Tweet?

“Relevance for us today is using a combination of signals, your follower graph, who you follow, who’s following you. Another aspect is just looking at the content itself and the resonance of the content,” Mike Abbott, Twitter’s vice president of engineering who oversees search, told me.

Over at the Twitter engineering blog, there’s also more about the signals used, as well as how the results are personalized.

Personalized Results

Top/Hot Tweets are personalized for each individual? Yep. But for those worried that this means you’ll only see results from people you know, or only results you like, relax. The personalization isn’t that dramatic, Abbott says.

Indeed, Abbott showed me a screenshot of his own results for a search about a recently launched Twitter feature. The results showed some tweets that weren’t favorable about the feature, as well as those that were. So the personalized results aren’t just reinforcing what you like.

If you don’t want personalized results, you can log out of Twitter and search that way. Then you’ll get “normal” Top/Hot results, the company says.

Below, a side-by-side look of the personalized Top/Hot results I see versus the same search (for “google”) at the same time, when I was logged out:

On the left are my personalized Top/Hot results. Two of the top five results (tagged as “Me”) are results that are unique to me, based on people I’m more strongly connected with.

On the right are the generic Top/Hot results that everyone would see, if they searched logged out. There are two results unique there. (The “Most Relevant” heading has since changed to “Top”).

Three results are commonly shared. You’d see them whether you were logged in and getting personalized results or not. Obviously, the exact difference will vary depending on the searches you do. But the results aren’t completely personalized. There is some shared experience.

By the way, for those who really want to see alternative views, Twitter recently added a way for anyone to see how another person’s Twitter stream appears. See the story below for more about this:

Top Images & Top Videos

If you’re logged out, you won’t see today’s other two search additions: Top Images and Top Videos. But they’re nice for logged in searchers and a long overdue way for people to find the currently most popular images and videos on a search topic, right on Twitter.

Until now, there’s been a compelling reason NOT to use Twitter for finding tweeted photos, as other services have offered a better experience. Our recent story below goes into more detail about that:

In the new feature, you can select an image or video to view it within Twitter, and there’s also context about the tweet that’s provided.

For example, in a search on “google,” a picture I recently tweeted is in Top Images. If you click on it, you see my picture, along with my tweet:

Twitter’s Own Picture Sharing Service

Related to Top Images, Twitter has also announced its own photo sharing service. It’s promised to rollout for everyone over the coming weeks. It’ll allow you to host images right on Twitter. Well, technically Photobucket will host them through a white label arrangement.

Why? In an interview at the D9 conference today, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo gave two key reasons:

  • Make photo sharing easier
  • Protect rights of those sharing photos

Apparently, some people find it hard to upload pictures to Twitter, Costolo said. He remarked that Howard Stern complained about this to Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, even.

Costolo spent more time talking about Twitter’s worry that some photo sharing services may be trying to lay copyright claims to photos uploaded to them. Twitpic seemed to be his main target, not surprising given recent changes to that company’s terms of service. For more on this, see our past story below:

Costolo stressed that Twitter wouldn’t be laying claim to anyone’s photos. Overall, I see it as a positive if it sets a higher bar that other services should meet. But I still want to see how it gets fully implemented.

Other Tidbits

There’s also the ability for Firefox users (with the right add-on or using the Firefox For Twitter edition) to type a Twitter username into the address bar and be taken right to that user’s page on Twitter. Hashtags also take you to hashtag search results.

Twitter has a video on the new features you can watch:

YouTube Preview Image

How about some fresh stats? Twitter does about 1.6 billion searches per day now, the company tells me. It’s also seeing an increase in the number of human driven searches. It had been heavily dominated by automated ones, as the stories below explain more:

Finally, if you need more catch-up reading on how Twitter Search works in general, see our past article:

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: General | Top News | Twitter: Search


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


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