Monday, December 29, 2008

Even now we remember what we used to say (if anyone cares)

I was on an out-of-town trip for a couple of days, so portions of last weekend's initial catfight were unknown to me, although I got the general gist of it.

Rather than report on when I heard about things, I'll attempt to reconstruct what actually happened. Let's start with what Loic Le Meur said, and didn't say:

We need filtering and search by authority. We're not equal on Twitter, as we're not equal on blogs and on the web. I am not saying someone who has more followers than yourself matters more, but what he says has a tendency to spread much faster. Comments about your brand or yourself coming from @techcrunch with 36000 followers are not equal than someone with 100 followers.

When Loic shared his idea, everyone loved it. Well, some loved it. And some didn't. Robert Scoble:

Here’s why it’s a stupid idea: everyone is gaming the number of followers. And, even if everyone weren’t, popularity on Twitter isn’t a good way to measure whether a Tweet is any good or not.

It would increase noise, not decrease it. After all, if such a system were in effect you’d see my Tweets at the top of the page, even for things that I don’t have any business being at the top of the page for.

For instance, let’s say we were talking about something in China. How about something affecting supply chain management. Who should be at the top of such a result? @liamcasey because he runs a sizeable supply chain management company in China. But, no, he won’t be at top if Loic gets his way. I would be. That’s really lame.

Jesse Stay chose to speak about a particular forum.

[W]hy am I writing this on and not my own blog, It largely comes down to numbers. has near 4,000 RSS subscribers, while my blog only has 500. Aside from the fact that I enjoy the team of great writers I work with on this blog, I have a much louder, and because of that, more authoritative, voice here. More people listen with a larger audience than those with a small audience.

Now I could delve into Scoble's suggestions for alternative authority metrics, or Stay's excellent analysis of the motivations behind the positions of the dialogue participants, or even the whole "idiot" thing that erupted, but instead I want to skip ahead to some interesting tweets from Stay less than 24 hours ago.

Deciding to out-rank @rumford on convertibles and honey banked ham on twitority :-P

And yes, that did say "banked." But he corrected that.

@dilvie @rumford & I are having fun w/ twitority - it's totally easy 2 game. Search 4 "convertibles" "honey baked ham" on

So what is Merely an implementation of Loic Le Meur's wildest dream. Well, probably not his wildest dream, but his dream nonetheless. But before we get to his dream, let's look at his apology:

Folks first, excuse my french, I was just asking for a simple feature nothing else, yeah okay using the word authority was... my french. Oh and yeah, you are right number of followers is in no way a measure of any authority. I find it interesting to search through that filter and agree we need more filters, period.

That having been said, Jon Wheatley did act on Loic's idea.

Now I'll confess that I didn't know all of this when I began my gaming. After I confirmed that I was (at least at the time) the world's leading twitority on Myers-Briggs, I constructed a tweet in which I simply mentioned a few terms.

I guess someone with my Myers-Briggs profile could connect Smoot-Hawley, the Flying Lizards, antinomianism, and William Greider on econ.

I friendfed the results, but this is probably the significant observation from that little game:

Presumably a human reader can tell the gamers from the truly knowledgeable, but what of one who FAKES authority? Granted this can and does happen IRL also.

Because, while the various gaming exercises were profitable, and while steps can certainly be taken to overcome them, it's more difficult to identify someone who is convincingly lying. I'll give you an example, but I'm going to take the liberty of using more than 140 characters to do it.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of Martin Luther to theology was his insistence that the sole measure of one's relationship with God was the outward works performed by a person, and the outward evidence that all can see. This not only affected the theology of numerous Protestants, ranging from Calvin and Wesley to Graham and Warren, but in an interesting way affected the Roman Catholic Church itself, which made a strong determined stand in defense of faith alone at the conclusion of the Council of Trent.

Now I would warrant that my readers will have one of several different reactions to the paragraph above. Some will affirm its truthfulness, some will laugh out loud and declare that the words "faith" and "works" should be switched around, and some will launch into long theological arguments regarding my oversimplification of the differences - and similarities - between Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians.

However, in and of themselves the words could sound convincing to someone, and could certainly sound convincing to most machine-based text readers. But you can't really evaluate the content unless you have the knowledge to do so.

That's why I regard Loic Le Meur's suggestion as a curiosity and nothing more. Remembering what he said and what he didn't say, I must still acknowledge that the fact that someone tweeted something doesn't necessarily make it correct. Just look at one of the more popular former Twitter users, Barack Obama. Over 150,000 people on Twitter (including myself) thought he was someone worth listening to - but over 59 million people (including myself) thought that some of the things that he said were incorrect.

P.S. to people who didn't see my pre-announcement of the title of this post - for a deeper understanding, see these lyrics, this song, and/or this YouTube video.

P.P.S. to everyone - before I could post this, I had to make a quick trip to Fontana, during which I pondered predictive capabilities. More later, elsewhere.

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