Twitter’s inability to determine context and porn, hurting brand

When you engage with Twitter, you’ll follow #tags and there’s something very broken right now. Hashtags or searches in general on Twitter aren’t smart enough to distinguish intent or...

tweetdeck2

When you engage with Twitter, you’ll follow #tags and there’s something very broken right now. Hashtags or searches in general on Twitter aren’t smart enough to distinguish intent or context of the user.

As a power user, I live with TweetDeck on a second monitor for much of the day, constantly switching topics to follow current trends. The issue occurs every round of the Formula 1 championship, when I search for #F1, Twitter finds every Tweet with the string ‘F1’ included (as usernames which is a separate issue). As you can imagine plenty of people want to capture their experience at the top echelon of motorsport with digital cameras, so there’s often plenty of camera discussions which are surfaced as the f/1.2 for example includes the necessary characters to be displayed.

The problem is of course that Twitter is dumb. It has no way of differentiating between someone after the sport, or another user after photography. Of course there’s spammers that try to capitalise on the popularity of F1 and as such turn what should be the live conversation that sits next to each round of the championship, into an irrelevant stream of useless spam. You can go chase the problem by listing excluded strings, but believe me, you never win at this. You simply can’t think of the prolific multitude of plentiful alternatives to the dictionary used by spammers.

Over time, TweetDeck has added filters to allow users to surface Tweets of a certain language, as an English speaker, that’s the first big improvement you can make. Then you need to consider engagement, often requiring at least 1 fav and 1 retweet increases the benchmark for display to cut out 90% of the spam and porn. If you think about increasing this to get closer to 100% then you need to remember the whole reason we’re on Twitter. News happens here first and raising the bar before displaying content to you, reduces your speed to see the content and especially breaking news.

Possibly the most effective spam and porn reduction technique is to limit the Tweets to Verified Accounts. This works and if you’re ever considering running TweetDeck on a screen that’s visible to family, friends or co-workers, then this is an absolute must. The massive problem with this aggressive filter is that you destroy the main benefit of Twitter, commoditising news sources and ensuring no matter your time on Twitter, your opportunity to distribute timely content to the world isn’t inhibited. With this filter, you miss a lot and most of the best Tweets. By the time Verified Accounts start posting content, its usually widely known, so don’t expect to break news this way.

Another example of this is when you search on ‘NBN’ and get results relating to the TV network, not the National Broadband Service. If Twitter wanted to, it could analyse the content I’ve posted about in the past and realise I’ve never posted about the TV station and my search for #NBN is likely a reference to the NBN in its now many flavours, FTTP, FTTN, FTTdp etc. Its disappointing that its taken this long to come up with an intelligent, automated solution to this problem of context and in terms of eliminating porn, the simply need to validate images on upload as many other sites are doing.

Twitter is an amazing insight into the world’s collective consciousness and for live events and TV shows, there’s nothing better. For staying on top of local issues, following your town and surrounding suburbs is fantastic. The problem is the irrelevance that comes from a lack of hashtag contexts and inability to avoid frankly hardcore porn, means I can’t recommend TweetDeck, or even Twitter to friends, family and colleagues, regardless of its amazing potential.

Personally I’ve found amazing benefits from engaging with Social Media over the last decade and want to spread the word far and wide about its benefits. No matter how sophisticated you get with filtered searches, there is no ability to save these for re-application later, so as I add and remove search columns in TweetDeck for each round of the #VASC Supercars or #F1 championships, for TV shows like #qanda every Monday, I start the process from zero.

I really hope Twitter can get on top of these problems and help those of us who love service, continue to love it and help recruit new users.

Update
Below is an example of another issue that I referred to above, the fact that a search on surrounding towns “Albury OR Wodonga OR Lavington OR Thurgoona” also surfaces people who have any of those terms in their username. Obviously @DillonAlbury is posting about Florida storms in the US, is not content I find relevant to regional towns on the border of Victoria and New South Wales in Australia. This needs to be fixed, or at least an option to exclude username references to search terms.

albury

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