How much did ads affect Twitter's 2010 trends?

A number of the entertainment entries on Twitter's top trends of 2010 were promoted via its paid ad system. This either taints Twitter's authenticity or proves its edgy business model.

Twitter just released a year-end list of top trends for 2010, much as search engines like Google and Bing release their top queries. But it's a little different here.

Given Twitter's status as a chattery network of rapid-fire conversations, both breaking news stories and pop culture--including, notably, pop-culture phenomena with small, devoted cult followings--dominate the list. Twitter's algorithm for calculating top trends favors "novelty over popularity," meaning that a sudden, unexpected spike from the death of a C-list celebrity may ultimately outrank an ongoing major news story on Twitter's year-end list.

Top Twitter Trends of 2010

But in the rankings, there is also insight into Twitter's own strategy and how some of the products and partnerships it has developed can affect--if not completely alter--conversations across the service. A handful of the trends appearing in Hindsight 2010 were "promoted" trends, a part of the advertising program that Twitter began to roll out this spring, and at least one was the result of an official media partnership with Twitter.

If you look at Twitter's list of movie-related trends for 2010, for example, at least two of them ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and "Despicable Me"), were promoted at their release via campaigns to purchase trends on Twitter. Given their follow-it-live nature, entertainment awards shows were naturally dominant on the TV trends list. But the top spot goes not to the Oscars or the Grammys, but to the MTV Video Music Awards, which created an official "Twitter Tracker" app in conjunction with the service in order to spur more discussion.

Of course, the majority of entries on Twitter's Hindsight rankings were what you'd expect them to be--news events that sparked discussion on a broad, global scale. The summer's World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa was big ("vuvuzela" was the fifth most popular trend overall), as were large-scale disasters like the earthquake in Haiti and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Oh, and then there's pop singer Justin Bieber, something that seems to have taken Twitter completely by surprise.

The point, though, is that Twitter's year-end list seems to prove the potential for manipulating mass conversations--both on behalf of advertisers and via more impromptu viral campaigns--just as much as it proves that Twitter itself has moved far beyond the service that would crash during every Steve Jobs keynote. So maybe this dilutes the "authenticity" of what's getting talked about on Twitter. It also, quite likely, hints that its fledgling business model has potential.

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