What Is Twitter Authority Search?

If you spend a minute or two following Twitter's public timeline, you'll quickly discover that a large percentage of what people twitter about is of little interest to anyone but them selves and their closest friends. But you'll also find tasty morsels of up-to-date information directly from authoritative sources, e.g. someone reporting "live" from a conference or a disaster area. How do you mine the hive mind and find gold?

One way is to search Twitter by authority. Twitter authority search is a relatively new phenomenon. Two search engines showed up around Christmas time. But what do they do and how do they work?

Twitter authority defined

There are at present two search engines that search Twitter by authority, Twitority and Twithority. Neither disclose how the search results are ranked or how they attribute authority to a twitter post or a "twitterer".

Evidently, it all started with a blog post from web entrepreneur and blogger Loïc le Muer. For him, authority is measured by how many followers the person posting has:

"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."

The debate

The statements in the quote above gave rise to a lively debate. Some feel that a tool ranking Twitter info by popularity takes some of the original spirit away from Twitter. Everyone seems to agree that there is a need for more ways to sift through Twitter material (e.g. Michael Arrington at TechCrunch).

But the amount of people that follows somebody does not necessarily give a representation of how valuable the really is. The number of comments to Arrington's post shows the temperature of the debate. Here are some of the suggestions made in those comments:

  • It would also be great if Twitter offered default categories for viewing tweets (i.e. Technology, Politics, etc.). I really like the election.twitter.com page during the debate. (By Kevin)
  • # of followers is a useless metric. Everyone is gaming that. What I'd rather see is tweets presented in order of most retweets to least. THAT is a metric that is hard to game and very useful. (By Robert Scoble)
  • Favorites, though, are a good measure (the number of people who have starred your individual tweets). (By Cesar Torres)

The search engines

A short time after this debate started, two search engines lunched that have some kind of authority filter on Twitter info, Twitority and Twithority. They don't sort by the same criteria because the search results are quite different. Probably the teams behind have both have listened to the debate and constructed an algorithm for authority based on more than popularity.

Twitority lets you sort your search results by any authority: "any", "little" or "a lot" in descending or ascending popularity. That's it: No live update of search results and no RSS feeds offered.

Twithority display search results in two columns: Top 10 000 by rank (this is where the authority algorithm is applied) and Top 10 000 by time (the most recent results for your query. There is an RSS feed from each column but the search results are not updated in real time.

My verdict

It has been fun to follow the debate about Twitter authority search. A lot of people have shown a lot of interest and spent a lot of energy on this subject.

To sum up, it is obvious to me that a simple popularity score doesn't add much. Or, as one commentator put it: "many people don't care to hear conversations based on the volume of the people talking." An authority algorithm based on more than popularity will have many uses.

And despite the anger that le Meur's suggestion ignited: There are times when it would be useful to hear what just the top users are saying on a particular topic. Their message reaches a lot of people.

Note: This is an archived article. Written by Per and Susanne Koch. Published on 10th January 2009