HOME
          
LATEST STORY
What’s the right news experience on a phone? Stacy-Marie Ishmael and BuzzFeed are trying to figure it out
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Nov. 15, 2011, 12:30 p.m.

In which Occupy Wall Street (though not #occupywallstreet) finally trends on Twitter

More evidence that Twitter’s algorithm rewards spikes over steadiness.

I wrote last month about new research analyzing why #occupywallstreet, despite its trajectory as a political event and despite its seeming prevalence on Twitter, never became a trending topic in the epicenter of the movement: New York. Last night’s occupation of the occupation — the NYPD’s evacuation of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, apparently at the behest of the (public) park’s (private) owners — has changed that…sort of. The Occupy movement trended in the U.S. and (for a brief moment early this morning, Eastern time) globally.

That’s not surprising — the evacuation was and is important news, and it’s being copiously documented on Twitter, by participants and journalists alike — but it offers evidence that would seem to support the theory put forward by SocialFlow‘s Gilad Lotan to explain #occupywallstreet’s trend truancy: that Occupy Wall Street’s steady growth over time, as a movement and as a subject for discussion on Twitter, might have actually hurt its chances to trend. Since trending isn’t just about volume, but also (and apparently more so) about the changing velocity of the usage of a given term or hashtag, Twitter’s algorithm rewards spikes over steadiness. And last night’s raid of Zuccotti — and the flurry of reporting and commentary it occasioned on Twitter — provided a prime opportunity, it seems, for just that type of spike.

However. It’s noteworthy that #occupywallstreet itself, the umbrella tag, still didn’t trend. Nor did #ows, or any of the other broader terms of the movement. Instead, it was specific #ows terms — “Zucotti Park” [misspelled], “The NYPD,” “Foley Square” [the spot where OWSers evacuated to], and “Broadway and Pine” — that trended, along with trendtastic classics like #HottestPeopleOnTwitter, #iwannabe, and (aw) “Hate Sleeping Alone.” Again, further evidence, it seems, that Spikiness is more important than Stickiness when it comes to trending terms.

The bigger question here is whether trending actually matters. And the broad answer is that it doesn’t, much. Occupy Wall Street — though, as a movement, it relies on social media both to spread and to amplify its messages — doesn’t need to trend on Twitter to get the word out. It has other ways to do that. Still, trending topics are pretty much the mother of all hashtags; in that, they’re one-stop-shops for the ideas that matter, across communities, at a specific moment in time. For a movement like Occupy Wall Street — like #occupywallstreet — that kind of convening power matters. And, given some conspiracy theories that have accused Twitter of censoring activist efforts on its platform, it’s worth noting that the latest evidence tracks with what Twitter has been saying all along: that trending topics, more than anything else, “reward discussions that are new to Twitter.”

POSTED     Nov. 15, 2011, 12:30 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What’s the right news experience on a phone? Stacy-Marie Ishmael and BuzzFeed are trying to figure it out
“Nobody has to read you. You have to earn that. You have to respect people’s attention.”
Come work for Nieman Lab
We have an opening for a staff writer in our Cambridge newsroom.
The newsonomics of telling your audience what they should do
At WNYC, a public radio station is getting more aggressive about telling people what to do: go vote, get more sleep, stay healthy. What happens when a news outlet starts talking about behavior change?
What to read next
686
tweets
Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
496Controlled chaos: As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?
Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
389Here’s some remarkable new data on the power of chat apps like WhatsApp for sharing news stories
At least in certain contexts, WhatsApp is a truly major traffic driver — bigger even than Facebook. Should there be a WhatsApp button on your news site?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
InvestigateWest
Flipboard
FiveThirtyEight
Media Consortium
Time
Center for Public Integrity
La Nación
Mozilla
Investigative News Network
National Journal
The Philadelphia Inquirer & Daily News
The Times of London