Who Owns The Right to Filter Your Feed?

The old Tweetdeck interface.

(image) Last week I was in Salt Lake City for the Adobe Summit, on a stage the size of a parking lot. After some opening remarks about how the world is increasingly lit with data, I brought out Adam Bain, President of Global Revenue for Twitter. (He Vined it, natch.) Five thousand or so folks in the Internet marketing and media business were in attendance, behind us was a 7,000 square foot HD screen (I kid you not). I’ve been in front of a few big crowds, but this one was enormous. You could have parked a few 787s in the space.

My point is this: Bain knew he was in front of a lot of people, including nearly 200 journalists. As we worked our way through any number of predictable but important topics – Twitter’s revenue (growing but no numbers), the acquisition of BlueFin (TV analytics and more), etc. – I asked Bain to distinguish between Twitter and its competitive set. This was a relatively politic way of asking the inevitable “What about Facebook” question. It was then that Bain uttered what I thought was the most interesting comment of the day: “[With Twitter,] there’s no algorithm between you and your feed.”

Oh snap!

Facebook’s “Edge” rank has once again been in the news, as one writer or journalist after another discovers what most of us already knew: Facebook filters what you see in the Newsfeed, and the algorithm that determines that filter is a black box (one that you can influence with money, of course).

On Twitter, there’s no filter between you and your feed. If, like me, you follow 1,200 or more people, your feed is a hopeless firehose, and that’s just the way it is, Bub.

My Twitter feed is a blur to me, I dip in and out, but I never consistently gain value from it. I know there’s so much more I could be learning from it, but so far, no dice. (Four or so years ago I even asked our tech team at FMP to build a Twitter parser, we used it for a while…that’s another story…)

I’ve always been on the lookout for tools to surface the best stuff shared on the service – and I’m still looking. Summary services like Percolate are too high level (only five or so stories), and curation through tools like Tweetdeck work to a point, but require too much input and are not dynamic enough. I recently tweeted out a request for new filtering tools, and got back this list:

– Twitter’s daily email digest (which I’m not getting for some reason, so I’ll turn that on)

Tweetdeck (which I have used a lot, but stopped using when Twitter bought it, more on that below)

Cronycle (still in private beta)

– The Tweeted Times



– And of course Flipboard.

From a quick look at these services (some of which I’ve tried), I don’t think any of them do quite what I want them to. And that’s kind of my point. It’s great that Twitter doesn’t filter my feed, but it’s a bummer that third parties haven’t been able to solve for my problem. And of course, there’s a reason for this. Developers have left the consumer space mostly alone – Twitter has made it very clear that they don’t want anyone creating new interfaces for the consumption of your feed, and filtering services – in particular ones like Flipboard – come dangerously close to that line. 

The enterprise, on the other hand, has benefitted from the unfiltered feed – that’s where Percolate is focused, as well as Salesforce, Adobe, and many others.  Gnip has a good business selling access to Twitter’s firehose, but overall, as one might expect, the use case is more aggregate and less individual in nature.
That’s a dilemma. One the one hand there’s Facebook, which has “placed an algorithm in between” us and our feed. Facebook is controlling our experience on our behalf – and it’s questionable whether that really scales. Then there’s the noisy mess of Twitter, where I could imagine any number of super-wonderful third-party apps, yet so far Twitter has kept that ecosystem at bay. 

It’s clear that Twitter will soon offer more controls to its users – giving us various ways to filter our feed. The company recently dropped support for its recently acquired Tweetdeck apps – clearly it plans on folding that kind of functionality into its core services. Once it does, I hope the company will relax a bit and give developers the go ahead to create real value on top of an individual’s raw feed. No one company can boil the ocean, but together an ecosystem can certainly simmer the sea.


9 thoughts on “Who Owns The Right to Filter Your Feed?”

  1. It is a troubling issue that the question is even posed. The answer is so true and so logical that we become startled by its simplicity. “You” own the right to filter “Your” feed. We are in having to ask this question because of the misalignment of interest that exist…”We” add value to companies/products that do not work for “Us”

    1. A different perspective is that a “feed” is a service that Twitter offers and use of that service is defined by the Twitter ToS. Twitter has valid business reasons to tightly control this in a way that constrains value to individuals… and clearly they’re exercising that right.

  2. Adding a filter to extract the value from your feed presumes that there’s some value in there to begin with. This has not been my experience, with any social media service.

  3. Ray Cromwell, Perry Metzger and myself learned with
    the Extropian Mailing list in the early 90’s without filters the fire hose is
    too great and people leave the service.. IMHO, without Edge Rank Facebook
    wouldn’t exist; now of course they monetize it as well.

    I can guess why Twitter doesn’t need to filter their
    own fire hose but also you have to look at their user base it doesn’t compare
    to Facebook in depth of people/% of the population, Etc. It would as John
    suggests, benefit from filtering because I only see about 1/2 of 1% of the
    posts of people I follow, because I basically ignore most of the Tweets unless
    they mention @hhawk or @LeskesBakery @CommodoreUSA Etc.

    This just means that most people are not paying
    attention to most messages on Twitter and most of Twitter is far more
    asymmetrical (1:many) than Facebook (which is both 1:few and 1:many). That’s
    the power of Edge Rank, friends can pay attention to friends and then everyone
    else can “subscribe” and listen…

    For me, Facebook is like the major networks in the
    late 60’s and 70’s.. it is about to get fragmented by UHF stations and then
    super stations, and cable TV; this is the golden age where 1 social network (Facebook)
    has 71% of the online US population.

    As new social networks fragment Facebook, if they can
    be the log-in authorization partner of choice and through the Open Graph API a
    key partner for businesses, other networks and everyone else, then they stay

  4. Hi John,

    Have you ever thought of using a commercial tool like Radian6 and pointing it at your twitter feed (it’s public after all) and then you’ve got all sorts of nice tools to play with. I use it for tracking our marketing dept employees and it works really well. Not ideal for all but you’ve got quite a feed to manage by the sounds of it.

    Having said that maybe someone like Salesforce should offer that for joe public, that might be worth it for a small fee.


  5. It is just a troubling concern the fact that concern is actually even posed. A better solution is actually so accurate so plausible that him and i become startled through it’s convenience. You private the correct to sieve “Your” give food to. I am within requiring you to inquire this specific concern because of the misalignment of interest which are present. We are add value to companies/products which usually do not work with Us.
    Education Information

  6. I disagree with your optimism about Twitter letting developers touch the feed. I think their business model will probably depend on them controlling that experience heavily.

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