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“Grey Noise” on Flickr [CC]

Third Party News: Activity Notification isn’t News—or Good Business.

“I know there’s nothing to say
Someone has taken my place
When times go bad
When times go rough
Won’t you lay me down in tall grass
And let me do my stuff”

Fleetwood Mac — Second Hand News

I’ve noticed people I follow on Twitter posting about the impact of notifications and alerts on user experience.

NYU’s Jay Rosen reacts to a NYT “intra-retweet” notification:

Circa’s Anthony DeRosa tweets about “push” alerts:

Rosen’s and DeRosa’s posts relate to a current trend within social apps and services. Take Twitter for example. In an attempt to occupy a middle ground between an “unfiltered” feed and an algorithmically curated one, Twitter is filling its users’ feeds with the activities of non-followed—or third-party—accounts.


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The process of communication involves a transaction.

So, while second hand news is still news, third party activities are not.

At a micro level, being notified about the indirect activities of accounts through people you follow isn’t news.

If it was important or interesting enough, they’d tell you themselves.

That’s how the idea of news works.

Keep in mind that “third-party” news might work on Facebook, because its feed is algorithmically curated and users’ connections are more horizontal. But on Twitter, where people can follow accounts and don’t need to be followed back to connect, it’s different. And that’s exactly why it works so much better for news.

Twitter has worked to build a base of millions of users and nurture tools—like the retweet, @mention, #hashtag, and trending topic—that help its users connect to what they want, when they want, and how they want.

What’s “news” isn’t different on Twitter. Regardless of the medium, news involves two related factors: relevance and salience.

Relevance concerns the timeliness of a happening. When details about something is posted—or breaks—people want to hear about it. Salience is the relative importance of the topic. Different happenings are important to different groups of people.

Twitter’s recent push toward broadcasting the activities of non-followed accounts at the micro level isn’t relevant or salient.

What Twitter’s hybrid feed is right now is the opposite of news.

It’s business.

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Screenshot from personal Twitter feed on Nov 16, 2014

I still think Twitter is the best platform for finding news and information out there, period.

But it’s really none of Twitter’s business showing me tweets from accounts that I don’t follow (such as the Washington Post) through the accounts that I do.

That’s “premature participation” — the hijiacking of my social graph by advertisers and sponsored accounts.

If it were actually relevant, they’d be telling me themselves.

What’s happening is a recipe for disaster in terms of user experience. Oddly, it seems to be part of Twitter’s new business model. It wants to be an “all-in-one” social network and monetize so badly that it’s compromising its killer feature.

While “who” your followed accounts follow and what they “fav” can definitely be news on an aggregate level (think Twitter’s “trending topics”) what it amounts to on an individual basis is noise.

So —

“One thing I think you should know
I ain’t gonna miss you when you go
Been down so long
I’ve been tossed around enough
Couldn’t you just
Let me go down and do my stuff”

Before times go rough, Twitter should take a hint from Lindsay Buckingham:

Just let us do our stuff.

Written by

Professor and researcher in news, journalism, and #hashtags. Award-nominated data journalist. Media, communication, and technology.

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