Quarter of tweets 'not worth reading'

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A quarter? Seriously, only a quarter? But that's the proportion of tweets that Twitter users say are a waste of time.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, MIT and Georgia Tech found that users reckon a third are worthwhile, with the rest just so-so.

"If we understood what is worth reading and why, we might design better tools for presenting and filtering content, as well as help people understand the expectations of other users," says Paul André of Carnegie Mellon.

He and his team created a website, "Who Gives a Tweet?" to collect reader evaluations. Visitors were promised feedback on their tweets if they agreed to anonymously rate tweets by Twitter users they were already following.

Over a period of 19 days, 1,443 visitors to the site rated 43,738 tweets from the accounts of 21,014 Twitter users they followed. And it turned out that a really well-received tweet is not all that common.

Tweets that were part of someone else's conversation, or updates around current mood or activity were the most strongly disliked. However, questions to followers, information sharing and self-promotion - such as links to content the writer had created - were more popular.

The researchers acknowledge that the study participants weren't fully representative of Twitter users. Most were referred to the study by technology-focused friends and websites, and could be categorized as 'informers', who value sharing links and content.

"Our research is just a first step at understanding value on Twitter," Luther said. "Other groups within Twitter may value different types of tweets for entirely different reasons."

However, the researchers have some tips for people who want to improve their tweets. Old news is no news, they say, so beware of retweeting too much.

Add an opinion or fact to a conversation, and keep it short - less than the 140 character max. And don't overdo the Twitter-specific jargon, like #hashtags, @mentions and abbreviations.

Don't whine - the same seems to go for Facebook, by the way - and go easy on the personal information. And whatever you do, stay away from FourSquare - apparently people really, really hate location checkins.