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March 02, 2012

Researchers Say a Third of Tweets Worthwhile

By Byron Spice

InfographicTwitter users choose the microblogs they follow, but that doesn't mean they always like what they get.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon, MIT and Georgia Tech found that users say only a little more than a third of the tweets they receive are worthwhile.

Other tweets are either so-so or, in one out of four cases, not worth reading at all.

Twitter says more than 200 million tweets are sent each day, yet most users get little feedback about the messages they send besides occasional retweets by followers, or when followers opt to stop following them.

"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," said Paul André, a post-doctoral fellow in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute and lead author of the study.

He and his colleagues - Michael Bernstein and Kurt Luther, doctoral students at MIT and Georgia Tech, respectively - created a website, "Who Gives a Tweet?", to collect reader evaluations of tweets.

People who visited the "Who Gives a Tweet" site were promised feedback on their tweets if they agreed to anonymously rate tweets by Twitter users they already were following. Over a period of 19 days in late 2010 and early 2011, 1,443 visitors to the site rated 43,738 tweets from the accounts of 21,014 Twitter users they followed.

Overall, the readers liked just 36 percent of the tweets and disliked 25 percent. Another 39 percent elicited no strong opinion.

"A well received tweet is not all that common," Bernstein said. "A significant amount of content is considered not worth reading, for a variety of reasons."

Despite the social nature of Twitter, tweets that were part of someone else's conversation, or updates around current mood or activity were the most strongly disliked.

On the other hand, tweets that included questions to followers, information sharing and self-promotion (such as links to content the writer had created) were more often liked.

The researchers acknowledge, however, that the study participants were not 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. Other studies have suggested a schism among users, with others favoring the social "me" aspects of social media.

"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."