Google is not noted for its transparency, at least when it comes to the secret sauces that make up its search algorithms. So we’re somewhat surprised to find a Google Fellow, Amit Singhal (who reportedly led development of Google’s new real-time search offering), letting the cat out of the bag in MIT’s Technology Review. According to Amit, the key is to identify “reputed [Twitter] followers”.
“You earn reputation, and then you give reputation. If lots of people follow you, and then you follow someone–then even though this [new person] does not have lots of followers,” his tweet is deemed valuable because his followers are themselves followed widely, Singhal says. It is “definitely, definitely” more than a popularity contest, he adds.
“One user following another in social media is analogous to one page linking to another on the Web. Both are a form of recommendation,” Singhal says. “As high-quality pages link to another page on the Web, the quality of the linked-to page goes up. Likewise, in social media, as established users follow another user, the quality of the followed user goes up as well.”
But Google’s social-ranking tricks are hardly the only method the search giant uses to extract relevance from tweets. Google also developed new ways to choose which (if any) tweets to surface for common terms like “Obama”–and to avoid spam or low-quality tweets–all within seconds.
The article also sounds a cautionary note about the (trending upward) use of the hashtag.
One problem with tweets is that people often lard them up with so-called “hashtags.” These are symbols that start with a pound sign (#) followed by a word that represents a very popular current topic, such as “Nexus One” or “Earthquake” or whatever else might be a trendy topic at the moment. When a hashtag is included in a tweet, the resulting tweet will show up when other Twitterers click the hashtag’s topic word elsewhere on the site.
While such tags can usefully maximize exposure of a tweet, they can also serve as red flags to lower tweet quality and attract spam-like content, Singhal says. While he wouldn’t get into details, he said Google modeled this hashtagging behavior in ways that tend to reduce the exposure of low-quality tweets. “We needed to model that [hashtagging] behavior. That is the technical challenge which we went after with our modeling approaches,” Singhal says.
Reading between the lines, the advice from Amit Singhal can be boiled down to this: if you want your tweets to be ranked highly enough to be featured in Google’s real-time search, provide useful, relevant content.
Congratulations, you just graduated from your rocket science course.