What goes as a top tweet in the Twitter search results?

We looked at this issue from the news point of view. Many people rely on twitter for news. For fast-breaking news, Twitter has unquestionably become the foremost source for both publishing as well as reading. Even for relatively slowly developing story (if there is such a thing these days), Twitter is a great place to find articles covering different facets of the story.

To find articles related to a story, a typical reader simply searches for related keywords on the Twitter interface of choice. Twitter comes back with search results in three flavors - Top, All, and People You Know. The flavor ‘All’ shows all the tweets matching the keywords with most recent tweets at the top. The flavor ‘People You Know’ shows the same except limited to tweets made by someone in the reader’s network. Now the flavor ‘Top’ is not a straightforward subset of ‘All’ tweets. What Twitter includes in this subset is not entirely clarified. The algorithm used to filter out important tweets is proprietary, akin to Google’s search engine. But since ‘Top’ is the default view, this algorithm has significant influence on the readers.

We compared the flavors ‘Top’ and ‘All’ from a specific point of view for the top news story on Jan 14, 2013 - Chris Christie. The keyword we used was simply “Chris Christie” as a single phrase. We took top 2000 or so tweets produced by the search for each flavor and identified unique news stories hyperlinked in those tweets. Some of these hyperlinks appeared as full URLs and others appeared in much-shortened form using services such as TinyURL.com, which we expanded to full form for the analysis purposes. 

Here are the results. The second column shows the number of tweets that cite the news source in the first column.

 
Most Frequently Cited News Source in 'All' Tweets
URL Count
ttp://mashable.com/2014/01/14/chris-christie-state-of-the-state/?utm_campaign=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_medium=feed&utm_source=rss 180
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/post/christie-appeared-with-appointee-tied-to-bridge-scandal-during-traffic-jam/2014/01/14/7c0deaa0-7d42-11e3-97d3-b9925ce2c57b_blog.html?wprss=rss_politics 11
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/chris-christie-public-media-bridge-scandal-pew-research-center_n_4596342.html 9
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/01/chris-christie-was-never-going-to-be-president-anyway/283064/ 8
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/too-much-estrogen-the-gol_b_4589941.html?utm_hp_ref=tw 8
http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/14/22302891-christie-to-nod-toward-scandal-in-speech?lite 8
http://blog.nj.com/njv_editorial_page/2014/01/chris_christies_gwb_scandal_an.html 7
http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2014/jan/14/how-msnbc-and-fox-news-covered-chris-christie/ 5
http://www.politicususa.com/2014/01/14/chris-christies-god-complex-deserving-prison-presidency.html 5
http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/01/chris-christie-will-not-be-45th-president-united-states 5
http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/trouble-chris-christie 5
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/01/14/christie-appeared-with-appointee-tied-to-bridge-scandal-during-traffic-jam/ 4
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2014/01/14/what-if-chris-christie-had-a-snapchat-for-gmail/ 4
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/01/chris-christie-bridge-traffic-jam-emails#wildstein2 4
http://admin.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/trouble-chris-christie 4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6G2VfEBGBjg&feature=youtu.be&a 3
Most Frequently Cited News Source in 'Top' Tweets
URL Count
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/13/chris-christie-investigation_n_4588132.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003 3
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/13/what-chris-christie-has-already-lost/ 2
http://www.politico.com/story/2014/01/roger-simon-says-new-jersey-governor-chris-christie-george-washington-bridge-scandal-bridgegate-102124.html 2
http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/johncassidy/2014/01/chris-christie-is-down-but-not-out.html 2
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/11/chris-christie-private-emails_n_4581112.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003 2
http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/14/politics/chris-christie-state-of-the-state/index.html 2
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/chris-christie-sandy-funds 2
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/01/christie-presidential-campaign-now-even-deader.html 2
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/christie-bridge-controversy-exposes-a-gop-rising-star-to-new-scrutiny/2014/01/11/f49dee40-7aed-11e3-b1c5-739e63e9c9a7_story.html?Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost 1
http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-january-8-2014/email-chains--lanes-and-automobiles---chris-christie-bridge-scandal?xrs=synd_twitter_010914_tds_30 1
http://www.theonion.com/articles/my-fellow-americans-look-at-me-do-i-look-like-a-co,34908/?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_campaign=Default:Week1:Default 1
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/01/13/chris-christie-new-jersey-poll/4458689/ 1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2014/01/14/what-if-chris-christie-had-a-snapchat-for-gmail/?Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost 1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/10/5-big-unanswered-questions-in-bridge-gate/ 1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/13/why-the-gop-cavalry-is-not-coming-to-chris-christies-rescue/?Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost 1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/14/is-the-media-overdoing-it-on-chris-christie-and-bridge-gate-not-really/ 1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/01/14/what-today-could-have-meant-for-chris-christie-and-what-it-actually-means/ 1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/chris-christie-has-problems-but-hes-still-atop-the-2016-gop-field--for-now/2014/01/12/8858abba-7b99-11e3-93c1-0e888170b723_story.html?hpid=z1 1

It's quite clear that the two lists are quite different. A person tweets a news story if he or she connects to it in some special way and these tweets drive the 'All' flavor. The Mashable story was tweeted an order of magnitude more frequently than anything else. Could it be because the Mashable website makes it particularly easy for people to share on Twitter?  The 'Top' tweets are likely to be driven by readers who come to Twitter to read news. More a particular tweet is clicked-thru, higher up would be that tweet in the 'Top' list then. Does this explain what we are seeing in the tables above? It's tough to say from this limited analysis. But it's surprising that the Mashable story does not appear at all in the 'Top' list. Could it be related to some news links using shortened URLs and others full URLs? Or perhaps more readers are attracted to traditional news sources.