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The Twitter Index

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Tracking the soaring stocks and junk bonds of social media, helping you to invest carefully and speculate wisely. (By Rhodri Marsden)

February 18th, 2014

Rising: @PicPedant

If you stray onto Twitter for longer than a nanosecond, you're likely to see something retweeted into your timeline from an account like @HistoryInPics, or @EarthPix, or @HistoricalPics, @ItsEarthPics, or @History_Pics, or any number of similar accounts that specialise in swiping some image from somewhere on the web and tweeting it.

No-one, of course, is under the misapprehension that any of the people behind these accounts are astonishing photographers with the ability to skip through space and time, capturing images and digitally flinging them forward to 2014 for our delight. We know that they're just aggregators, or curators at a push, just mining the web for cool stuff and serving it up. It's easily done, and it's evidently much appreciated; many of these accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers.


But the photographers that actually snapped these pictures – pictures wonderful enough to be shared and reshared thousands of times over – are rarely if ever credited. There's been a certain amount of grumbling online about this in the past few weeks, but one person, @PicPedant (aka @brownpau) has seen fit to try and redress the balance in some small way by posting the correct credits in a righteous, bold but (I guess) ultimately impotent way. "Punctilious internet killjoy at the forefront of the New Debunkonomy," reads the bio. "Obsessed with attribution & Photoshop." We should really salute him for these efforts he's making.


It's an important point that @PicPedant is making, but he can only do what he has time to do; monitoring the entire output of dozens of "look at this!" photo accounts and tediously appending information that should have been posted in the first place is a tedious job. @PicPedant helpfully links to Google Image Search in his bio, presumably to demonstrate how easy it is to source and credit these images. So I had a go. Earlier this afternoon, @EarthPix posted this:


At the time of writing it's been favorited around 1,700 times; that's a lot of love out there. But who took the picture? A quick search leads us to this page; we discover that it was taken by a chap called Ian Snowden, a photographer from North Yorkshire. The presence of a "buy now" button on that page, just underneath the photo, feels like a strangely quaint plea with a hollow ring to it. It would be nice to think that one of the 1700 people who loves that photo would buy it from Ian. But I'm not going to hold my breath.
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February 14th, 2014

Rising: Curveball Tweets

People spend a long time establishing their Twitter brand. Followers become used to your regular updates about horses, or comments regarding the fluctuating scoreline in a tense rugby union international, or thigh-slapping jokes based upon the undeniable fact that some words sound a little bit like other words. And then, from nowhere, comes a curveball so unexpected that it sends a small section of the Twitter community into a tailspin. Where did that come from? Why did they do that? What's happening?

Take @coffee_dad. Coffee Dad can be relied upon to post pretty much every day regarding coffee. As noted in an earlier Twitter Index, tweets related to consumption of coffee are pretty much endemic throughout Twitter, but in the case of @coffee_dad it's his raison d'être. He lives for coffee, and for tweeting about it.


But then, for some unknown reason:


Take @RealCarrotFacts, who has amassed over 150,000 followers by occasionally giving tips, advice or making observations regarding the humble carrot.


But then, for some unknown reason:


Take @ReutersPolitics. Day in, day out, you'll see links to news stories hot off the wires regarding political manoeuvrings in the USA:


But then, for some unknown reason:


Judging by the number of times they're favourited and retweeted, it's clear that posting an occasional curveball tweet does wonders for your popularity. It's almost enough to make me go on Twitter right now and post something about palaeontology. Or something.
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February 13th, 2013

Falling: Roses Are Red

The "Roses are red" poem, whose origins dates back to at least the 16th century, can no longer be subverted. It's all been done. There's no spin on "Roses are red" that hasn't already been spun. No more can be eked out of the format. It's over. The alternate flowers, the ones with no flowers at all, the exceptionally filthy versions, the versions that don't rhyme, the ones that say that everything's red, the ones with extended last lines to spoil the scansion and so on, and so on, and so on.

Anyone can do it; you just come up with a second line, make a note of the sound of the final syllable and rhyme the bastard in the fourth line – a primary school exercise. Or, alternatively, you can just write "roses are red" and then insert whatever you like in the next three lines because everyone knows what you're doing. It requires no skill, no effort, and that's why Twitter is currently awash with them. For the last hour I've been wading through them. Here, in reverse order, are the worst 10 "roses are red" poems floating around Twitter at 11:00 GMT on Thursday 13th February.

10: The impassioned political statement, with added tagging of @HuffPostUKCom in the vain hope that it'll be included in a round-up of the best "Roses are red" poems of the day:

9: The sudden switch into a different language, which is fine, except "bulaklak" doesn't rhyme with "blue" and I don't know what she's laughing at.


8: The unexpected lurch into a different metre altogether, leaving you fearful that this will lead to a wealth of random poetry being posted on Twitter with the prefix "roses are red, violets are blue":


7: The one that leaves you feeling strangely unsettled:


6: TOP BANTZ LADZ:


5: The persistent and utterly pointless beseeching of a boy band member:


4: The man stumbling around in a minefield of romance, ramming a stick labelled "poetry" into the ground at random:


3: A suggestion that you run around Huddersfield:


2: An attempt to emulate Simon Le Bon's lyric to "Hungry Like The Wolf":


1: "What rhymes with Jalfrezi?"


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February 10th, 2013

Falling: Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is currently trending for two reasons. 1: People who feel obliged to buy a Valentine's gift for their partner have just looked at their diary, realised it's on Friday and are visibly bricking it because they can't think of anything better to get them than chocolates (for women) or a mini-fridge (for blokes). 2: People who resent this eye-wateringly expensive festival of love have noticed that it's trending, and are turning their tweets purple with fury as a result, thus exacerbating the situation.

As a result, love is very much not in the air right now. The level of hatred for Valentine's Day is surging off the scale. In fact, if I were a more entrepreneurial man I'd turn the following tweets into a series of gift cards, as they seem to strike far more of a chord with the general public than "Our love is special, for we were destined to be; against all odds we found each other and I promise you that I will never let you go."


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February 6th, 2014

Rising: Norwegian Political Herring Recipe Chat

Back in September, Norway held a parliamentary election. Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was running for a record third consecutive term in office, while Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservatives, campaigned on a promise of lower taxes and shorter health-care queues. A 9.6% swing to the Conservatives saw a right-wing coalition sweep to power, with Solberg the new Prime Minister. Stoltenberg, poor chap, had to pack up and leave Inkognitogata 18, the official residence of the Norwegian premier.

Whoosh. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, it was Christmas. (It comes around so quickly these days, doesn't it?) Jens looked around at home for his special recipe for herring salad, a important Christmas treat in that part of the world. But he couldn't find it. He couldn't find it anywhere. "I can't find my special recipe for herring salad in the moving boxes," he wailed, digitally. "Does anyone remember it?"

Many people responded with their own herring salad recipe suggestions. But then, out of of the blue, came a tweet from the Prime Minister – "Iron Erna" as she was dubbed in some sections of the Norwegian media – who had defeated him in the election less than four months previously. "Hi Jens," she said, "I have not found the herring recipe in the Prime Minister's residence :)"

Classic Erna, there, attempting to shake off her stern image with a smiley face and a polite reply. What she probably didn't expect was that tweet winning the award for BEST TWEET – I kid you not – at last nights Norway's Social Media Awards.

The accompanying statement from the jury read as follows: "The winner of this year's post / tweet works on many levels. It is spontaneous, shows humor and has a bite. After an intense campaign, thrilling duels, and a hard fall, this tweet is a charming testament to an open Norway. A funny little thing that showed how politicians can joke together even if they are political opponents." "Thank you to the jury for the award for Tweet of the Year. Sorry I could not be there in person, but I would like to thank you via Twitter." "I would also like to thank Jens Stoltenberg. If you hadn't misplaced your herring recipe, I would not have won this award."

If you ever hear anyone say that Twitter is boring, or politics is boring, or Norway is boring, I implore you to direct them to this post.

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February 4th, 2014

Flatlining: Flooding the alphabet

One of the benefits to being an early adopter of a service is that you can get in there and grab an account name that isn't SARAH4239 or XGEOFFX4B. If you're lucky, you might get your first name. Rhodri isn't a particularly common name – at least not outside certain parts of Wales – but I always experience mild elation when I manage to grab it for myself. One of many narcissistic personality flaws, there.

If I'd been really ahead of the curve, though, I'd have snapped up one of the single-letter Twitter handles, such as @b, @f, or most notably @n, whose previous owner has been in the news lately after losing @n in an account hijack. He still hasn't got it back, and it's not clear that he ever will.

He's annoyed about this; Twitter's single-letter handles are reportedly worth tens of thousands of dollars. The 26 lucky individuals all tend to have follower counts in the tens of thousands, although Andrei Zmievski has significantly more (117,000), and @l has just three. (His/her account is locked, but the bio reads: "Go Away. Please. I want to be alone." These follower counts don't seem to have anything to do with the content they're posting; @i for example, has sat back and posted nothing whatsoever while 21,500 people watched him do it. Basically, people follow single-letter Twitter accounts because they're cute and unusual.

But as a result, Twitter is pretty much unusable for these guys. Their replies feeds are bombarded with typing errors, half-composed tweets and, most notably, this kind of thing: This happens with irritating regularity. So, while the kudos attached to a single-letter Twitter handle is considerable, the social media experience leaves something to be desired. Isn't that right, @y? _______________________________________________________

January 31st, 2014

Rising: @Anagramatron

Code is powerful. It helps to land spacecraft on other planets, it generates hi-hat patterns for Beyoncé b-sides and times the roasting of a chicken to perfection. It also finds pairs of tweets that are anagrams of each other.


@anagramatron, a project devised by a chap called Colin who tweets at @cmyr, uses a Python script to parse tweets, sort the characters into alphabetical order and look for matches. When matches are found, Colin checks to make sure they're valid, and then he tweets them. Easy when you know how.


I don't know if it's the nerd in me, the writer or the geek that finds this project so deeply satisfying. Possibly all three. They're like beautiful equations.


With my own coding ability limited to changing text to UPPER CASE in a CSS document, I salute Colin's work and rank it alongside the discovery of penicillin or something. The intricate details of the project, which whizz about three inches over my head, are detailed over at github. Here's my favourite:


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January 30th, 2014

Flatlining: Why are you following me?

We live in a world where, unbelievably, the phrase "I follow you on Twitter" has a meaning. If someone said that to you 10 years ago you would have looked at them askance, like they were from 10 years in the future or something. But the realisation that someone is following you on Twitter can be problematic. It would help if we had another verb to describe the act of following; it conjures up all kinds of stalky imagery, and it's easy to imagine that, when you get a notification that someone is "following" you, they're not only paying attention to your every utterance on social media but they're also going through your bins and placing hoax calls to your parents.

In truth, the act of following someone can be so benign as to be almost meaningless. The reasons people follow other people are many and various, from random impulses to misguided social media strategies to a complete misunderstanding of the way Twitter works. But one thing is clear – it freaks people out. They want to get to the bottom of it.


Sometimes you've got to ask people more than once, and they still don't tell you. It's infuriating.


Or sometimes, the query uncovers a family dispute that Twitter is about to elevate into a major row:

Sometimes, people are rude, and then they're asked to explain themselves, and then they make a half-hearted attempt to be friendly.


But here's the masterclass of how it should be done, with everyone emerging from the exchange happy and contented.



Of course, the mystery of why anyone follows anyone on Twitter at ALL is a far deeper philosophical question, way beyond the remit of this post. It's probably best not to think about it at all, you know, like black holes and dark matter, in case it reveals some troubling truths that we're not fully prepared for.
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January 28th, 2014

Rising: @GalacticKeegan

Some Twitter bios say "Thought leader and lifestyle guru". Others say "#Sharing & #Publishing Expert Advice from the UK's best thinking #SocialMedia #GuestBloggers. Founders #SmartSocial #SMHour #EAUK100 #SBS100 & #SMAUK100. #SBS," whatever the hell that all means. One, however, says:

"The year 2019. After Earth is decimated by pestilence & war, mankind attempts to colonise a distant planet. Here, Kevin Keegan sets up his new football academy."

This is @GalacticKeegan, a combination of dystopian sci-fi storytelling, philosophical musing and Kevin Keegan. Having travelled to Palangonia in the Antioc Nebula to commence his work as a football coach, Keegan is keen to get stuck in:


But it's not long before Keegan has to battle with a very hostile and unfamiliar environment, his trusty guide Galagag by his side.


I have no idea what the point of @GalacticKeegan is, but as ever, I find myself strangely thrilled by doomed creative projects that have no raison d'être other than the gloriously misguided ambition of the person or persons behind them. At the time of writing, Keegan is locked in a cupboard:


Ultimately, perhaps @GalacticKeegan is a plea for human beings to reconcile their differences and celebrate the rarity of life... or maybe not.


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January 24th, 2013

Falling: Fake tube announcements

The flooding of the control room of London's Victoria Line with a load of concrete continues to provide endless comic potential on Twitter, particularly this endlessly (and deservedly) retweeted picture:


Yesterday, however, it was @SimonNRicketts's fake tube announcement sign that did the rounds:


Other people bought into it, bless them, and subsequently suffered the ignominy of people bellowing "FAKE!" at them:


While an MP just decided to pass it off as his own work, the scoundrel:


Of course, as @SimonNRicketts pointed out straight away, these images are the product of an online service that's been around for a while and is custom-made for generating LOLs in the event of an incident on the underground:


If you go to the site, you'll find a page where the last 50 or so signs that have been generated are visible for everyone to see. People are still attempting their spins on the concrete gag, of course, hopeful of social media fame approximately 24 hours too late:


More intriguing, however, are the ones that people are producing to email between themselves and their co-workers about other co-workers that they don't like very much:

Poor Ross. Poor Alan. Poor Katy.

Anyway, the more people that know that this useful service exists, the less likely it is that we'll have to cope with people wailing "FAKE!" next time someone posts a fake tube sign. It's OK, Sherlock. We know it's fake. Things don't have to be real to be funny – although it usually helps.
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January 20th, 2014

Rising: Being nice to Nigel Farage

It's a strange and terrifying world we live in when a member of a political party claims that the flooding of parts of England was God's punishment for legalising gay marriage, while a poll in the Independent on Sunday reveals that that particular party is the UK's favourite. Of course, the deep confusion expressed by one idiot is not necessarily representative of the views of a whole party, but many of us have spent so long laughing at Ukip that the Independent on Sunday's headline was something of a shock to the system. "Bloody hell," was the only response I could muster. "It can't be true," I thought later on. "There must be a method of disproving this."

Analysis of tweets sent to the leaders of the four main political parties is evidently not that method, but I spent this morning doing it anyway. Politicians as odious and unappealing as George Osborne and Ed Balls regularly have streams of abusive tweets sent in their direction as a result of their pronouncements on this and that, so monitoring the Twitter replies sent to Cameron, Clegg, Farage and Miliband would surely provide some kind of barometer of something or other. Even if that something or other was my own patience levels.

I navigated my way to their replies and scrolled down, seeing how long it would take me to come across an abusive message. David Cameron, standing in the House Of Commons for the weekly session of PMQs, would surely be called chorizo-face or luncheon-meat-head sooner or later, but it took 91 tweets sent over the space of four minutes before I found someone calling him a fuckstick.


Next, Clegg. Clegg cuts such a forlorn figure these days, with contempt directed at him from all parts of the political spectrum – including his own party – that I expected his replies to be packed with withering insult. But no. I had to scroll through 176 tweets sent over the space of two hours before coming across anything you'd term abusive: "Back-peddling yellow-belly, no-bollocks Clegg."


A surprising statistic, that, but maybe an outlier. Maybe people just can't be bothered to insult him any more? Anyway, over to Miliband's replies, and the very first tweet I saw was this charming reference to The Muppets:


Farage's, by comparison, were full of fawning praise. I sat open mouthed as I read them. "This isn't what Twitter is about," I thought to myself. "People in the public eye are supposed to avoid looking at Twitter in case they see someone calling them a shit-knocker. But people seem to like Nigel. They really do."


I scrolled through 45 tweets sent over the space of one hour before finding this:


The thing is, Angie, it appears that your views on Farage's similarity to a penis aren't as widely shared as you might think they are.

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