P058: Twitter is Like Twitter, But For Recommendations

Time was, a person only had a few options for making informed decisions without, you know, actually doing any research. Imagine a trip to the suburban record store in the summer of 1992: twenty bucks worth of lawn-mowing money burning a hole in your pocket but since you didn’t have cable and weren’t allowed to read Rolling Stone or Spin, it’s a total crapshoot. How do you decide what to buy? Maybe you wheedled a personal recommendation out of a friend’s older brother and ended up with Slanted and Enchanted. Or maybe you gave in to the endless parade of “Music for Rhinos” shirts and snagged Ten. Both are solid outcomes for a thirteen year old raised on the Beatles and looking to find their own music, but going in blind like that, they would have risked coming home with Totally Krossed Out instead. Totally, 100% hypothetically speaking, of course. [1]

So if you’re not doing research and you don’t want a wiggity wiggity wiggity wack record, you either need a trusted recommendation or the sentiment of the masses to guide your purchase. For many of The Kids Today, Twitter combines both into one interesting but flawed package.

RTs are Endorsements

Frictionless personal publishing has turned everyone into a bite-sized Lester Bangs. Because you proactively follow users on Twitter, the signal/noise ratio is manageable when seeking recommendations. It is also extremely effective at communicating the zeitgeist: The first time I see someone fawning about Uptown Funk, I can ignore it. The tenth time, I actually click (and then start unfollowing people).

The downside is that you are limited to hearing only people you know (or know of). The idea that Twitter has a discovery problem is neither new nor controversial. But when it comes to using Twitter as a recommendation engine, your timeline alone is insufficient – for now. The various algorithms are getting pretty good at being your friend’s cool older brother but until they can grow a mullet and drive a Camaro there will still be value in actually talking to people.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron


[1] Jiminy Christmas, the first half of 1992 was incredible for records: Kerplunk, Vulgar Display of Power, Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, Opiate EP, Body Count, Bricks are Heavy, Check Your Head, Lazer Guided Melodies, It’s a Shame About Ray, Ferment, Don’t Sweat the Technique. Wow