Sam Novey / June 1st, 2011 / Tweet
Twitter — a last outpost of the unpersonalized internet — has taken the plunge.
Twitter search results, previously sorted solely based on time, will now be personalized.
Today we’re starting to roll out a completely new version of Twitter search. Not only will it deliver more relevant Tweets when you search for something or click on a trending topic, but it will also show you related photos and videos, right there on the results page. It’s never been easier to get a sense of what’s happening right now, wherever your curiosity takes you.
There is a bit of irony to the way twitter is marketing this announcement. Their blog boasts that the new search features can take you “#anywhere.” They’re pitching the change as enabling discovery in spite of the tendency of personalization to do the opposite.
In the end, the devil is in the details. How are results being personalized? Is way in which results are being personalized clear to users? And most importantly, how much control do users have over personalization?
Danny Sullivan has a quick rundown of Twitter’s approach here.
How does Twitter decide what’s most relevant, what should show up as a Top/Hot Tweet?
“Relevance for us today is using a combination of signals, your follower graph, who you follow, who’s following you. Another aspect is just looking at the content itself and the resonance of the content,” Mike Abbott, Twitter’s vice president of engineering who oversees search, told me.
So Top/Hot Tweets are personalized for each individual? Yep. But those worried that this means you’ll only see things from those you know or like, relax. The personalization isn’t that dramatic, Abbott says.
Indeed, Abbott showed me a screenshot of his own results for a search on a topic about a Twitter feature that showed some tweets that weren’t in favor of it. It’s not just reinforcing what you like.
If you don’t want personalized results, you can log out of Twitter and search that way. Then you’ll get “normal” results, the company says.
At the end of the day, this seems to be a relatively responsible approach to personalization that improves user experiences while also preserving users ability to get unpersonalized results. Unlike Google, which personalizes results whether you are logged in or not, Twitter has preserved the option to log out and get “objective” or “normal” results.