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Apple Shampoo and the pitfalls of realtime trend data

Alex Christie

11 May 2009

Trends are in their essence, very trendy and the old saying spreading like wildfire is an understatement for this new monster that I have dubbed – The New Social Web.

Twitter Apple Shampoo

News is spreading faster and faster on the web these days, with microbloggers like twitter the latest trends are easily detected, and can spread internationally in under a minute.  The large majority of Twitters can get excited over relatively minor things like “Whats for dinner at the <insert name here> household?” and “Just watched Star Trek and thought that the spandex was too red”. It doesn’t take much to titillate the average twitter thumb, heaven help us if Gmail goes down again, the tidal wave of tweets is still reverberating from the last outage.

On Twitter, one of the best ways to see whats happening and trending is the “trending topics” list in the right hand nav bar. Quite often it will display a list of very relevant topics or keywords that are peaking at the moment. Hence my surprise when I saw Apple Shampoo as one of the trendy items.  It is a well known fact that my favorite brand of shampoo from the nineties was the good old Colgate apple shampoo – in the conical bottle – the one with the finger grips, aah the memories. Apple shampoo was also the title of a Blink 182 track from the same generation. And no Apple corp is not moving into personal hygiene lines. But what a bizarre trend…

The majority of the mentions for this particular item is the often inane questioning of how it became a trend in the first place. The obvious pitfall of this trending data being shown real-time is that it is going to artificially stimulate something that is otherwise unmentionable  and in fact downright irrelevant and untrendworthy.

Where I am going with this observation is that real-time trends are lovely to see but in most cases like the case of the over-hyped apple shampoo – completely worthless and oftentimes contrived. Most tweeters compulsively tweet the first thing that comes into their head and having the trending topics column on their homepage is like giving a pack of 5 year old chimpanzees tambourines. Twitter is a massively powerful real-time analysis tool and random implementations of this useful tool could perhaps go to waste.

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