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Adam Kleinberg

Twitter trends and the evolution of a meme

by Adam Kleinberg

Twitter trends and the evolution of a meme

This infographic was published on Mashable this morning in a piece on some of the top trends on Twitter in 2010. The article delved into some of the top trending hashtags of the year, but what I find most interesting is the growth of the hashtag as a meme in and of itself (if you're not familiar with the term, a "meme" is a cultural idea or reference that is transmitted virally... Rickrolling, for example). Hashtags grew from a paltry 9% of trending topics in 2009 to a whopping 40% in 2010, supplanting entertainment as the #1 trend category for the year.

Does this speak to the maturity of Twitter as a medium or does it give us insight into how to incite a meme?

I'll go out on a short limb and say both—40% maturity and 60% insight. So, we can learn something. What is it?

Well, Twitter had a major redesign this year that included putting "Trends" front and center in the interface. By doing that, people see what's trending and when they do, they see hashtags (is it a coincidence that 40% of the Trends on the screenshot I just took have hashtags?). When they see hashtags being used all the time, they want to know what hashtags are. When they find out, they start to use them.

"Well, that's obvious," you say. True. But the obvious is frequently overlooked. Especially in the development of user experiences.

UX designers strive to create intuitive and frictionless experiences. We think about things like where the users eyes are focused on the page to determine the ideal place to put a button.

Worthy stuff, but it is easy to forget that the best way to create a learned behavior is by teaching it.  We strive so hard to anticipate human behavior that sometimes we forget to simply show people what to do. Words and images are as important a component of user experience as tabs, boxes and buttons—if not more so.


Well said Adam. The growth of hashtags year to year is a big twitter insight for all of us. It has helped new and old users to follow a thread more simply and also let researchers and marketers better understand the platform and how we communicate en masse. It has also further supported that we like to do stuff together (TV, events, concerts...) and use twitter to talk about it. Platforms like Miso are pulling some content away from Twitter so hashtags will continue to be important for Twitter. My prediction is brands will look to leverage hashtags better but whether this is accepted by the bulk of users remains to be seen. There have already been some big fails in this area. Thanks for the post.

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