Oh, Please: USA Today’s Ridiculous Twitter Experiment

USA Twitter OK, the Twitter media bubble has now reached an apex. Today’s USA Today has a Money section cover story that it touts in this way: “Reporting cover story for USA Today entirely on Twitter.

The piece collects quotes from some important business people, including some CEOs, and purports to be a great and valuable example of how the latest hyped media tool is being used. The reporter wondered whether the executives believed that America is “drifting away from capitalism toward a European-style hybrid of capitalism and socialism” — and used Twitter to ask.

I think Twitter has enormous potential, and it’s already shown great value in many ways. There’s an amazing ecosystem forming around the tool, and Twitter (and, one hopes, its competitors in the space) are helping to redefine how networked communications will work.

But USA Today’s experiment is more than a little ridiculous. Why? Because collecting quotes that run 140 or fewer characters provides nothing but a collection of tiny sound bytes — and the issue of whether America is sliding into a form of capitalism (or whatever this is) that will change the nature of our society deserves better. Even the follow-up questions by the reporter don’t elicit much more than sound-byte replies.

Again, I’m a huge fan of Twitter. But this story in a respectable national newspaper — a story that spends a lot of time wondering why some CEOs didn’t answer the reporter’s tweets — doesn’t advance online collaboration, or journalism.

Twitter to Factor Reputation in Search

CNET: Twitter Search to dive deeper, rank results. Twitter Search will also get a “reputation” ranking system soon, Jayaram told me. When you do a search on a “trending” topic–a topic that is so big it gets its own link in the Twitter.com sidebar–Twitter will take into account the reputation of the person who wrote each tweet and rank the search results in part based on that.

This is important, even if it’s just a promise. Perhaps the key missing link in our ability to sort through the mass of information now cascading over us is how we combine popularity and reputation. The former is easy to measure, but the latter is a hugely complex task.

But when we figure this out — and it’ll take the combined brainpower of technologists and social scientists alike — the result will be one major step toward where we need to be going.