Study finds most Twitter posts 'Pointless Babble'

By Helen A.S. Popkin
|  Friday, Aug 14, 2009  |  Updated 5:00 PM CDT
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NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 11: In this photo illustration the Twitter website is displayed on a mobile phone at a NRL match on July 11, 2009 in Newcastle, Australia. The micro-blogging phenomenon sees users post text 'tweets' of upto 140 characters in response to the question 'What are you doing?'. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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This just in: 40.55 percent of Twitter tweets are “Pointless Babble.”

This stop-the-presses study comes fresh from Pear Analytics, a data provider that recently examined 2,000 tweets over a two-week period, breaking them down into six categories: News, Spam, Self-Promotion, Conversational, Pass-Along Value, and of course, the big winner (and name of my new spoken-word MP3 available soon on Audible.com), “Pointless Babble.”

I’m calling “Shenanigans” on this white paper, but not for the obvious reasons … which are myriad. Sure, Pear Analytics has the numbers to back up this seemingly obvious observation. Yet a cursory scan of the accompanying white paper suggests that this Twitter proclamation is just as subjective as Morgan Stanley’s recent “study” revealing that teens aren’t using Twitter — a study compiled by a 15-year-old intern polling his circle of friends.

What I’m saying here is, both the info babble and teen-free Twitter info are fairly obvious observations. But where is the science? What is the criterion? As any eBay veteran knows, one dude’s broken Oscar Goldman action figure with exploding briefcase accessory (missing) is another loser’s childhood dream (almost) fulfilled.

When it comes to Pear Analytics' premise of criteria, I disagree. Take for example, the seemingly random (and possibly psychotic) babble cited by Valleywag on this same topic, in a post titled “Psychos Are the Most Interesting Things on Twitter.”

Valleywag points to the anonymous "Bloggess;" a Houston Chronicle columnist flummoxed by William Shatner blocking her Twitter account, following a series of awesome posts such as, “Dear @WilliamShatner: I need you to come to my house to save my marriage. No sex involved.” And later, “Dear @WilliamShatner. Please ignore my last several tweets. I’m a little drunk. And dangerously close to paying too much for travel.

See? Random and/or pointless babble can be funny as all heck and tarnation, and that’s hardly “pointless.” Meanwhile, self-promotion can actually come wrapped in value-added information.

Take, for example this tweet that popped up in my own personal feed earlier this week, from @denverartsygal “2 Simple Diet Rules To Obey. Mother of 2 Loses 43 lbs in 30 Days Following 2 Simple Diet Rules.”

OK, maybe not that one. But check this out, a tweet FROM a news agency, linking to itself (Promotion) with information of “Pass-Along Value”: from @KTVLAdopt a lap-sized blue heeler: Pongo is one of the best of a litter of rescued animals from Califo. http://bit.ly/xypwN #news [VIDEO]

(Well, of “Pass-Along Value” if you know someone in the market for a lap-sized blue heeler named Pongo. And after this video, who wouldn’t be?!)

In all fairness to Pear Analytics, quite a few Twitter posts straddle categories, but there are outstanding examples of 100 percent pure crap. Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) and John Mayer (@johncmayer), for example. Each and every one of their tweets is Pointless Babble, and that’s got to be at least 40 percent of Twitter traffic.

But seriously, kids. These Pears Analytics Twitter stats amount to a pretty much spot-on illustration of Sturgeon's Law, an adage by science fiction author Theodore Surgeon that sagely observes, “99 percent of everything is crap.”

What? Do we expect self-published content to be different than, for instance, conversation? Just eyeballing it, one might conjecture that roughly 15 percent of the news is pointless babble — whether about the true identity of Michael Jackson’s baby mamas or daddies, or the drama surrounding the town-hall meetings on health care (rather than the truth of what's being debated).

When it comes to brass tacks, no doubt way more than 40.55 percent of the crap that comes out of our own mouths is useless babble and/or self-aggrandizement or lies. But that’s just me. And like a lot of the population, I ain’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.

So I asked Daniel Harrison, a Web Analyst/Epidemiologist who freelances for msnbc.com, and is, for all intents and purposes, smarter than me. (And by “smarter,” I mean “British.”)

“I think this Pear group needs to give us a point of comparison,” Harrison blathered and harrumphed.  “What were we hoping for? Gnomic statements about life, the universe and everything? Show me a medium that shoe-horns the usual nincompoopery to come out of people's word-holes into that mold and I'll invest!”

I'm sure there's lots of interesting stuff to be said about how we tweet, but telling us that most people say dumb crap most of the time isn't that remarkable. In a sufficiently large population, 49 percent of everyone is below average, after all.

Follow Helen A.S. Popkin's Pointless Babble on Twitter or participate in the unabridged version on on Facebook.

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