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Twitter and the importance of signal-to-noise ratio

In a bid to return to the spotlight, Twitter has announced plans to begin the continuous emission of 24/7 live video with sports, news and entertainment in a format that Amazon made a significant incursion into when it took over the online broadcast rights of some NFL games.

Twitter hopes to maintain its status as a main dish in the informational diet of its users. While some voices talk about the decline of Twitter due to celebrities sharing nonsense, hate speech and so many small accounts, decreasing the overall quality of the network, others claim that Twitter is, in fact, whatever people want it to be, depending on the accounts they follow.

Ideally, Twitter users with well-configured accounts based on their interests tend to feel that most information arrives in advance and in a format for immediate consumption. Subsequently, they can continue increasing their exposure to such news or topics through other channels and supplement that information with more analysis, but the usual feeling tends to be “I found out first through Twitter and then got more information through other channels”. When you watch the news on television, you do so get more detail and analysis, but everything you see is already familiar.

The fundamental reason for this feature of Twitter lies in its original design, and is simply signal-to-noise ratio: compressing messages to a format of 140 characters (more links, images, video, etc.) allows for rapid monitoring or skimming that provides enormously versatile use. While many users opt for networks such as LinkedIn for their information diet due to its focus on the professional environment and the addition in 2013 of acquisitions such as Pulse, intended to assuage FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out.

My preference when it comes to staying informed on many topics is still Twitter. While my information diet usually starts with a feed reader, currently Feedly, with a good number of sources, the most immediate news usually comes through the “second social layer”, made up of some of the lists that I monitor through Twitter. The reason is none other than the format: Twitter is quick, and can be checked throughout the day. My decision, logically, conditions my use of Twitter: I tend to reserve the accounts of friends for networks like Facebook, and watch for Twitter accounts that usually share information related to my professional interests: a mixture of good content curators with creators and generators of original information.

I consider the signal-to-noise ratio to be one of the most important characteristics of Twitter, and one that, regardless of the economic results and viability of the company, if it did not exist, somebody would have to invent it. Although other networks have tried to copy Twitter’s approach, they have ended up giving rise to noisier formats that are distracting or less efficient, at least in my experience. If Twitter adds video in 24/7 format and attempts to become a real-time video information channel, it should make sure that what it provides is sufficiently important for those who like their signal-to-noise ratio, or risk being seen as one more network within a cluster of indistinguishable communication channels.

(En español, aquí)

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School, blogger at and Senior Contributor at Forbes

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