What do Twitter’s top trends of 2009 tell us?

There are some useful lessons to learn from Twitter’s round-up of the top trending terms in people’s tweets during 2009:

Twitter trends for 2009

What are the lessons to learn from these trends?

First, although Twitter is an international social network, the top trends are dominated by the English language and by American issues and stories in particular. The UK gets a look in here and there, helped by the UK being one of the hotspots for Twitter usage, a common language, many shared interested between the two countries – and the time zone difference which means that people are often using Twitter in the UK whilst American sleeps. That gives a UK trend more of a chance of getting traction than a trend started in another country at the same time as most of America is awake.

Second, though Twitter can break and spread stories, there’s very little in the top trends that you wouldn’t have got, and got in volume and in detail, from other sources of information. #iranelection highlights that there are some exceptions to this, but you hardly need Twitter to find out about Star Trek, swine flu or Susan Boyle.

Third, a lot of the discussion is (unsurprisingly) about breaking news and trends rather than continuing matters, even if they are more important. Take a look at the technology trends. Neither Snow Leopard or Google Wave were the most important technologies in use during 2009, but news about them got chatter going. There’s a lesson there about the sort of information which spreads well on Twitter.

Finally, there are some trends and patterns of behaviour that have evolved specific to the medium, as with habits such as #musicmonday, the top hashtag trend. Understanding those often opens up new possibilities for using Twitter which are more than simply applying other communications ideas to a different medium.

The overall picture from the trends is that Twitter has its own characteristics when it comes to what sorts of information spreads, when and to whom. The top trends gives an insight into this, and it’s understanding those factors which is often the difference between finding Twitter a helpful tool and annoying irrelevance.

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