How Twitter’s new ‘top news’ search results will help (and hurt) publishers

Twitter is taking its first step to curate the news that flows across its network, quietly rolling out a “top news” section in its search results.

When people rush to Twitter to search for news keywords (say, “Osama bin Laden” or “Oscars”), they will see not only tweets containing those terms, but also a headline, teaser, thumbnail image and direct link for a popular news story on the subject.

The feature is being tested with some users. I don’t have access to it yet, but GigaOm writer Colleen Taylor does, and she broke the story and posted screenshots.

GigaOm’s Colleen Taylor captured an early image of how Twitter’s new “top news” feature works. This screenshot shows a Yahoo story featured at the top of the search results, with a headline, image and blurb.

This feature is significant for a couple reasons. One is that (some) news publishers will see more referral traffic from Twitter thanks to this change. It appears that Twitter shows only one “top story” for any search result, so the publisher who wins that spot for a given story will win big, while others will be shut out.

Obviously this raises some questions about how Twitter chooses which story to feature. Is it based only upon the number or links or retweets of the story on Twitter? Is any source eligible, or is there a list of preferred mainstream websites? (I will update this post if I hear back from Twitter in response to these questions.)

With this change, Twitter also moves from being a passive conduit for messages toward actively curating Web content based on tweets. Many third-party services already attempt to analyze Twitter data to find trending news stories, but this is the first time Twitter is doing so itself.

Twitter is simultaneously testing a similar “top people” results section that shows a popular Twitter user matching some search results. This may largely serve celebrities, but journalists may also benefit if, for example, a Twitter search for “Kristof” highlights Nicholas Kristof’s profile and makes it easier for people to follow.

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  • Gavin Adamson

    It was inevitable, I guess. If you’re sanguine about the possibilities citizen journalism this is disappointing because this re-establishes a hierarchy that had been totally squashed otherwise. I’m talking about some really interesting’s on mental health for example, that do a beautiful job of giving voices to people that otherwise don’t have them. These mini titles were already fighting against volume, now they’re under the shadow of what will be traditional news coverage. That’s my first impression.