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Quantity versus quality in the Twitterverse

Much was made of celebrity Ashton Kutcher eclipsing the U.S. President in the number of followers on the social networking site Twitter. Kutcher hit one million followers before Obama – surely a sign of the Apocalypse for a society focused more on style than substance. But a new study based out of Northwestern University in Illinois may get the Twittersphere spinning on its proper axis again: quantity doesn’t equal quality when it comes to influence.

The Telegraph UK reports the scientists developed a specialized algorithm designed to rank the most influential tweeters on the trending topics of the day. Lead researcher Professor Alok Choudhary was quoted by the paper as saying, “a lot of people think that just because you tweet a lot means you may have influence or you are important. But there are a lot of junk tweets.”

Despite fears the Twitterverse would trust celebrities over actual authority figures, the algorithm reveals the 145 million users retweet the content of authority figures over figures in popular culture. The site Pulse of the Tweeters shows that when Southwest Airlines made a $1.4-billion US play to purchase AirTran, the Twitter account of Conde Naste Traveler ranked as the top authority on the subject with 71,949 followers. MarketWatch -- with almost twice as many followers at 124,858 -- was the number two authority.

Apparently this suggests Kutcher’s recent tweet, “Football, the gift that just keeps on giving. GO BEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” isn’t going to make a whit of difference to the success of the club.

Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher is not. The Canadian teen heartthrob and his followers consume a whopping 3 percent of Twitter’s entire network, according to a tweet from company insider Dustin Curtis. The singer has more than 5.4 million followers, and frequently responds to tweets sent to his @justinbieber account.

Yours truly is hoping @hainsworthtv breaks a measly 200 followers by the end of the month.

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