How Twitter rules the ‘Interesting’ Market

Part I: How It Works

Boring is a death sentence. From personal training, to education, and even retaining talent, if something is boring we are out. Even this newsletter. If it’s boring, you’re out.

Why is that?

It’s because we are learning machines. We glance over ‘being interested’ if it takes too little or too much mental horsepower. It’s why we love story so much. A story evolves and captures our attention. We need to learn how the story ends. If we learn something easy, something that requires no sequence of knowledge, no string of story, then we are on to the next thing.

In order for something to be interesting it needs to have a combination, in the right amounts, of:

  1. Novelty – it must be unexpected

  2. Complexity – it must require cognitive effort

Zooming in, this little guy sees something new and complex

Zooming in, this little guy sees something new and complex

It must be learnable, but just beyond our reach. If something is not learnable, if it is not seemingly reaching out to us to explain it, then it is not interesting. (The learning muscle plays a lot right here – the greater the ability to learn, the more interested we will be. This comes by learning. Learning is a flywheel.)

Interest motivates learning about something new and complex; once people understand the thing, it is not interesting anymore. The new knowledge, in turn, enables more things to be interesting. … In a sense, interest is self-propelling: It motivates people to learn, thereby giving them the knowledge needed to be interested.

So how do we make something interesting? It’s a trait that can be held by anything or anyone. This trait can be injected. I call it the ‘jab-jab-hook’ method. It applies to so many things. It’s another application of pareto principle combined with classical response. Here’s how it works.

A boxer enters the ring, ready to rumble. The fight starts. Fighter 1 does nothing but jab, always in threes: jab-jab-jab. He moves a little. Jab-jab-jab. Moves some more. For one whole round this continues. The other fighter thinks he has it all figured out.

Then round 2 starts.

The fighters come out. Jab-jab-jab. The other fighter has no problem blocking them, keeping his hands up. Jab-jab-jab.

Time slows down for our jabbing boxer. Jab. Jab. (he sees those hands, hanging like slow-motion curtains in front of the other fighter). Right hook. And it connects.

Fight over.

Now, when a boxer throws jabs all day it’s boring until he throws that unexpected hook that sends his opponent to the other side of the ring. That hook wouldn’t be interesting without those jabs. A boxer that throws all hooks is no boxer, and never earns his day in the ring. It’s the right combination of mostly jabs and a few hooks.

The same goes for interesting. If you’re always throwing hooks nobody will appreciate them. Mix it up, move around, throw some jabs, and be a little interesting about it.

Everyone has hooks, and there are hooks everywhere. Our job is to find them and share them. Even boring people have a hook or two. Something very interesting about them waiting to be discovered, they just don’t know how to get it out to the world yet.

As humans we are prone to make quick fixes. It’s a feature, not a bug. We say “Just get to the hooks!” to make something interesting. That’s not how it works. Without the psychological conditioning of the jabs, the hook will not connect. If we talk to someone for 10 seconds and determine “not interesting” then we are doing them, and ourselves, a disservice. (We do this with tweets all the time)

Most writing, and most things, are simple minutiae strung together to make more complex ideas and things. It’s how it’s all put together that becomes interesting. When we look at something big that we don’t quite understand, it fascinates us a little. Water is a good example. A bottle of water is boring, but the ocean is vast and unknowable: interesting.

Basketball is putting a ball in a ring. Boxing is playing aggressive tag with one other person. A bottle of water. A kid who likes chess. It’s all boring until you zoom in or zoom out and start seeing the hooks.

The universe is interesting to us because we do not understand it (complex) and do not yet know it (novelty).

People are interesting for the same exact reason.

Marriages, relationships, and people we bump into on the internet. This is where twitter comes into play.

Part II: Twitter, Interestingness, Circles, and The Algorithm

Twitter is the best place for discovery of interestingness. Here’s what I mean: social media combines learning, exploration, entertainment, and status. Complexity and novelty. The cool thing is, each user controls their levels of incoming complexity and novelty. This seems trivial at first until we look at just how people are exploring. Twitter is the best place to connect, find a tribe, and belong. (There’s many ‘ifs’ there, but we’ll explore that some other time). The mechanism is simple: the more interaction a tweet gets, the more the algorithm pushes that tweet in front of other people. It is an ‘interestingness machine’ that leverages the human elements that are already there. We are quickly shown high-performing tweets from possible connections. The algorithm saying “Is THIS your tribe?”

I am amazed at how twitter works, even with all the faults and slowness to innovate. I, we, are able to log on, find our tribe, and stake our place there. It’s called a ‘timeline’ or ‘feed’ but we should ask ‘of what’? What are we feeding on? It’s interestingness. That’s the common denominator. Anyone can bring their own interestingness into the conversation, and based on the quality, can gain their own following. It’s a pretty cool way to work. It’s why we see newer accounts quickly reaching 20k, 100k, even 1m followers within a few months or a year. Those accounts have figured out what is widely regarded as interesting: the right amounts of complex and new.

My next write-up will cover Twitter in-depth along with my thoughts on Twitter as an investment. Click here to sign up for The Inner Circle to receive all in-depth analyses (12 per year).


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