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Scott Duke Kominers

Twitter Begs Users to Target Themselves for Ads

Its new Topics feature probably won't do much to solve what ails the company.

What are you interested in?

What are you interested in?

Photographer: David Paul/Bloomberg

A few weeks ago, Twitter gave users an early holiday present in the form of "Topics," a feature that lets them subscribe to feeds on a given subject. As the company explained it, the feature reduces the need for users to track down accounts to follow; rather, “the conversation will come to you.” Although Topics sound like it might be a boon for users, it’s a barely veiled attempt to improve the platform’s ad targeting. And Topics shares the deficiencies of the rest of Twitter’s model, so it probably won’t work out that well.

As I've written before, Twitter faces a fundamental problem in leveraging its user data. Because the platform encourages brief and superficial interactions, it’s hard for the company to evaluate content quality, much less learn about specific users’ preferences and interests. That’s bad for Twitter's top line, which depends on ad sales. If the company’s doesn’t know what you like, it has trouble inferring which forms of advertising you’re most likely to engage with -- and that means that the opportunity to advertise on the platform isn’t worth that much.