The trending topics feature is a nice idea on paper, but the delivery mechanism means it is actually pretty useless. Being frank, I rarely give it more than a casual glance. Partly this is because I only occasionally use Twitter.com (favouring clients such as Seesmic Desktop), but even when I do it’s really of little interest because the content is generally vague or redundant. And in those few instances when I want to find out more, I usually have to leave Twitter to do so (or wade through a ton of spam).

Two relatively simple (even obvious) adjustments that could be made to improve this feature:

1. Make It Relevant

Providing me with the ten most popular topics on Twitter is almost completely useless. Sure, it allows me to have rough idea of what’s being discussed on the network, but most of the time these subjects aren’t something that is necessarily interesting to me. It would be far better if I could view the top ten trending topics within my network, or any other chosen demographic (gender, age, location, etc), or even within a selected group of users. (It would also be nice to be able to filter out certain things.) And let me do this over the period of time (or number of tweets) that I choose. By making the trending topics relevant, I could pinpoint the subjects that matter, that I cared about, and react accordingly. And so could you.

2. Add A Mouseover

I’d love to see a simple mouseover effect that would let me instantly see what each trending topic was about. I can do this currently by visiting a site such as What The Hashtag? but that means leaving Twitter (which means this is broken). Twitter should either leverage the services of an external service like WTH or develop their own definition process. Just scroll your mouse pointer over a trending topic and the definition/reason pops up on the screen. Yes, I can click on a topic and try and determine what is about by reading the thousands of tweets, but this typically means wading through hundreds of spam messages and questions such as, “Why is [insert trending topic] a trending topic?” And if the trending word is broad enough (Apple, say), you’ll be hard-pressed to find the reason at all.

Websites such as Twitscoop and Tweetmeme not only do a better job of informing us what is popular on Twitter, but allow us to shape the data, too. Twitter has a slightly baffling history of coming up with great ideas (either developed in-house or in-stream) that are then modified and improved by somebody else. The madness has to stop. If you’re going to put trending topics on every page, why not do it right?