Poptip Rethinks Real-Time Twitter Polling

A question posed to Twitter can receive thousands of responses in moments. Poptip explains how a redesign gets to the bottom of that data.

As humans, we simply can’t process the entirety of Twitter. Luckily, that’s not generally an issue, since most of us follow a few hundred accounts and have that many followers. But what about the super accounts? What about those who have 100,000 or 1,000,000 people casually following their updates?


Poptip is a service that turns any Twitter account into a power polling machine. Any user can sign up, but for a mere mortal to post a question via Poptip would be like driving a Lamborghini in a 20-mile-per hour street; you’d never see what the engine was capable of. Instead, its dashboard is designed for larger clients, companies like Pepsi and ESPN, who may see hundreds of tweets come in per minute. At the same time, all polling data is publicly viewable to involve the audience.

In other words, Poptip sits in a challenging niche. They provide real-time poll results, so their value is speed and they need to update the page constantly. Simultaneously, how fast is too fast? When does information become too much information? And how will random people on Twitter understand what’s going on? “We wanted to make it more personal,” founder Kelsey Falter explains. “We wanted to make the info more digestible for consumers, so they wouldn’t only see that thousands of people were responding, but they wouldn’t be overwhelmed by it.”

So Poptip redesigned with a few tricks to pre-chew information without attenuating it to absurdity. The most noticeable update is a dynamically generated mosaic of influential responders. Algorithms analyze information like a user’s follower count and the length of their response, then place these users in a featured grid. Additionally, the best current response–also judged by software–becomes a highlighted tweet. “We’re highlighting those people’s voices as some of the people to listen to,” Falter says. “We’re [also] highlighting tweets. That’s not dependent on the number of followers they have.”

Even still, when Poptip gave me a five-minute simulation of a busy account, the page isn’t some finished, curated museum of twitter avatars. Instead, it absolutely whirs. A counter ticks, a bar graph reshapes itself constantly, and an unedited stream of tweets flies in faster than I can read them. In fact, Poptip doesn’t just update my browser quickly; it updates at my browser’s absolute maximum, streaming data within 40ms pockets.

“One reason we have a commitment to real time is that life is moving in real time. When a news story breaks, the amount of people who have an opinion and have a platform to voice their opinion is at global scale,” Falter says. She later adds, “Momentum to respond is exponentially increased when you’re looking at something in real time.”

Truth be told, I’m overwhelmed by the flood of content . . . but not too overwhelmed. It’s a fascinating experience, to see an instantly calculated big picture while simultaneously witnessing the rapid-fire responses appearing faster than I can read them all. Thankfully, by hovering over or scrolling through any panel, it freezes. I can click on any single tweet to follow its trail. And when I’m finished, I can unpause and carry on.


Eventually, the demo finishes. The tweets stop coming in. Everything goes stagnant, and I can read the poll results. Immediately, I miss Poptip’s nuanced information overload, their strange alchemy of feeding me too much and just enough at the same time. I get how real time, for however harder it may be for me to process, is part of the story that, once gone, is gone forever. Whatever consensus that is now reflects attitudes that weren’t always in this exact proportion. (I get the same feeling analyzing traffic in Chartbeat vs. Google Analytics, to a lesser extent.)

Poptip is already in its 50th design iteration since launch, and at this rate, it may go through another 50 in no time at all. I’m not sure they’ve found the pangea interface of real-time Twitter polling just yet, but I’m sure glad that they aren’t neutering the rush for my pea-brain before they do.

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[Image: Pen via Shutterstock]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.