Twitter has a top-10 list available at all times. It’s the company's list of trending hashtags, and it’s borderline useless if you’ve graduated from your tween years. Between throwback Thursdays, Justin Bieber clones, MTV shows, and gems like #obamasgreatbigboner, you may squint through to the biggest global news story of the day. But it’s no guarantee.
Latest.is is a new alternative. By web project studio Kinda like a big deal's Per Stenius and Oskar Sundberg, it’s a top 10 of what’s linked on Twitter at any moment—a means to glance at a social network with hundreds of millions of people inside and pull out the best content they're talking about. So how does Latest.is do it?
"Well, we believe that the answer is a combination of curation and algorithms. And that is exactly what this is. We curated a list of the people we found were really good at posting things we liked and usually were pretty quick at doing so as well," Stenius tells Co.Design. "Once we have that list of ‘interesting’ Twitter accounts, everything else is completely automated. Our site automatically indexes every link they tweet and compiles a real-time updated top-10 list of the most tweeted links right now."
In other words, Latest.is pulls the most popular tweets from a completely anonymous, ~1,000 person creative incrowd of Stenius and Sundberg’s devising (all they would divulge was that their list includes a few agencies, but it's mostly individuals). That setup may sound elitist, but the duo claimed to build the tool for themselves. The approach also isn’t different from how any media curation service works. Sites like Slashdot, in which a few editors pulled must-read stories of the day, became juggernauts through mere "we spotted this in our scopes, and it’s interesting" curation, which is the same way Digg, another link curation site (albeit with a bit more of a social voting component) works today. So long as the curators think like you, it’s proven effective.
What’s a bit odd, though, is that the anonymous tastemakers receive no citation for their own popular tweets. In fact, actual tweets are never seen within the interface—Latest.is is simply a list of the links people have tweeted about— so clicking any headline circumvents its source tweet(s) and heads straight to a story. That means personalities—which drive the Twitter experience as we know it—melt away into 10 understated headlines on Latest.is. The approach could be seen as a bit anti-Internet, as crediting has driven everything from the creation of Google, which started as an academic citation service, to the modern world of blogs, and even Twitter.
But honestly? It’s actually refreshing to read a story without additional commentary steering your perspective (just like the old days!). In this way, Latest.is isn’t a portrait of someone’s ego or politics. It’s a peek into the packets of information passed around the hivemind. It’s not about what people are saying, but what they’re talking about.