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An overdue fix is needed to make Twitter more useful for investors

Sunday, 15-February-2015

Twitter's platform naturally lends itself to be a great place for investors, which is why so many of us are already here.  While I have never seen an exact statistic that shows how discussions about stocks contribute to the site's overall usage, you can bet that as a category it punches well above its weight.  This phenomenon is why the development team at Twitter would be crazy not to add every feature possible to both hold on to those investment-minded users, and attract any remaining holdouts.  In other words, ensure that the site is always THE destination for financial information.  They realize this, of course, and so it was with much fanfare in July of 2012 that Twitter rolled out a unique feature with the aim of allowing investors to recognize and search for tweets about stocks directly on the site.  Here was their big announcement about it back then:

There is only one catch with this statement: it isn't exactly true.  It wasn't true back then, and it still isn't true now over two years later.


What they are referring to is the cashtag.  "Cashtag" is the now universal term for putting a "$" symbol in front of a three or four letter stock ticker.  It is meant to provide an easy means of discussing and cataloguing tweets about stocks.  While it is nice that they added a feature to highlight tickers, it is the cataloging part that is really important because that helps turn Twitter from simply being a real-time information service to one that is more robust and sticky.


The reason the above statement isn't exactly true is because when you click on a ticker, or when you include a cashtag in Twitter's basic search box, you are often delivered a list of tweets that has absolutely nothing to do with the stock you are searching for.  This is especially the case for companies whose tickers mimic commonly used words.  What results is messy and doesn't represent the brand very well.


Take bluebird bio (Nasdaq: BLUE), for example.  If you search for "$BLUE" in Twitter's search feature, you are likely to be inundated with tweets about a boy band in the UK whose name is BLUE.  I kid you not.  Here's a screenshot of one recent search result.  

As you can see, none of those tweets actually contain the "$BLUE" cashtag or has anything to do with stocks.  


This search issue is not just a problem with bluebird bio either.  Ask any investor on Twitter, and he or she will be able to name at least a handful of tickers that cause the same frustration.  Trust me, you don't even want to know some of the things that come up when you search for Isis Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ISIS).  


A problem with an obvious solution


The disappointing thing about this problem is that there seems to be an easy fix.  I am no expert programmer, but you would think Twitter is sophisticated enough to be able to do for the cashtag what they currently do for the hashtag (the "#" symbol in front of any word or phrase).  When you do a search using a hashtag, like #BLUE for example, you will not be delivered any of the extra nonsense.  Only tweets with the exact #BLUE iteration will come up.  


Unfortunately, it is clear that Twitter has only gone halfway with the "$" symbol.  Yes, you can click on it, but what good is that if the resulting search is irrelevant?  Twitter needs to go all the way with this feature because the cataloguing part is very important to investors.  I have no doubt this issue has been raised to Twitter management many times in the past, and honestly do not know what is taking them so long to fix it.  The cashtag is now prevalent enough that partitioning it off for this purpose should be a generally accepted principle.


Some people will argue that you can already do exotic advanced searches to filter out all of the nonsense, but I would counter by saying users shouldn't have to go that far.  The platform's complexity is one reason why many people avoid it.  Twitter's basic search tool should be easy to use, and function exactly as advertised when they rolled this investing idea out to begin with.  Also, while it is true that some third party applications like TweetDeck (which Twitter owns) and Tweetbot do a good job of filtering, this just reinforces the notion that Twitter's basic interface can and should be able to do the same.


A good example of Twitter not getting things done over the last few years


While this cashtag search issue might seem like a small thing, consider it a symptom of a larger, and more important problem.  Few would say that Twitter has been managed perfectly these last few years, and a lack of material improvements to the site has been a reflection of that.  It is no wonder they are facing a user growth problem.  To be fair, those of us who are already on the site would still call it excellent in its basic state, but Twitter can also be made much better and more user-friendly with improvements.  

That goes for the investing category too.  Many smart investors are already on Twitter, but the site still has a way to go to attract others.  There are various reasons for that, but such a messy and unprofessional search function certainly can't be helping.  Fixing it is a no-brainer.  Doing so would immediately make Twitter more useful for the investors who are already here, and more approachable for the ones who aren't.  I can't imagine why such an obvious improvement has lingered this long.

In the off chance that someone at Twitter HQ is listening: this overdue fix would make Twitter so much more useful for investors, let's get it done please.

Who Am I?
Brad Loncar

I'm an individual investor from Kansas City.  My focus is on biotech stocks, but I enjoy investing in all industries. I'm an old-school, buy and hold investor who believes the best way to outperform and grow capital is to own innovative companies with good management teams over the long-term. more>>

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