'Embrace the unexpected' says Twitter's Chief Scientist

February 26, 2009

Abdur Chowdhury has spent the past 15 years researching and building search engines. Although he has given many talks on computer science or research, he chose to talk about the unexpected at the 2009 IST Graduate Symposium

Chowdhury, chief scientist at Twitter, told a packed house at the event that preparing for the unexpected and sharing their ideas with others can help them in their future scholarly and professional endeavors.

"Be open about what you’re working on," he said. "Talking with others about it can help you come up with solutions you never would have thought of."

Chowdhury found that out firsthand when trying to decide whether to buy or lease servers to host Twitter; he was able to come up with a solution only after talking with his colleagues at the company.

Twitter is a micro-blogging service that allows users to stay in constant communication with each other through 140-character messages sent through SMS.

Chowdhury's next piece of advice was to always be looking for the unexpected. He observed the unexpected when he saw a sharp increase in the bounce rate off the Twitter Web site, eventually finding that users were receiving malware links from a social networking site.

Chowdhury said Twitter is able to capture the unexpected by keeping a log of conversations that occur around major events. Examples of this include a Los Angeles earthquake and last November’s terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

"It scans the data and tells users about the unexpected as illustrated by the tweets during the last Thanksgiving break," he said. "The tweets from that day went from ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ and ‘I’m so full’ to “OMG Mumbai’."

By embracing the unexpected data, Chowdhury said Twitter was able to build a trend tool to identify what people are talking about.

Chowdhury co-founded Summize.com, which was acquired by Twitter in 2008. He previously served as chief architect for search at AOL.

Last Updated April 29, 2009