A recent blog post on Twitter's blog Twitter Trends & a Tip talks about the Trending Topics feature of Twitter Search. There's no question about the value of this feature. Twitter Search along with the Trending Topics feature provides a real-time snapshot into what people care about at this very moment in time. This provides a level of insight into current events that was not available anywhere else on the Internet until Twitter came along. That's a very bold statement to make, but it's true.
Another exceptionally powerful tool is Twitscoop. This description is lifted from their about page: "Through an automated algorithm, twitscoop crawls hundreds of tweets every minute and extracts the words which are mentioned more often than usual. The result is displayed in a Tag Cloud, using the following rule: the hotter, the bigger (no joke here)."
Twitalytics could not do what it does without Twitscoop. And using Twitscoop inside TweetDeck is a very handy combination of functionality. One more tool that deserves mention is Twitstat which also offers a tag cloud of hot topics. To be sure, there are other Tweeters out there who are also using the tools described here to report back on the hottest topics such as @twitgeistr (uses Twitstat) and @trendingtopics but @Twitalytics aims to do something much more than just report the hot topics.
Regardless if you're looking at Twitter Search's Trending Topics, or Twitscoop or Twitstat, you're never getting the back story. If the word "earthquake" happens to be hot right now, do you know why? A hot word or phrase is actually of no value to you unless you know what is causing so much interest in that topic.
What all of these other services have in common is that they are powered by automation. Sophisticated algorithms comb through the Twitter stream culling out words and phrases that are occurring at an unusually high rate relative to all other words. Whether this gets reported back as a tag cloud or a simple list, the best that these algorithms can offer are the spiking words, not the understanding to explain the reasons for the spikes.
Twitalytics provides a service whereby a human rapidly performs enough research to quickly determine whether there's any importance to a spiking topic or is it just a statistical anomaly that's of no consequence. Then, upon determining that a hot topic merits the attention of our audience, we put an editorial voice to what is happening and explain why anyone should care.
Our Tweets are written as if our followers are getting these as SMS text messages on mobile devices. The goal of each Tweet is to provide enough information with the allotted 140 characters that we alleviate the need for the reader to have to visit a Web page to become informed. This is very different than how news services operate. They Tweet a news headline that usually provides a teaser but not enough information to offer understanding. This forces the user to visit the accompanying URL to get the complete picture. Twitalytics aims to deliver understanding, not teasers.