Sunday, January 18, 2009

If you're unfollowed on Twitter, you probably shouldn't take it personally!

First, it's been 2 months since my last blog entry: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!* I felt like I had to have something worthwhile to say or something I felt strong about and lately, I've been reading more and writing less.

Second, this post is about Twitter. Since you're reading this, I'm 99.9% certain that you got here through my Twitter bio. If not, well, welcome & I hope you'll get something out of this blog entry anyway.

I'm writing this morning because I am feeling disillusioned. I'm a heavy user of Twitter and thought I "got" it. You post updates & share links, you start following people who post interesting things or who are friends of your friends, some of them follow you back, some don't. No big deal.

There are those people who intentionally keep their circle of conversation small & intimate and don't actively seek to make it larger. But most people who use Twitter see a slow but steady growth in followers as the number of individuals who use the network increases over time.

Early on, I learned about spammers, those annoying people & bots that are trying to get you to buy things from them. They mass follow people, hoping you follow them back and they can then deluge you with pitches for their products or services. They really are no problem unless you automatically follow users back. If you add followers one by one, well, you can ignore them & never get their messages so I didn't see the harm in their presence.

Over the summer & fall, however, many users got annoyed at spammers so the Twitter powers that be started enforcing Following limits to discourage spammers from following tens of thousands of people. There is now a 2,000 person following limit and, as I've been told, over 2K, you can only add up to 110% of the number who follow, for example, if you had 10,000 followers you could be following up to 11,000 people.

I didn't pay much attention to all of this because while my account has grown faster than I expected, its growth has been fairly organic. I keep finding interesting people to follow and, somehow, people find me. I thought this is how most users on Twitter approached their participation on this social network. Oh, but I so naive!

I recently was clued in that there were users with thousands, no tens of thousands of followers who've only been on Twitter for a couple of months. What's up? Do they have special wisdom & insight? Stock tips? A hotline to tech heaven? The address book of The_Real_Shaq? Reading over the content of what they've contributed to the larger conversation on the network, it's been baffling to me. Who are these people & why are they so popular?

Well, apparently, not only spammers but real, live, flesh & blood users are mass following fellow Twitterers, apparently randomly, often taking names from the public timeline and unfollowing users if they don't automatically follow them back so that they stay under the 110% limit.

This seems so purposeless--why just collect random followers?--that it never occurred to me that it would be to any one's advantage to do this. It was growing your connection purely for the sake of growth.

Apparently this is quite common behavior, people expending what I can only imagine is a great deal of time & energy to get on the "top" users lists not based on the value or entertainment they provide to others but instead based on their strategy of accumulating a lot of followers in a very short period of time.

So why do I feel moved to write about this? This behavior doesn't violate any rules, doesn't hurt anyone and only affects the status lists of who are the most followed people on Twitter. Most people might refer to "A-list celebrities" but they actually have very little day-to-day contact with this elite circle of users. So who cares who's on or off of these lists?

Well, I frequently see Twitterers posting a plaintive message about why something they said caused them to lose a follower or two. Most likely though, it was nothing you said, it was just someone unfollowing you because you didn't follow them back within 24 hours. They weren't after actually connecting with you but gaining a few new people to add to their follower lists. Truthfully, that is no real loss to you!

So, to put a twist on the words of George Costanza, "It's not you, it's them. It's really, REALLY them!"

*Latin: My fault, my own fault, my most grievous fault.