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Three Follow-up Thoughts on My Twitter Post

May 13, 2009

Thought #1

When you post about Twitter, it sure does generate a whole lot of blog traffic.  I tripled my average daily readership for the past three days.  Apparently, Twitter is a hot topic at the moment… ; )

Thought #2

I came across a remarkable commonality yesterday that I had to share.  In my Truth About Twitter post, I quoted a line in an editorial by the Saturday Review, a British paper published in 1877.  The editorial was written to dismiss and trivialize the telephone.  Here is the quote again:

“The telephone is little better than a toy, it amazes the ignorant people for the moment, but it is inferior to the well-established system of air-tubes.”

Yesterday, I followed a Twitter link to an article in the Guardian, a contemporary British newspaper, that was written by Seth Finkelstein.  The title of the article is “Twitter is a sucker’s game that only serves the needs of a tiny elite.”  I’m not going to bother refuting any of his points, though I will admit that in and among his smug, “I’m smarter than you” attitude, he does raise a couple of interesting thoughts.  So no refutation, but I am going to share a quote:

Twitter is low-level celebrity for the chattering class.

Is it just me or is that eerily similar to the quote about the telephone?  The same condescending attitude, the same dismissal as something for the ignorant, the same disregard as something beneath the notice of “serious” people.  Maybe there is something more to this parallel between the telephone and Twitter.  Or maybe it’s the advent of new communication paradigms in general.  It makes me wonder what intelligent people said when the web and email were introduced.  Probably similar crap I guess.  Then again, maybe British folks just hate technology… ; )  (joking of course).

Thought #3

I got this really interesting Tweet today from @sacha1968:

“I so disagree with it [Twitter’s new policy of hiding replies to people you don’t follow], but hey I’m new to this, and wonder if you actually have time for us newbies anyway?”

I tried to reply to him but apparently Twitter has decided that noon on a Wednesday is a good time for maintenance.  Really?  I mean really?  Ok, moving on… So what caught my attention, aside from what might be construed as a snarky attitude at the end there, was this question of the Twitter elite and the Twitter newbie.  Seth raised it in his piece too, essentially suggesting that there are Twitter overlords who, by virtual of their vast followings, wield disproportionate power over newbies.  I’m wondering what you think about this.

When I look at the number of folks who are on Twitter and the number who aren’t, I’m of the opinion that there are millions upon millions of really interesting and insightful people who have yet to join.  I’m not talking about celebrities (though, for the record, virtually all of the Gary Busey accounts (whether real or fake) are an absolute riot), I’m talking about real people who have meaningful ideas to add and contribute, who have interesting perspectives, who have deep specialized knowledge in this or that…   At this point in Twitter’s growth, there are many many more of these people outside the system than in.

So my answer to Sacha’s question?  “Yes, I do have time for newbies.  The only thing you are  newbie in, I assume, is Twitter.  My guess is you have a life and experiences and knowledge in the real world, and my hope is that it’s these things that you hope to share now that you have joined Twitter.  I expect to that you want the same from me since you followed me.  So the fact that you are new to Twitter and have less than a handful of followers doesn’t mean much to me.  What matters more is whether we post about the same subjects and whether your tagline suggests similar interests.  If there seem to be some areas of shared interest, then I will follow you.  And if not, I won’t.  It would be the height of hubris to assume that all the best people are already on Twitter or that I am somehow a special class of Twitter user based on my Follower number.  And it would be the height of stupidity to ignore possible connections and insights solely because someone is slightly later adopter than me.”

That’s my answer.  What’s your take?  Do you decide to follow based on the number of followers someone already has?  Is it based on avatar?  Tagline?  Hair color?  (Janet, that one’s for you… ; )

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 13, 2009 4:27 pm

    At first, I tried to make a conscious decision whether or not to follow someone and I was getting behind and missing out on some good information. Michael Long (@theredrecruiter) taught me to automatically follow anyone who follows me. I then use Tweetdeck to have a “special” column of my fave Twitter friends. So, once I see someone in my “all” column that has interesting tweets, I move them to my fave group. About once a week, I unfollow any spammers. It seems to be working well. I’m growing my network and Tweetdeck gives me the tool to really keep up with it.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 13, 2009 9:22 pm

      Trish, it’s interesting to compare your reply with Harold’s. Both of you are savvy web users and yet you are each pursuing different strategies than me. You’re “all in,” he’s very selective, and I’m somewhere in the middle. To me, this is the power of Twitter – personalizing strategies to match personal objectives and usage patterns. In some ways, your two replies are all that needs to be said: there is no “right” strategy; any strategy that works for you is the “right” strategy.

  2. May 13, 2009 6:59 pm

    Hi, I’m actually American. I just write for _The Guardian_ (wonders of technology, which I absolutely love – it’s exploitative marketers and evangelists who I dislike so much).

    Regarding the point, well, Carl Sagan once said:

    “But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

    For every profound technological advance, you can quote-mine to find someone who criticized it. But that doesn’t imply that every fad and hot trend that is criticized, is necessarily a profound technological advance.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 13, 2009 8:54 pm

      Hey Seth,

      Thanks for the reply and for the clarification. I guess in today’s world, I shouldn’t make assumptions about employees living or working where employers live or work. My bad. Hopefully, they are paying you in Euros… ; )

      Great quote by Mr. Sagan – one of my all time favorites. I grew up watching Cosmos on PBS and it forever sparked in me a real love and wonder of science and the world at large.

      As I suggested, perhaps a bit obliquely, I did find some of your comments interesting and rather insightful, particularly the duality of blogging as diary/chat and journalism. Interestingly though I see this as kind of strength on Twitter – the “diary” part is how I begin to forge connections and establish trust and maybe some sense (admittedly not a great one) of who someone is and where they are coming from. At least for me, this provides some weight and context to the journalism part. It would be interesting to see if there are correlations between “degree of trust or connectedness” and the propensity to retweet. In my case, I think there is.

      I’ve always thought of the the journalism vs diary duality as a question of signal to noise. Finding the right balance in both your own public “face” and in the people you choose to follow is a tricky thing on Twitter, but part of what makes it very personal. As my buddy Jim Storer (@jimstorer) once said: “one person’s signal is another’s noise and vice versa.” And of course, it also depends on the relationship – sometimes the noise and diary part is how we draw closer together to form weak ties from potential ones, and strong ties from weak ones.

      For me personally, the right mix is both in who I follow is like 80/20 signal to noise. More noise than that and I find a person’s tweets distracting or frankly, not all that valuable – “the chattering class” as you put. But I also don’t like “all signal all the time” because then it just feels like reading a web page or a “journalist” sort of blog post and less like a connection.

      As I noted in my original post though, I think all of this is up to the user. *I* can define the elements of my own network, my own signal to noise ratio, the mix of the signal to noise in my network, the tags I use, the way I group my connections. And Twitter itself serves varied purposes, from real-time news source in times of natural disaster, to something like a list serv, to something like public chat, to link identification and exchange, to trend identifier… The list goes on and on.

      While I agree with you that there are flaws and areas of concern, my own experience and that of many of my professional colleagues and connections on Twitter is very different than what you found. I’m not sure why the difference of experience is so great. You are obviously a bright guy and have been on the web forever. You seem to me to be the kind of person who would really find a lot of value in Twitter. Maybe it’s worth another go?


  3. May 13, 2009 7:37 pm

    To follow everyone who follows you means that you either a) wind up spending your life on twitter; b) don’t pay attention to anyone unless these send an @ tweet; c) use a 3rd party app to separate people you pay attention to.

    My default action is not to follow. It’s not elitist but just a way to maintain my sanity. I will follow if 1) I know the person; 2) I know the person by reputation and am interested in their opinion; 3) there is something unique on their profile that gets my interest. I also follow people who are referred-to in the Twitter stream or who make direct comments that get me thinking.

    • dwilkinsnh permalink*
      May 13, 2009 9:00 pm

      I think this makes a lot of sense Harold. I’m in the b) and c) camp for the most part, though I do have columns in Twitter just for individuals too — you for example… ; )

      I think an argument can be made though that a broader network and pool of expertise = more diversity of perspective, unique insights, specialized knowledge. I’m still trying to find the right mix of deeper connections to a smaller number vs shallower connections to a wider pool.

      My balance at the moment is to use FB mainly for strong ties and Twitter for weak ties and potential ties. I do of course have strong ties on Twitter too, but I skew my usage pattern toward weak ties. I think this is really were Twitter is strongest and it’s enabled me to blow out my connections to now over 1000 people which gives me a whole lot of expertise and perspective to tap when needed.

      I’m not saying this is the right model, but I think there are a lot of other avenues for building strong ties, while there aren’t as many at building out a big collection of weak ones. Interested to hear your take on this.

  4. May 14, 2009 12:03 am

    Yes, Twitter does seem to be the SoMe app dujour this quarter. Like you, I’ve made some great discoveries and followed some fabulous links and people. I am enjoying the experience.

    Maybe it’s the microblogging aspect of the quick hit of information that meets the right target in our mini-information span need in a macro-information overloaded world. It’s a sip of information; a brain snack when you are waiting on line or (gasp) at a traffic light.

    Compare it to reading blogs:you need a set time or you fall behind. When our reader is clogged with 754 blog posts to read the brain is reticent to dive in. Have they become the chore that email is to many?

    Twitter allows us to flit. We toss out info as it comes to us. For some, their Twitter personality isn’t defined and we are a mishmash of biz, personal and I’ve even seen what I’d consider inappropriate info from some I follow. TMI, baby! I haven’t cut that one loose yet since they have usually good stuff. Luke my wise friend says, eat the fish and spit out the bones.

    The Twittersphere allows us to be who we are, where we are, or if we choose, who we define ourselves to be. That intersection can connect new and interesting strains of followers as people pick up on a word here or there. I’m fascinated by the eclectic group following me. I have to wonder though if they aren’t surprised by the intersection of the different arenas since I work at the crossroads of corporate training/ eLearning and adult literacy, and the work I do in the inner city at my church. I retweeted an event happening locally and @thewinewhore was following me. Weren’t they in for a surprise!

    Perhaps we should look at it like a cocktail party where we flit among the interesting people, and discover new tidbits.

    Like you, we never do know who we’ll learn something from next. .

  5. June 9, 2009 4:22 am

    A very interesting post for a very debated topic. I’m skeptical of anyone who claims to know the right way for handling Twitter. Let’s face it, we are all still learning. All I know is what has and what has not worked for me.

    I follow everyone back for two reasons. One, I do the same in real life… giving people the benefit of the doubt. To approach the potential for healthy social interaction differently on Twitter seems like a skeptic’s stance. Two, I use a 3rd party tool (as Trish mentions above) called TweetDeck. Ten panels, I have found, is more than enough to monitor at once.

    I have met some amazing people on Twitter! It is my hope that others will invest the time to understand how to fully take advantage of the tool for their own purposes.

    Great job with the post! I really enjoyed it.

    Looking forward,

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