I have noticed that a lot of people who start following me on Twitter also follow thousands of other people. I have to ask, how does Twitter remain useful if you are following such a high number of people. What’s the limit? Of the people that I see tweeting and frequently interacting with other people, only two of them follow over a thousand others. A good number of others follow around 700. I follow just under a hundred and there’s quite a lot of room for growth.
I’ve also noticed that new followers are tending to fall into two groups:
- Following thousands, followed by dozens
- Following hundreds, followed by hundreds
I wonder whether this first type are trying to use Twitter to market themselves or their service, using the idea that if you follow someone there’s a good chance they’ll follow you back. It feels so dirty – they just want to spam you.
If a large number of people are appearing on Twitter following thousands, that means to me that Twitter is becoming like IM. The ambient broadcasting of Twitter is one of the things that people so loved about it; if the tendency is to grow a huge network, it becomes more like IM as Twitter clients show you DM’s and tweets directed @ you.
I know some people who would hate me saying that (@psd, I’m looking at you). Thing is, I’m not sure that the gradual noise-death of Twitter is such a bad thing. I think this opens up a couple of interesting areas:
Broadcast IM clients
I use Twitterific and it does a nice job of grabbing my attention when someone has reached out to me, and it keeps a hold of those tweets in case I don’t check it for a while. I really like that, and I don’t mind so much if I miss some other golden tweets as I’m sure they’ll come along again when I am paying attention. Tweets are a bit like news really.
There’s a certain synchronicity in the way new styles of tweet will penetrate groups. To take an extreme example, it would be annoying if everyone you followed started creating a lot of noise for you because they were using clients that filtered out tweets that weren’t DM’s or @ them. So you’d start using one too. We’ve seen this happen with the “@” syntax (it’s now built into the web client itself), what’s next? Hashtags? Location? Plusplus-ing?
“Twitter as a Command-Line”
That’s the way Ev Williams put it in his LeWeb3 talk in December ’07. There are opportunities to create services, such as Foamee, which use the Twitter network as their infrastructure. This is just mind-blowingly interesting to me (here’s a good place to start for more on this). However, if Twitterers follow thousands of people, then you can build services that don’t just depend on the interaction between people and a central bot, but leverage the interactions between people… and then it all starts to look a bit like Facebook.