I was one of the first people to follow more than a thousand users on Twitter. A little less than 2 years ago, I think there were about 10 of us, following anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 each.
As a hobbyist statistician, I have a mantra: You can never have too much data, as long as you have tools to filter and extrapolate the data to make it useful. At the time, there weren’t such tools for Twitter. This was even before Twitter provided a “replies” feed. I was following a lot of people as an experiment. I wanted to see if I could keep up. I wanted to see if I could make sense of the noise.
In the end, it destroyed my user experience. It became very narcissistic. It was hard for me to keep a really close eye on what people I’m interested in were doing, and I found myself using the various pre-Summize search tools to see what people were saying to me or about me. When my personal Twitter experience became all about me, it began to suck. Twitter’s value is in learning from others and seeing what they are doing.
As time went on, I used other methods of staying plugged in to the Twitter community. It was and is a lot of work. I created a second Twitter account to keep track of primarily local people (which helps me hear about local events to promote on my main Twitter account). I’m always looking at what is trending on Twitter (keywords or links that are showing up rapidly among the entire community) and I even spend a lot of time on my (noisy) “/home” feed.
I used to follow everyone back who followed me. I no longer do that. I’ve spent many hours over the last year, trimming the people I follow from about 11,000 down to under 6,000. Almost all of them were individually reviewed to see if they’re businesses, inactive, only using Twitterfeed/FriendFeed/Ping to post tweets without actually using Twitter, spammers, non-English, and so on.
The point here is that I’ve spent many hours fine-tuning my following and I am constantly spending time checking to see what people are doing. I try to spend as little time as possible watching what people are saying to and about me. It’s not easy, but I make it work.
What I’m noticing now, though, is that many people are falling into the trap I fell into almost two years ago: following a lot of people and turning Twitter into a narcissistic experience.
Twitterholic.com has a list of the 1,000 people who follow more users than everyone else. While it is likely missing many people, it lists 1,000 people who are each following more than 3,400 other users.
Are they working as hard as me to keep track of what’s going on? Not likely.
People are being encouraged to follow many people and use tools like TweetDeck, which allows you to see Groups and Search Results, along with “All Tweets.” If you have a column for Replies, Direct Messages, and a search for your name(s), you’re already spending over half of your monitor’s real estate (for most monitors) on content about and to you. The Groups functionality allows you to filter out the people who you “really want to follow,” but what’s the point in “fake following” all the people you don’t put in those groups? If you don’t want to follow them, don’t follow them!
Tools like TweetDeck — which are great for watching yourself — are encouraging this narcissistic approach to Twitter. When the experience is about you and not about others, it destroys what made Twitter great to begin with.
It used to be that if you were traveling and tweeted your location, anyone you’re connected to in that city would likely see it and say “Hey! Let’s hang out while you’re here!” Now, you get back home and a month later, they’ll say “I wish I knew you were in town!”
As people begin following higher quantities of people and relying on narcissistic tools, the only way they will see your message (unless you are in one of their groups, and you have no way of knowing if you are) is if you address them directly. You might as well just use email at that point.
So what I miss most about Twitter is being able to Tweet openly so a group of people see it, instead of having to address people directly for them to get the message. This happens some, but it’s happening less and less as people follow more and more.