What I Miss About Twitter

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.

If I explain it to one person, I might as well…

If I explain it to one person, I might as well explain it to everyone. I received an email recently asking some questions and/or seeking clarification. Topics include ShalerJump photos, personal branding, and Twitter.

The sender’s name, pieces of the original email, and pieces of my response have been removed.

> My first impression of you from a year or two ago was, “Who is this clown
> who’s trying to be famous for jumping?” No offense.

I wouldn’t say I’m trying to be famous for jumping. I was part of a photography group and jump photos were a fun activity. The first photo of me jumping was taken in October of 2006.

After putting them online, they started getting tagged “ShalerJump” (by the photographers of each photo, not by me) so people could view all of them in a search result. A year later (November, 2007), I was at a conference and someone I had never met introduced me to someone else I had never met as “the guy that jumps.” It sounded fun and interesting, so I decided to roll with it. In May of 2008, I finally bought the domain name ShalerJump.com

> I read something you
> and/or Adam Nollmeyer wrote, like an interview, about what the Shaler Jump
> was and what it was intended to be… some sort of exercise in personal
> branding I seem to recall. I thought, “this guy is full of himself” and
> “what is he even supposed to be famous _for_?”

The jump photos started to become part of my personal brand when people saw them online and thought of me as “the guy that jumps.” That happened on its own. When I noticed this happening, I adopted it to help in grow, which is the point where it can actually be considered a personal branding effort.

Fame has nothing to do with it. The jump photos serve as both branding and marketing. The marketing side is what draws people in, looking at the photos for what they are and sharing them with friends. The brand side of it is when people actually associate the photos with a person. I brand myself as someone who has fun and does interesting things. (“fun” and “interesting” are both vague words, though I use them quite a bit)

I participated in the interview. Adam thought it would be a good idea to give people more back story on why there are all these photos of me online. To some extent, though, whenever we write publicly about it, we usually take a tongue in cheek approach of making it sound like there’s more to it than there really is. It’s to intrigue people and to mess with them a little bit. (“mess with” as in “confuse” or “to make stop and think”)

> Recently, my curiosity led me to read more about you.

This is something I try to accomplish. I don’t want to try to push who I am onto people. I want to draw people in by being interesting and triggering some level of intrigue.

> Call me old school,
> call me a skeptic, call me cynical, but I look for concrete reasons to
> respect someone, such as skills, talents (other than jumping ha ha),
> concrete accomplishments, etc. Once I did some digging through your
> websites, I realized that you do have some of these things. Maybe not so
> much that I understand why you have 10,617 followers on Twitter at the
> moment, but enough to see that you deserve credit for something other than
> having friends take photos of you while you jump like a lead guitarist in a
> rock band. :-)
> (I hope you’re catching onto my dry humor here. At least a little.)

[Brace yourself. Name-drop alert. Will probably sound uncharacteristically egotistical.]
I started working on personal branding after I realized that being an award-winning web developer didn’t make people respect you. There is one little place on one of my sites where you can find a brief mention of the fact I have worked with: Mazda, Nike, Boeing, Ford SVT, Lincoln (automotive), Mars Inc (Twix), Nivea For Men, Chrysler Financial, Shamrock Farms, blah blah blah.
[Done name-dropping]

You wouldn’t have found me or had an opportunity to judge me (whether or not you should respect me) if it hadn’t been for my for-fun stuff like ShalerJump photos, CrappyGraphs.com, various crap/tools/eye-candy I made for the Digg community, photography (+photography tutorials), various micro-sites (MyMotivatr.com, is-my-hero.com, SpellFail.com, SofaJumper.com, etc), and various things I did on Twitter during the last 1.5 years (TwitLibs, TAG: Twitter Acronym Game, etc).

This illustrates why personal branding and marketing was so crucial. I’m not trying to be “famous for jumping.” It’s simply one of those things I do because it’s fun, and it opens another avenue for people to find me.

> I still don’t understand why anyone would follow 5,741 people, much less be
> followed by twice that number. I’m not saying that in a mean way, just in an
> honest, baffled way. I currently follow 20 people. 5 of them bore me to
> death, 5 of them are tolerably interesting, and the other half don’t even
> update. And I’m getting ready to unfollow some more. ;-) How do you stand
> following 5,741? I would truly appreciate some insight into this.

I follow back everyone who follows me. It’s something Twitter set up for my account over a year ago. Last year, I was following more people than were following me. When I joined Twitter, I started by following a lot of people. Nowadays, I rarely follow people on my own. When/If they follow me, I automatically follow them back.

After Twitter set up the auto-follow-back functionality, my “following” count went up along with my “followers” count. A year ago, I was following over 11,000 people and was followed back by around 7,000. (@garyvee actually gave me crap about this at SXSW, on video. “Who follows 4,000 more people than are following?”) Since then, I have continued with the auto-follow-back, but I have been steadily unfollowing people who are spammers, don’t tweet in English, don’t actually USE twitter (e.g. all their tweets are from twitterfeed), etc. I have gotten it down to 5,741 (as of this writing: 5,712) and out of those, I can probably eventually get down to about 4,000 (but may never hit that specific number, because people will continue to follow me).

I don’t attempt to read every single post from everyone. There isn’t a single person on Twitter whose every update is completely relevant and useful to me. Some people have a high percentage of meaningful tweets, while others have a low percentage. By following a lot of people, I have the ability to “tune in” (like TV) to Twitter whenever I can and skim many tweets to see what’s going on.

There is no right or wrong way to use Twitter. I’m VERY interested in what is going on and what people are doing. I follow people who try to be funny/entertaining (140 characters is a great constraint for witty one-liners), I follow people who link to tech news, and I follow people in my industry (software development, web development, Flash, etc). I follow people who don’t exactly fit those criteria, but a little noise doesn’t hurt, as long as they’re human and tweeting about something. There’s nothing wrong with following only a few people and making sure never to miss a single update — the majority of Twitter users do exactly that.

Twitter Security Issue

UPDATE: The primary issue described in this post has been fixed. You can only change your email address after inserting your password.

I recently discovered a serious security issue on Twitter. Let me tell you the story.

Taking over an account

Someone started a Twitter account with the sole purpose of mocking me. It took me quite a while to find out who it was. Since practically everyone enjoys a good joke at my expense, the suspect list was quite long. But finally, I received information from a good Samaritan who did some investigating that was out of my reach.

I confronted the individual, a friend of mine, and asked him to turn over the account that was tarnishing my reputation (many people thought I was behind the account, leading them to believe I was pretentious and egotistical). After a few hours of instant messaging and agreeing to some terms (such as anonymity), he gave me access to the account. Upon logging in, I immediately changed the password, logged out, and logged in with the new password to make sure it took.

A day or two later, the user popped up on my radar again by mentioning my name in a tweet.

How did he get access to the account?

My first thought: I’m an Idiot! I forgot to change the email address in the account settings! If my friend went through the password reset steps, he could easily regain control of the account. I tried logging in with the password I had recently set, and it worked. I changed the email address and changed the password again. Then I contacted my friend about it, admitting my idiocy regarding the email settings. He said he hadn’t thought to go through the “Forgot password?” steps.

Then how did he get back in?!

He told me he had left his browser window open. The morning after yielding control of the account, he went back to the browser and it still worked!

This is where it gets SERIOUS

Let’s imagine, hypothetically, that you give your password to a 3rd party application. If the application’s owner uses that password once and saves the session cookie, they can store the session cookie and re-create it at any time in the future even if you change your password (There are even browser plug-ins that allow you to read and write cookies).

This means they can get back into your account whenever they want, indefinitely. They can post tweets, read your DMs, follow other users on your behalf, etc.

What’s worse, they can lock YOU out of YOUR ACCOUNT!

If you type in your password every time you go to Twitter.com (even if your browser “remembers” it), an attacker can take complete control over your account. The “remember me” checkbox will give you the same permanent access to your account that your attacker enjoys. So how can they take over your account? You can change your email address without typing your password! If an attacker is in your account, changing your password won’t stop them from kicking you out. They can change the email to their own address, log out, and request a password reset from Twitter. They send an email to you and you can click the link to reset it.

How to stay safe

As far as I know, there is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening to you, aside from never giving anyone or any application your password.

Twitter needs to use a smarter session cookie that is in some way linked to the user’s password or have another way of killing other sessions if you log out. Twitter should also consider using per-user API keys for users to give to 3rd party applications, instead of authenticating with your password.

Twitter: A Catalyst for Change

Continuing the conversation on the Phoenix technology community, I wanted to describe what has been happening in the last year here in Phoenix.

More meet-ups are taking place around the Valley (of the Sun) and more people are attending them. Refresh Phoenix has been my favorite tech-related meet-up during the last two years and often draws the most people. Anywhere from 20-40 people from as far as 60 miles away would come out every month on the first Tuesday of the month.

This year, there has been a trend of increased attendance at Refresh Phoenix and other local gatherings. Refresh Phoenix seems to be maintaining an average of 40-50, jumping up to about 80 in February on Demo Night. There were about 47 people at last week’s Social Media Club Phoenix meeting, which was great to see.

Every Friday for the last few months, anywhere from 4-10 people have been meeting up at various local independent coffee shops. The meetings are casual, open, and planned in an ad-hoc style by whoever feels like showing up. They are organized on Twitter, sometimes as late as Thursday.

Meet-ups seem to be benefiting greatly from Twitter’s communication mechanism. It’s easier for people to hear about events taking place in their area, as long as they’re connected with enough people in their area.

Twitter is a catalyst for Phoenix. Phoenix has no shortage of talented and interesting folks. The problem is the network. People don’t know there are thousands of others in the city who share their interests. Twitter allows people to connect with a broader network and, most importantly, be subjected to conversations between people inside their circle with people outside their circle. This simple trait of an open communication platform does wonders for introducing people with similar interests to each other.

Thanks to Twitter, people are connecting — at least digitally — with more people. This means they have the opportunity to hear about more events going on in their area, thus increasing their likelihood of attending.

Impromptu, Unsanctioned “Social Media Breakfast” in San Francisco

It is Friday, and I am half-way through my March trip to San Francisco. I made sure my return flight is Saturday night so I have all day Saturday to hang out with people I know in the area and meet some new people.

I missed the first Social Media Breakfast in Phoenix, AZ, and noticed that San Francisco was not listed as a SMB city. I figured Saturday morning would be a great time to try it out!

8:30am-10:30am Saturday, March 22nd, 2008
Town’s End Restaurant & Bakery
2 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA

To RSVP, go to the Upcoming event: http://upcoming.yahoo.com/event/460948 (You can still show up if you don’t RSVP, but if we can’t get a bigger table at the last minute…. Oh well..)

Here is a map: Town’s End Restaurant & Bakery

Breakfast is on me (within reason, like $20 each) for the top 3 most-followed Twitter users who show up. Ideally, we’ll verify by sending a text message from your phone to 40404 (Twitter) with “stats” and see what number it returns. It’s a good way to verify that you own the account and that we are comparing the latest stats on your account.