Tipping Pitches: Technology: The one thing Twitter needs


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Technology: The one thing Twitter needs

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Twitter is simple, which has a lot to do with its popularity. The best way to tick off Twitter loyalists is by adding any level of complexity and thereby chipping away at that simplicity. See response to the new Retweet function.

That doesn't mean that Twitter is perfect the way it is. Far from it. There are issues. Issues that turn many people off from the service. Issues that could turn me away without a solution.

The Problem: Who Are These People?
This ain't Facebook, people.  So in the vast majority of circumstances, I don't know you personally.  And given that the site is overrun with spam and scammers, it's not easy separating the real from the junk.

So growing a network can be a scary process.  People follow you who may or may not be interested in what you have to say; who may or may not have common interests; who may or may not want to spam or scam you.  It's nearly impossible to know who you can and can't trust.

There are many different types of Twitter users. The one common thread is that we all want followers. Some for good, some for evil.  Without followers, you don't have people who are interested in what it is you are saying.  Without that, you're talking to yourself.

Different users have different strategies to get followers. Personally, I search out people with like interests and follow them. I do this, mainly, by keeping an eye on who people I know and trust are retweeting. I also search for people who retweet something said by those people I know and trust.

I manage whom I follow very closely. If I follow you, I sincerely care about what you have to say. What you provide me has added value.

Because of that, I can't realistically follow more than around 200 people (admittedly, this number has risen from 150). So I am picky about the people I will follow.

[Note: This number is now over 300. I know, it's crazy. However, I still have the same approach to following people. I sincerely care about what they have to say. I don't follow for the sake of following and then filter them out. I simply don't read every single tweet of the day like I once did. More on this in another blog entry later.]

Others will seemingly follow anyone. It's partly out of strategy to get people to follow back. Some follow everyone who follows them, out of courtesy.

Why? I don't understand this. If you are following everyone and not actually reading anything they say (which is what happens when you follow thousands of people), it's an insincere gesture.You're helping their numbers but providing them no other value.

And when you follow everyone who follows you, your account is opened up to spam. Once you follow someone, they can send you direct messages. Otherwise, they cannot.

So it always makes me giggle when those who follow thousands of people complain about their DM spam. There's a pretty simple solution to that. Be more careful about the people you follow.

But this takes us back to the original problem: Who are these people? When someone follows me, I rarely follow back. I don't know who they are. Most seem like they aren't real. Most follow thousands of people, so do they really care about what I have to say?

So when expanding my network, it is very difficult to discern which accounts represent real people, who will provide value, and whom I can trust.

The Solution: Mutual Friends
This is a Facebook feature, and it clearly wouldn't work the same way or be called the same thing due to differences in the way people form relationships. But think of it like this: If I am unsure of who someone is on Facebook (look, I'm terrible with names and faces), I look at mutual friends. If they are also friends with people I trust, I in turn trust the friend request.

In 99% of the cases in which someone follows me on Twitter, I have no idea who they are. I do not trust them. I do not follow them back.

So many of these people aren't real people at all.  What value will they add by me following them?

But what if Twitter told me that Person A, who is now following me, is being followed by Person B, Person C, and Person D -- people who I am following and respect? Suddenly, I have interest in following this person.

Such a solution does not only help me in finding people I trust to follow, but it would also likely help getting myself more meaningful followers. If someone pretty cool, interesting and popular is following me, suddenly I'm cool and interesting. Without a feature like the one I'm proposing, such a relationship often goes unnoticed.

The change, though simple, significantly increases the strength of Twitter networks and relationships. It encourages you to follow more people, and increases the likelihood that you will follow someone meaningful to you. It also increases the likelihood that someone you find interesting will follow you back, thereby creating a productive relationship, as opposed to an empty one.

Isn't that, after all, what we want?


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