Tipping Pitches: Technology: What Twitter Needs, Part II


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Technology: What Twitter Needs, Part II

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A while back I commented on the "one" thing that Twitter needs. One of my biggest peeves is the spammers, automated accounts, and high percentage of "people" who aren't actually people.

So, knowing whom to follow is a major pain. Someone follows me, I'm probably not following you back. If you retweet something I say or send @ mentions to express sincere interest in me, I will probably follow you.

Otherwise, I proposed that Twitter indicate "mutual friends" (or something similar to this Facebook feature) so that if you follow me I know that certain people I am following also follow you. That gives me immediate reason to follow you back.

So that's that. Do that and I'm happy.

Wait, not so fast. About those spammers...

I read a cool article today by Rich Nadworny about "Twitter Ponzi." His complaint is that we generally judge someone's worth based on number of followers, and to achieve a high number of followers users will follow a large number of people hoping to get followed back. If they aren't followed back within a couple of days, they unfollow you.

It's a lame practice, but one that is heavily... well, practiced.

And so, Twitter, I have yet another solution for you. Let's do something that shows just how valuable someone is. Just how interesting they are.

You have 25,000 followers? So what? How many of those followers send you @ mentions? How many of them retweet you? How many times have you been retweeted?

How many actively engaged followers do you have? That's really how we know how interesting you are, right? Number of followers means nothing if none of those followers retweet you. If none of them engage or recognize you, you barely exist to them.

So here is my recommendation, Twitter. I have a few little ideas. Feel free to use any of them. Each would help by themselves. Here it goes:
  • On a user's profile, add "Active Followers" next to "Followers"
  • Add number of @ mentions user has received on the @[user] line
  • Add "Retweeted" link with number of times user has been retweeted
I want to keep it simple, so adding all of these may complicate the profile too much. Or maybe not. You decide.

By adding "Active Followers" we have a new ratio to consider. Of the 25,000 followers you have, how many are active? In other words, how many of those 25,000 followers have either sent you an @mention or retweeted you? What would be an acceptable ratio? Ten percent? Fifteen?

[For the record, 63 of my 306 followers have sent me an @mention or retweeted me. That's a little over 20%, and doesn't include people who mentioned but no longer follow me. I think that's pretty decent, and is better than I thought it would be. I'm guessing the typical numbers padder would have under 10%.]

Eventually, we'd figure out what that ratio should be. Anyone with an excessively low ratio is padding their numbers through shady practices.

You may not even need the @[user] or retweeted number at this point, but I still think they are helpful. How many times have you been retweeted? How many messages have been directed to you? Also, this would provide the ability to view those messages of yours that have been retweeted (not currently in the framework).

Again, you add these things and number of followers suddenly means very little. There are two reasons to get a lot of followers: 1) status, and 2) audience. And most of these people padding numbers are trying to get to #2 by improving #1.

If Twitter puts more importance on a new metric that measures how interesting you are to your followers, is there reason to pad numbers? People may still want to get followers by any means necessary, but suddenly there is a deterrent. 

Do you really want to raise your follower count at the expense of your "active followers?" Do you want to be flagged as an obviously uninteresting, number padding spammer?


rachel said...

I think it would be easier if Twitter considered certain accounts inactive & excluded them from being included in follower accounts. Examples of inactive accounts could be accounts that haven't logged into or don't have any tweets.

I follow a lot of different people that I don't retweet. I wouldn't want that to count against them when I really am interested in their updates.

Jon Loomer on December 16, 2009 said...

Good point, Rachel. Even though an individual would have close to no impact on that score, some may be conscious of it and behave unnaturally. Reciprocity would take on new meaning. Something to think about.

Jon Loomer on December 17, 2009 said...

Along these same lines, I guess a group of people could *technically* conspire to lower someone's "active follower" count by following an individual. Seems a bit extreme (and psychotic), but I wouldn't put it past anyone.

Always open to other suggestions.

Jenn Sutherland on December 17, 2009 said...

Jon - what tool did you use to get the stats on the active followers in your image above? I'm sure my active stats are about the same. Thanks for the great posts on twitter strategy, we're passing them around in Illinois.

Jon Loomer on December 17, 2009 said...

Jenn -- This is all a suggestion. What I did above was fabricated. I comped it up with a paint tool. You can figure it out with a lot of work, or there may be a third party tool out there that already does it. I'll take a look around.

Anonymous said...

Hey, @druidlove on Twitter here. I see a couple problems with this:
One thing is whenever I tweet using the #rockies tag, @rockiestweeters automatically RT's me. That account is a bot, and it utterly annoying to the point of blocking him out of my @mentions.
Secondly, and I think others have said it before, users can be inactive for a time, only to show up when you least expect it. Like offseason, vacation, etc. I don't always reply to others, though I spend a lot of time reading other posts.


Jon Loomer on February 11, 2010 said...

Good call, Frank. I guess part of the solution would need to be -- and always need to be -- controlling the bots. Along those same lines, someone could set up a network of bots that actively retweet and send @ messages to one another. Always a way around the system.

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