Tipping Pitches: Technology: What Twitter Needs, Part III


Friday, December 18, 2009

Technology: What Twitter Needs, Part III

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When I first wrote about the "one" thing that Twitter needs on December 3, I didn't expect it to become a three part mini-series. Well, I've created a monster that doesn't seem to want to stop growing.

So, let's recap:
These two suggestions go back to one common theme: Twitter needs to help me quickly determine whether someone is worth following. Additionally, Twitter could do a better job of qualifying what type of Twitter user you are.

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Until now, I've needed to trust your profile. Do you have a friendly face? Do you have a lot of followers? Do you follow more people than follow you? Do you have an interesting story? Do we have similar interests?

But we're missing some stuff. I want to know what type of Twitter user you are. I need to know what awaits me if I follow you.

Following are some metrics that would help make that qualification, thereby making it easier to determine whether or not to follow (includes metrics from Part 1 and 2 as well as some new data):
  • Number of people whom I follow who also follow you (Mutual Friends, Part 1)
  • Number of followers who have sent you @mentions or retweeted your work (Active Followers, Part 2)
  • Number of people you follow whom you have @mentioned or retweeted (Engagement, NEW)
After writing Part 2, I realized a crucial nugget was missing. While it's nice to follow people who are interesting (and who have the active followers to back that up), I also want to follow people who are willing to engage.

If I send you an @mention, are you going to ignore it? If I regularly post some pretty interesting stuff (it's a given, people), are you occasionally going to retweet it? Or are you too busy worrying about your own stuff? Or are you so overwhelmed with your number of followers that you miss most of what I write? Or are you loyal only to a small group of people?

This all comes back to one basic question: What type of Twitter user are you? Every type of Twitter user has their place. I'll follow celebrities, comedy accounts, and news media for entertainment purposes. I don't plan to engage with them, other than the occasional retweet.

But I can't only follow that type of person. These are the type of people, after all, who aren't going to follow me back. And even if they do, the likelihood they actively engage with me is slim to none (other than @Alyssa_Milano and @moonfrye, who won't leave me alone). I also need regular people like me who share interests and are willing to engage. Maybe even a little interesting.

Are you a spammer? Are you interesting? Without some additional metrics built into the profile, I have to make assumptions. It's complicated. I usually just don't follow, as a result.

See to the right for my final (I mean it this time) recommendation.

Mutual Friends is now built in at the bottom. Before I had that included in the information about a person who is following you. Can stay there, too.

In Part 2, I made a separate entry for number of active followers. I think the number is less important than the percentage, so I removed the number and included this category in our new section below.

What percentage of your followers actively follow you (@mentions and retweets)? With what percentage of the people you follow do you actively engage (you send them @mentions and retweet)? What percentage of your tweets include links?

That's the kind of stuff I care about, beyond the basics of who you are. This tells me the type of Twitter user you are without having to guess.

Also, I understand that some of this info may not immediately make sense to everyone. Mouse over each item for a definition. Active Followers, Engagement, and Link Sharing are also linked. Click those links to view a more detailed breakdown.

For example, on Active Followers, display the number of followers, number of active followers, the percentage, and list all of the followers who have engaged along with the number of @mentions and retweets they have contributed to this user.

On the Engagement page, display the number of people this user is following, number they have engaged with, the percentage, and the list of users they have engaged with along with the number of @mentions and retweets they have contributed for each of those people.

On the Links page, simply display the number of links contributed and list every tweet the user has made that includes a link. Could be very helpful for finding a link from someone without having to sort through the noise.

What do you think? Would these changes help you better decide whether or not you should follow someone? Or does it simply make the profile too complicated?


Nate said...

Twitter is great because of its simplicity. That includes the profile. 140 character Bio, who you're following, who follows you. And that's it basically. People can catch on to really simple ideas and that is why Twitter became popular.

Like you mentioned in a previous post, people FREAK at the first sign of change, especially changes to a social network. We've noticed this on Twitter with lists and retweets. I think people would hate your idea...at first.

The thing is, the changes these sites make are all for the better. They are trying to improve and people eventually learn the new system. The changes you suggest do, in fact, improve Twitter. And yes, they do complicate the profile a bit. But over time, Twitter users will figure them out and learn how to utilize them.

I remember when Facebook changed its format and everyone wanted it to go back. People started petitions and groups. It was so confusing at first - nobody could figure anything out. But now, nobody complains. Everyone has figured out all the shortcuts just like in the old format. The same will happen if they institute your changes. At first, it will appear more complicated, but eventually nobody will even notice.

Jon Loomer on December 19, 2009 said...

Very true, Nate. Social media users are fickle freaks. They absolutely love it the way it was and hate any changes... until they get used to them, then they typically quiet down in a hurry... only to then love those new settings once they are changed again.

The thing about what I'm getting at, though, is more about correcting what could inevitably run Twitter into the ground. Spam is getting bad. People who work the system for numbers are taking over. Fake, automated, and self-centered users are far outnumbering those who actually want to engage. If the trend continues, Twitter will do more than stall (as it has lately) -- users will begin to drop off.

But what would make Twitter more interesting to the typical user? Being better able to sort the real from the fake, the interesting from the boring. That's why I think such a change is critical for Twitter.

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