Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 29, 2008 8:26 PM

The Trouble With Twitter - Confessions Of A Twitter Snob

"I actually had Mitch in my Twitter list, but he didn’t follow me, so I took him off. I might put him back though," says Ryan Deschamps from The Other Librarian Blog in a comment posted on the Open Stacks Blog entitled, Stepping Into Marketing. That's when it hit me: I've become a Twitter snob.

Currently, if you look at my Twitter profile page, there are 1577 followers, while I'm following only 545 people. It used to be the same number, but I've become a bit of a Twitter Snob. I found it increasingly difficult to follow many different topics of conversation from people I did not know, who were talking to (or about) other people I did not know on topics that were of no immediate interest to me.

I even removed a whackload that were in foreign languages.

Here's how I work: when someone adds me, I look to see who they are and, with the limited information or full name they provide, I try to decipher if I know them or not (some are, simply, "anonymous"). At that point, I'm checking to see if their tweets are the types of content and conversations that interests me, and then I look to see if it's someone who is following everybody, but has few (to no) followers before I pass my final judgement.

So, why did I become a Twitter Snob?

If you do, indeed, follow me on Twitter, you'll quickly realize that I only update a couple of times a day (if that), and that I hardly (more like never) respond back with the common @[inset your username here]. The reason is, if it's something directed to me, I see no reason to clog everyone else's Twitter feed, so I either direct message back or send an email. I like the idea of the open messaging and the micro-Blogging application of Twitter, but I don't kid myself into thinking that all 1577 followers care that I will indeed check out the link that someone sent me.

I also find it hard to follow every conversation. For the most part, I only really check my Twitter feed while I'm sitting in a cab or waiting for a flight. If you've tried to use Twitter off of a BlackBerry browser, you'll quickly realize how challenging that can be as well.

The trouble with Twitter (and why you can call me a "Twitter Snob") is that I'm judging whether or not to add someone based on their username, what their most recent tweets are, how many other people are following them and, if I'm lucky, maybe there's a link to a Blog which gives me more insight. I'm not sure adding in a level of authority is the solution. I am sure that if you wanted to invite me to a conversation in the real world, you would first drop me a line, let me know who you are and why it's important to connect. I'm not sure why people are offended if I don't add them, especially when they have a cryptic username, no photo, no external links, and the only tweet they have is, "have not updated yet."

I do love Twitter. I do see some amazing potential for this as a new Communication channel, but the only way to get my attention is to let me know who you really are and why we should connect. So Ryan, now I know who you are, and what you're about... look for me to be following you.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Chris Luckhardt
    Mitch Joel

    That all seems like a logical set of reasoning and appears to work in your favour. Yet some like Robert Scoble uses Twitter to its "maximum" and seems to be coping rather well. *shrug*

    Reply
  • Posted by Susan Murphy
    Mitch Joel

    I don't have nearly the number of followers that you do and I follow basically the same process (with exception that I do @ reply often).

    Does my pickiness make me an "uber-snob"?? Maybe. I agree with you it's about receiving valuable and relevant information.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ryan
    Mitch Joel

    Hey Mitch,

    What i said there was a kind of connect between Greg and I -- a shared opinion that we try only to follow those people who follow back (there are exceptions, like news sources etc.).

    There was no intended slight, whine or anything like that intended. I particularly appreciate the need to weed through friends, acquaintances - not to mention plain old spam. And I definitely didn't see you being snobbish. It was just plain simple "you don't want to follow me, so I might as well stop following you." Not everyone can be friends and I accept that. :) It's not snobbery -- it's information management (as a librarian, I can appreciate that even more).

    So re-follow accepted!

    Reply
  • Hey Ryan,

    I did not mean the Blog posting as a slight against what you said, if anything... the opposite. Your comment really inspired me to write this Blog posting.

    I don't see being a Twitter Snob as a bad thing. It's not a name you called me, it's something I'm calling myself.

    On top of all of that, you made me think about why it is that I stopped following certain people, and I think that lesson will help us all better use Twitter.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bryan Person
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, I guess you can count me as a Twitter snob as well. I have 1,440 followers and am only following 336. I was also having trouble following all of the conversations, so here's what I did:

    1) I created a filter in my Gmail account where all notifications of new followers now go. I don't even see them in my inbox. When I can, I'll scan the list and add back a person or two.
    2) I'll occasionally plow through the list of people I'm following and the delete the names of users who names I don't recognize/remember.

    I'm all about the community, but I'm also about keeping my list of followers at a number that's manageable for me. No reason you or anyone else shouldn't be doing the same.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Wage
    Mitch Joel

    I think the biggest mistake with twitter is caring what other people think about how you use it, quite frankly. It's a tool, with a variety of uses, applications and weaknesses.

    And hopefully it'll be a vague memory in the wake of wider application of XMPP in the future anyway.

    Reply
  • I follow the same decision process when someone starts following me. With the wave of what I call Twitter spammers, I start blocking people from that initial assessment. So I guess that I am also a twitter snob even if my stats are far from yours.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bernie Goldbach
    Mitch Joel

    Your usage pattern politely ignores an important outcome: by controlling your twitaddiction, you maintain a high level of output with your blogging and podcasting. Twitter has degraded both of those important creative outputs in my life and that has to change, perhaps by following your example as an avowed Twitter Snob.

    Reply
  • Posted by Greg Schwartz
    Mitch Joel

    I'm with Bernie. I actually wrote a post recently called Twittering Less, Blogging More: http://openstacks.net/os/2008/04/26/twittering-less-blogging-more/

    I operate more in a reciprocal following fashion (1:1 follower/following ratio), but I require conversation if I don't already know the person. If you're not interested in engaging me one-on-one, I'm not really interested in you being part of my monologue. So I'm a Twitter snob of sorts as well.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Fleet
    Mitch Joel

    I'm with you on how you choose whether to add people or not. I don't agree with the 'you need to add everyone back' argument. If someone wants to engage or writes about relevant, interesting topics then I'll follow. Otherwise, no dice.

    Chris Wage is right in that everyone has different uses for Twitter, too. However, I have to admit I'm disappointed that you choose not to engage people directly through @ replies.

    To me, one of Twitter's strengths is that it is extremely conversational. To ignore that functionality, in my eyes, is to miss a great opportunity to develop relationships with people on there. It effectively becomes just another one-way broadcast tool. We already have enough of those.

    Reply
  • Posted by david usher
    Mitch Joel

    i dont follow many people but i dont consider myself a snob. im just busy. i dont have time to follow a million threads throughout the day. who does? i want to meet these people who could really follow every tweet of the 400 people that follow me. impossible. the best i can do is follow a few friends.
    ps thanks for the tweet about the canadian iphone, sabrinas in heaven:)

    Reply
  • Posted by Britney Mason
    Mitch Joel

    Im such a snob. I have cleaned it up and only follow like 350 people. In some ways i am finding it a chore to update my feed. I can heat for not updating it as often as people THINK I should. Ill use it how I want

    Reply
  • Posted by Daryl Tay
    Mitch Joel

    I used to reciprocate the follow, but then it was getting a little overwhelming and I had people looking a little too suspicious to follow.

    However, I must say the @reply is one of the functions I like the most because it really allows me to connect and get a conversation going, although I also feel sometimes that I'm broadcasting that @reply to hundreds of other people, to whom the @reply may not be relevant.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark Evans
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    I follow the same Twitter philosophy. There are a couple dozen people that I follow, and that keeps me busy enough.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mathew Ingram
    Mitch Joel

    That's very similar to the process I use, Mitch -- I have about 1,000 followers -- but I don't consider myself a snob for not following everyone. I don't think I could possibly do that and remain sane. Like you, I check people out when they follow me and decide whether to reciprocate. If someone sends me an @ message, I sometimes go back and reconsider. But I don't think anyone (other than Scoble perhaps) would think there's anything wrong with that approach.

    Reply
  • Mitch,

    I filter followers the same way as you but I think you're missing a large portion of the value of Twitter by not responding or sending messages to @username. Like Sylvain Carle says, Twitter is like happy hour, you can eavesdrop on people's conversation and if they're interesting, you can jump in.

    Reply
  • Posted by Alistair
    Mitch Joel

    Couldn't agree more. I'm relatively new to the Twitter thing and a couple of patterns emerge.

    1. There's less virality than lots of apps, and much of it is "eavesdropping." The only way I learn about new people is when others talk about them. Which means more people will learn about me if I solicit comments from others. Which could, in theory, lead to more precocious behavior.

    2. The mini-avatars are huge. Having cleverness in that tiny space is important. And there are certain icons -- Om Malik's GigaOm logo, for example -- that are, well, iconic. So when I see a profile, if I see that icon too, I assume it's someone worth knowing.

    3. Finally, the Twitter "score" is a huge factor. It's something like the ratio of followers to followings, times total followers, times number of posts, times a constant. I wish I had a site that calculated that for me.

    I'm reminded of Wilde's comment that he wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would have him as a member. The latent snobbery that Twitter engenders is similar: I only want to follow people who don't follow me, thus keeping their ratio high.

    How dysfunctional. ;-)

    Reply
  • I didn't say that I don't use the @ to connect, I just prefer to do it privately... that being said, I do use it when I feel like sharing.

    Reply
  • Posted by Corvida
    Mitch Joel

    That doesn't make you a Twitter snob. It makes you a productive Twitter user. The rest is noise, so why wouldn't you want to filter that out?

    I have plenty of posts on SheGeeks.net about useful tips for deciding who to follow and who to ignore. It's far from snobbish though.

    Reply
  • Posted by Andy Morton
    Mitch Joel

    Just a note on twitter and blackberry usage, you should really give TwitterBerry a shot: http://www.orangatame.com/products/twitterberry
    Much more useful than the mobile version!

    Reply
  • Posted by Laura
    Laura

    The reason I use twitter is to get the updates I want, when I want. And I sort of expected everyone else felt the same. If twitter wasn't a self-serving form of communication it would definitely lose its hold on me. It's not about who I like/don't like, it's about what interests me/doesn't interest me: a news aggregator of sorts. Also, with a link to my twitter feed on my blog and website where people can see who I'm following, I'd really like to keep twitter restricted to my field of interest. It's not personal at all.

    Reply
  • Posted by Laura
    Laura

    The reason I use twitter is to get the updates I want, when I want. And I sort of expected everyone else felt the same. If twitter wasn't a self-serving form of communication it would definitely lose its hold on me. It's not about who I like/don't like, it's about what interests me/doesn't interest me: a news aggregator of sorts. Also, with a link to my twitter feed on my blog and website where people can see who I'm following, I'd really like to keep twitter restricted to my field of interest. It's not personal at all.

    Reply
  • Posted by Donnie Berkholz
    Mitch Joel

    On my Blackberry, Opera Mini does a pretty nice job with Twitter.

    Reply
  • Posted by Norman
    Mitch Joel

    One of my New Year's resolutions is to consider being more of a Twitter Snob. I've got 300+ followers, but a lot of them seem to use Twitter as a chat room, replying to people I don't know about things I don't know about. Certainly there needs to be give-and-take with followers, but too many replies makes it difficult to follow and less useful. I've been considering un-following some of those chat-roomers.

    Reply
  • Posted by Carl
    Mitch Joel

    Everyone seems to me missing the obvious with @ replies: unless you change the default settings, you will not see replies to people you don't follow. If it feels like you're in a chat room, check your settings. Most of your followers won't see your replies to others either; again, unless they follow the same person OR have altered the default.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bruce Colwin
    Mitch Joel

    I agree, but recently started using the Nambu desktop Twitter client for OSX, which enables me to create groups/folders similar to the Apple email app. So I now have my default view of the "real follows" group and then the folder containing what I call "courtesy follows" which are people who follow me, but I don't really see the value in sifting through their tweets because they're generally not relevant to me personally.

    Reply
  • Posted by José
    Mitch Joel

    Hi,

    I don't think that just because I follow someone, that person should also follow me.
    The reasons for me to follow someone are usually : that person posts interesting links and/or is the author of a website with a content that goes toward my preferences.
    I do believe that it's better not to follow a person who's content is not interesting to us, than to follow just for the sake of it. For me this is be honest with ourselves and with the person.

    Kind regards,

    José

    Reply
  • Posted by Jason Dojc
    Jason Dojc

    A lot of people in the twitterverse seem to judge you on being a "net follow-ee" i.e. you have more followers than people you're following. It's true that net followership is a good indication of celebrity and a pretty good indicator of one's authority on subjects that they normally tweet.

    Having said that, it's mathematically impossible for everyone to be a "net follow-ee". So I follow some people that seem to have high authority on my interested topics and I follow others who just seem to be interesting or because they follow me and might be worth talking to further. Tweetdeck is pretty good about keeping follows and hashtags organized so I'm never worried about following too many people.

    Reply
  • Posted by MacadamiaTheNut
    Mitch Joel

    :D Describes exactly how I feel.. but, of course, I don't have a billion followers like you do. But this is kinda like reverse psychology,, no? I followed you AFTER reading this post.

    Reply
  • Posted by Phil Simon
    Mitch Joel

    I'm thinking that I need to become more of a Twitter snob. I try to minimize the number of, er, questionable people following me. Also, I don't have much interest in following those with promises of some type of reward.

    As you've mentioned in other posts, sites like TweetDeck and Hootsuite allow for lists, filters, or tabs to enable easy following of those that truly interest you.

    Great post, Mitch.

    Reply
  • Posted by Huw Sayer
    Mitch Joel

    If that's snobbery then I am all for it - but it just seems like common sense. The starting point has to be: What do you want to get out of twitter?

    Decide why you are using it and then work out how to use it to achieve those ends. Don't forget though that there is really no distinction between your private life and professional life on twitter (except, possibly, if you block your tweets) - if you go public then it is all about you in all walks of your life.

    Cheers
    H
    @HuwSayer

    Reply
  • Posted by Nilwona
    Mitch Joel

    I feel somewhat validated after reading this post. I'm still fairly new to Twitter - I've only got about 29 followers, and I'm following about 70-something...but I chose not to follow everyone who was following me. I used the same process you described - checked out their tweets, bio, website...I could quickly discern the ones who were just in it for the marketing and the ones who I thought might have something to say that I'd want to hear. (Others are personal friends, so they get a pass.)

    Being new to Twitter, I just didn't want to get overwhelmed; so I figured it's easier to start slow and add on vs. following everyone and then trying to weed people out later.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ayala Rahav
    Mitch Joel

    In a 2 years' perspecive attention scarcity, relevance and the lack of context tools make twitter or other social networks' overpour even more acute.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kari DePhillips
    Mitch Joel

    We try to keep our followers and the people we're following roughly even, because people have actually sent nasty tweets when we don't follow back. It's sort of like a hostage situation, at that point.

    Reply
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