Twitter is becoming the new IM, and is this a bad thing?

Keep the noise down?I have noticed that a lot of people who start following me on Twitter also follow thousands of other people. I have to ask, how does Twitter remain useful if you are following such a high number of people. What’s the limit? Of the people that I see tweeting and frequently interacting with other people, only two of them follow over a thousand others. A good number of others follow around 700. I follow just under a hundred and there’s quite a lot of room for growth.

I’ve also noticed that new followers are tending to fall into two groups:

  • Following thousands, followed by dozens
  • Following hundreds, followed by hundreds

I wonder whether this first type are trying to use Twitter to market themselves or their service, using the idea that if you follow someone there’s a good chance they’ll follow you back. It feels so dirty – they just want to spam you.

If a large number of people are appearing on Twitter following thousands, that means to me that Twitter is becoming like IM. The ambient broadcasting of Twitter is one of the things that people so loved about it; if the tendency is to grow a huge network, it becomes more like IM as Twitter clients show you DM’s and tweets directed @ you.

I know some people who would hate me saying that (@psd, I’m looking at you). Thing is, I’m not sure that the gradual noise-death of Twitter is such a bad thing. I think this opens up a couple of interesting areas:

Broadcast IM clients

I use Twitterific and it does a nice job of grabbing my attention when someone has reached out to me, and it keeps a hold of those tweets in case I don’t check it for a while. I really like that, and I don’t mind so much if I miss some other golden tweets as I’m sure they’ll come along again when I am paying attention. Tweets are a bit like news really.

There’s a certain synchronicity in the way new styles of tweet will penetrate groups. To take an extreme example, it would be annoying if everyone you followed started creating a lot of noise for you because they were using clients that filtered out tweets that weren’t DM’s or @ them. So you’d start using one too. We’ve seen this happen with the “@” syntax (it’s now built into the web client itself), what’s next? Hashtags? Location? Plusplus-ing?

“Twitter as a Command-Line”

That’s the way Ev Williams put it in his LeWeb3 talk in December ’07. There are opportunities to create services, such as Foamee, which use the Twitter network as their infrastructure. This is just mind-blowingly interesting to me (here’s a good place to start for more on this). However, if Twitterers follow thousands of people, then you can build services that don’t just depend on the interaction between people and a central bot, but leverage the interactions between people… and then it all starts to look a bit like Facebook.



  1. kerryjbuckley
    Posted April 9, 2008 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    I wonder whether this first type are trying to use Twitter to market themselves or their service, using the idea that if you follow someone there’s a good chance they’ll follow you back.

    Or even just click on the link to their site (or the site they’re spamming on behalf of) in their profile. I think that’s all some of them want.

  2. Posted April 9, 2008 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    A better comparison for twitter would be IRC rather IM.

    Although IRC was always plagued by trolls, spammers and.. – well eejits really. So it’s probably for that reason it didn’t obviously suggest itself as an enterprise technology. That wasn’t the fault of IRC, but the culture that it arose from and the state of the technology at the time, dedicated clients, etc..

    Around ten years ago there was an attempt to run an IRC channel, called #misc (run by James Somebody – a reference to the .misc newsfeed – Kerry were you on it?) It was OK, it was pretty interesting keeping it open all day watching what was little more than a twitter feed / public IM. Occasionally you’d spot somebody with a problem you could help with and it worked in terms of knowledge sharing.

    IRC is probably now a very marginal pursuit, I’m not suggesting that it could make a comeback either. Twitter does that conversation better – though it will be interesting if Twitter is robust enough to cope with overwhelming ‘non-optimum’ behaviour such as that which killed IRC.

  3. Posted April 10, 2008 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    Robert Cringley compared Twitter with CB radio – I think he has a point.

    Most of the hi volume followers are either pushing to be noticed, or think they are Scobelizer. These guys are indeed thinking more in terms of a broad CB radio channel. They don’t mind a near anonymous response as long as it carries some relevance.

    During the nextweb conference, I used, as a filter on the #nextweb2008 tag. In a way, the people I follow through Twitter have an implied # tag of “people I know who know me or of me”. When I tuned into anyone talking on the conference channel, then I got a much tighter CB radio experience. The locality combined with the digital presence. I didn’t say Rubber Ducky once.

    But the other volume users are the bots. Some bot started following me today, and all it does is tweet when someone has posted something to its app. Strange raidal advertising.

  4. shaidorsai
    Posted April 10, 2008 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I’ve got mixed views about this… I still enjoy it and learn lots, but am gradually unfollowing more of the really high volume people. If they’re interesting, I’ll take an RSS feed; more likely, if someone posts something interesting I’ll hear it from one of those I do follow.

    I fell for Osen, but will still *generally* follow back, at least for a few days. My Twitter Ratio is 0.79 which apparently means “Respected Among Peer Group” @jayfresh is TFF Ratio: 1.17
    “Might be a Momma’s Boy” jobsworth TFF Ratio: 1.46
    Might be a Momma’s Boy

    Interstingly, @scobleizer with his autofollow has a pretty good ratio – but if I don’t see @replies at all, I figure folk aren’t engaging, aren’t so interesting to follow

  5. Posted April 14, 2008 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Autofollow has to be a very bad idea. I can’t see any value in following people who follow ten times more people than follow them. That’s not a conversation, it’s like trying to bust into a football huddle.

    Loved the analogies that came out – IRC, CB radio – sounds like there’s a history of social patterns reinventing themselves over new channels.