Twitter is NOT a Popularity Contest

And Twitter is being destroyed by the people who think it is.

The other day, there was an update in my tweet stream from MrTweet. It said:

New Posting: Twitter & the Law of Reciprocity (Why you should be a generous Twitterer, and how to!) http://bit.ly/Ni5tb

MrTweet is the Twitter account name for an online service that supposedly helps you find Twitter users who are like you. I joined up a while back, interested in adding a few people that I might connect with to the list of people I follow. I don’t know what MrTweet’s algorithms are like, but it didn’t come up with any matches. Still, there were few incoming tweets on that account, so I kept following it. That’s how I received the above tweet.

I followed the link. The blog post that appeared, “Twitter & the Law of Reciprocity,” included the author’s opinion of Twitter: “People may not like it, but Twitter is as old-fashioned a popularity game as high school is…”

WTF?

Is that what people think? Or, more likely, is that what people have turned Twitter into?

The post went on to provide tips for increasing the number of people who follow you, prefaced with this word of warning:

This isn’t a magic “popularity” ingredient, nor can I ensure you’ll get followers by the droves if you take my advice. This IS however, a philosophical theory that can bring you benefits if you understand it and are able to take advantage of it in your self-promotional efforts.

Among the pieces of advice were to reciprocate follows. That means if someone follows you, you should automatically follow back. It doesn’t matter who the person is, where he’s from, what he tweets, what his motives are, or how well you could possibly connect with him. Just follow him blindly.

This advice made me sick. It’s this attitude that’s turning Twitter into a meaningless waste of bandwidth, full of self-promotional links and blatant advertising.

Not long afterward, I caught wind of a new site called TweepMe. This is a pure piece of automated trash with just one goal in mind for the user: increase follower count. Here’s how it works: you sign up, providing both your Twitter user ID and password. You’re automatically followed by everyone else who signed up and you automatically follow all of them. So if TweepMe has 1,000 members, you automatically have 1000 followers. Ready for the punchline? The service is free to start out. Afterwards, you pay for your membership (and new followers).

Holy f*cking cow! What moron is so desperate for followers that he’d pay to get them? Oh, yeah. These morons.

Twitter logoHas everyone forgotten the original purpose of Twitter? It’s a social networking site, a way to connect with people you know. It’s “microblogging.”

If you’re a Twitter member, log out of your account on Twitter and go to http://www.twitter.com/. Here’s what you’ll find right on the Home page, under “What is Twitter?”:

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

I don’t see anything in there about selfishly eating up bandwidth to create hundreds or thousands of meaningless connections to strangers whose only interest is to do the same.

Tell me something: are these thousands of strangers you’re collecting as followers your “friends, family, and co-workers”? Are they likely to ever fit into any of those categories? Do you even care about them?

Why the hell are you “collecting” them, like a kid collects pretty rocks at the beach?

Have you read Jennifer Leggio’s excellent post on ZDNet, “I am popular on Twitter. Here’s why this means nothing.“? She echoes my sentiments exactly.

While I’ve been watching the growth, use, and misuse of Twitter for some time now, the childishness of follower collectors has only been a source of amusement for me. Until now.

The increase in demand on Twitter’s systems and bandwidth may be causing service outages. While that was bad enough as Twitter went through its growing pains, it truly sucks if it’s caused by what one Twitter user, @pageoneresults, refers to as a “Twitter Self Replicating Human Virus.” While I don’t usually link to SEO sites (I don’t believe in messing with Google search results), Edward Lewis’s blog post, “TweepMe Twitter Application,” is more than just an angry rant. It provides a wealth of information about what TweepMe is, how it works, how it can be compared to trojans and viruses, and how the idiots who initially signed on can make a clean break with it. He also opines about TweepMe’s possible role in recent Twitter outages:

There appears to be a bit more with this TweepMe application that many have overlooked. The thing is growing exponentially. It is a Twitter Self Replicating Human Virus. If it continues at its current rate, it may even hamper the performance of the Twitter pipelines. Whale Watchers are claiming that TweepMe is behind the recent Fail Whale sightings on Twitter although none of us can be sure of that.

Personally, I’m saddened by what is happening to Twitter. Since becoming an active Twitter user two years ago, I’ve always thought of my Twitter friends as “water cooler buddies.” I work in a home-based office and spend most of my days alone. Having the 100 people I follow in the Twitterrific window on my computer’s desktop gives me the social interaction I need during the day to keep my sanity. While some of these people are friends — including folks I was very close to 20 or more years ago! — others are people I met through Twitter. I’ve made good, solid connections with quite a few of them. I’ve met several of them in person and can now consider them real friends.

To me, that’s what social networking is all about. Twitter makes it easy. It enhances my life.

So you can imagine my anger and frustration when I see blog posts and Web services created with the sole purpose of increasing follower count, wasting bandwidth, and undermining Twitter’s original purpose and goals.

15 thoughts on “Twitter is NOT a Popularity Contest

  1. This is exactly the kind of reaction I was worried about when I wrote the post about Twitter and the Law of Reciprocity, because that is obviously not something you could relate to, given your (Personal) use of Twitter. It would never be the intention of the folks that run Mr. Tweet or myself, to make someone “sick” or “disgusted”. That was one small segment of an entire post about what BUSINESS people trying to use Twitter for BUSINESS are potentially doing wrong. I do have thousands of followers, and follow many back, and I am blessed to be calling more and more people clients because I am meeting them on Twitter and they eventually learn what I do, and they have a need. There are MANY uses for Twitter – but sometimes folks can only see it through their own lens of experience. I was sincerely trying to help other business folks use it more effectively in a way that benefits the people they come into contact with, not just themselves. Thankfully it resonated with some people, if not yourself. The ‘popularity’ point you reference, had to do with being someone that is liked and appreciated by YOUR own network of followers, be they 10 or 10,000.

  2. I agree whole heartedly with your sentiments. As a new twitter user, I have followed people that I hope will inspire, humor, and enlighten me. I am an on-site agent selling new homes, I am usually working on marketing plans and twitter gives me bursts of fresh ideas from creative thinkers. I currently am following 100 and have 87 followers. It isn’t my intention to get the most followers, just connect with people- who ever they may be.

  3. Hi Maria! Actually i completely agree with you there. We were trying to reflect a view point of Kris, and there certainly is no one way of using Twitter. Would love to chat more if you want to – mingyeow@gmail.com or 650 283 6558.

    Cheers!

  4. “Personally, I’m saddened by what is happening to Twitter. Since becoming an active Twitter user two years ago, I’ve always thought of my Twitter friends as “water cooler buddies.” I work in a home-based office and spend most of my days alone.”

    Great article and the quote above sums up how I’ve been feeling about it lately. After researching this TweepMe Plague I’ve come to find out that there are quite a few others jumping on board. There is another service that is flooding Twitter Timelines with Follower Spam and that would be TweeterGetter.com. I think we are going to see the MySpace Friend Train thing come to Twitter real soon.

    What is even more saddening is that it is being allowed. That is the part that confuses me. I don’t understand how Twitter could let the fabric of their platform be stained like this. They’ll lose quality contributors quickly if they let it continue.

    Personally I think they are watching the outcome of these new applications. Remember, they are looking for ways to monetize the platform. What better way to test than to see applications like TweepMe and TweeterGetter FAIL. Problem is, we all get to suffer in the process and so does Twitter. We should all blame TweepMe type applications when we see the FAIL Whale surface.

    Thanks for the reference by the way. :)

    This is the best Twitter video to date and it was just launched on 2009-03-20. It is absolutely hilarious!

    Twouble with Twitters

    http://www.SEOConsultants.com/twitter/tso/#Twouble

    pageoneresults´s last blog post: TweepMe – Twitter Self Replicating Human Virus

    • My participation in Twitter has dropped dramatically in the past few days. And guess what? I’m not missing it all that much. I guess I can do without the water cooler buddies.

  5. I agree that Twitter is like middle school at times. I will only follow people back who are relevant to what I use Twitter for. I’m flattered that someone chooses to follow me but that’s no guarantee that I will follow you back. Nor, should it be taken as a slight that I don’t follow you back. I have looked at what you are tweeting and it doesn’t fit what I’m using Twitter for. I don’t want to hear that your cat has fur balls or that you had a taco for lunch. I don’t have time to listen to that . That doesn’t make me a “mean girl” at all – just a person trying to manage my time appropriately.

    Twitter, like most tools on the internet, can be used appropriately or abused badly. I’m trying to use it appropriately to connect with people who interest me and help me stay up on what’s happening in the scrapbook, craft and photo industries.

    Kim Guymon´s last blog post: Marketing Moments

  6. I’m a newish twitter user. Anything I say now will probably embarrass me down the road. But I definitely see how people with a lot of followers can start (have started?) influencing their industry’s conversations in a major way. Same for hobbies.

    I follow most of the people who follow me, but most of them are in the same industry, or connected to it. It’s rare that I get followed by say, a horse show enthusiast or random emo chick. Anyway, as a result of all that industry cross-talk I feel more connected to what’s going on in real time. I feel I’m getting the trends and currents sooner than with any other medium. (Facebook suddenly seems so passe.) That wouldn’t happen if I didn’t “generously” follow most of my small band of followers.

    I feel people gathering followers are not just looking for high school popularity, but laying down the groundwork for future power and influence, and creating relationships. Everyone wants to be the next huge personality: Oprah, Ellen or Martha. This is a chance to launch your personal brand, in a medium that’s not yet mainstream, for free. And it doesn’t require the advanced skill set that video does. That’s kind of huge.

    Of course, purely personal twitter users may find all this kind of gross, but even they have hobbies, areas, passions they deeply care about and could come to influence through Twitter.

    • I’m not seeing this at all. The people who start following me — and there are 5 to 15 of them a day — are from a wide range of fields. Many of them are definitely spammers. Others are just in it for the follower count — that’s clear by the number of people THEY follow. They are not discriminating at all — they’ll follow ANYONE if there’s ANY chance they might be followed in return. Tell me: are those people actually READING all of the tweets that come through from the thousands of people they follow? I seriously doubt it. So the reality is that they’re really not “following” these people at all. It’s just a game, a ploy, a childish contest.

      Again, I’m not saying this applies to ALL Twitter users. But it’s certainly looking like the scale is tilting in that direction.

      “Laying the groundwork for future power and influence?” I agree that a small percentage might be trying to do so. But unless they’ve got something of value to share, they’re not likely to succeed.

What do you think?