Twitter Spam

Turning a fun thing into more marketing crap.

I’ve been using Twitter for about two months now. It’s part of my daily routine. Unfortunately, other people have also been using it — for their own selfish purposes.

How I Use Twitter

I start up my main Mac and Twitterific automatically appears. I use it to scroll back to see what the folks I’ve been following have been up to for the past few hours. Sometimes, their tweets include links to interesting articles on the Web. Other times, they give me ideas for articles or stories or just things to think about. And other times, they’re just plain boring. Let’s face it — we can’t all be interesting all of the time.

I tweet throughout the day while I’m working. I also have something set up somewhere (I forgot now) that automatically posts a tweet whenever I post a blog entry. That’s all automated, which is a good thing. On a good day, I can put out 5 or more entries.

I like the reassuring tweet and ping sound when a new tweet comes in on Twitterific. I work alone at my desk with only Alex the Bird (in the next room) and Jack the Dog (under my desk) for company. While Alex does plenty of talking, none of it is very meaningful. Getting tweets from people I follow is like hearing from the outside world. I may be physically alone, but there are people out there doing stuff and thinking about things and they’ve made me part of their world by tweeting. Andy’s doing his computer and hacking stuff all over the U.K. Miraz is raising her dogs while working at a desk in New Zealand, not much different from mine, 20 hours into the future. Leanne is practicing her saxophone, doing gigs, and teaching at a college. Mignon is researching and recording podcasts and getting interviewed. Mike, the good dad, is doing stuff with his kid and making plans for the next addition to his family. It’s digital but it’s live and real and it gives me company throughout the day. And, in more than a few instances, I’ve actually learned things from these people, most of whom are complete strangers to me.

I also tweet when I’m out and about. When I invested in my Treo, I also invested, for the first time ever, in a text messaging plan. I get up to 250 text messages a month. That might not seem like a lot to the folks who text to their friends and family members throughout the day, but to me, it’s a ton. So I post tweets via telephone. (I also use my Treo to post photos to my TumbleLog when I happen to see something interesting or funny.) For example, I tweeted whenever possible during my recent Alaska vacation and maybe — just maybe — I gave a few folks some ideas of what to see or do if they ever head up there.

Enter the Opportunists

If you use Twitter regularly, you’ve likely gotten e-mail messages from Twitter telling you that you have a new friend and offering a link to that “friend’s” tweets on the Twitter Web site.

At first, you might feel flattered — here’s a stranger that wants to keep track of what you’re doing. You might decide to thank him or her (or it — sometimes gender is unknown — by making him/her/it your friend.

But stop! Wait! Do your homework.

I’ve discovered that more than a few Twitter users don’t give a damn about anyone else’s tweets. All they want to do is suck other Twitter users into following their tweets. And their tweets are full of self-promotional bull or plain old advertisements.

Take, for example, PersonX. I won’t use this person’s name because, until recently, I was following her tweets and she may still follow mine. I didn’t realize it at the time, but PersonX had at least 3 Twitter accounts. It should have tipped me off when all three became my friends at the same time. Two of the accounts — I’ll call them AccountY and AccountZ — were for informational “services” posted as tweets. One, for example, provided quotes from literature. I can’t remember what the other one did — I didn’t stick with it long. PersonX’s tweets were all about how popular AccountY and AccountZ were getting. Or, if they weren’t getting popular, they were musings about why they were being ignored. It was pretty obvious that this person’s accounts were solely to promote herself and these useless services.

One particularly popular Twitter member tweets throughout the day with the latest on who he’s interviewing and what cool new product he’s been allowed to play with. Then, later in the day, he releases a bunch of @name responses to the people who have tweeted directly to him all day. Reading a dozen of these in a row — especially when you’re not following the tweets of the person he’s responding to — is a real bore. Thank heaven Twitter only allows 140 characters. I could see a person like this filling the bandwidth with one-sided personal conversations that no one else cares about.

A few other people I’ve followed in the past just tweet links to articles they’ve written or promotional material. Someone who’s curious might follow these links and, thus, waste a bunch of time reading ads. There are quite a few of these people out there. More than there should be.

All this, in my opinion, is Twitter spam.

Do Your Homework

It’s easy to prevent yourself from adding self-promotional opportunists as Twitter friends. Just do your homework in advance.

How? Simple. When you get an e-mail message telling you that PersonY has added you as a friend, click the link in the message that displays the person’s most recent tweets. (This will be something like http://twitter.com/username.) Read them. Decide whether this kind of content is something that interests you. If it’s not, ignore him. If it is, add him as a friend.

Removing a Friend

About Me on TwitterIt sounds cruel, but if someone you’ve added as a friend turns out to be someone who posts a lot of crap that you’re not interested in, it’s easy to remove their Tweets from what you see.

There are a few ways to do this. One way is to go to your Twitter home page (http://twitter.com/yourname/) and click the Friends link in the About box on the right side of the page.

This will list all of your friends:

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For each friend, you should see at least two links beneath the Friend’s name:

  • Leave username basically ignores the friend for a while by not displaying his links for you.
  • Remove username removes the friend from your list of friends. I’m ruthless, so this is the one I usually pick.

To my knowledge, the friend does not receive an e-mail message saying that you have left or removed him. So you don’t have to worry about insulting him or him bugging you about it.

Oh, and if a Twitter member is obviously using Twitter solely for spam-like communications, do us all a favor and report him. The Twitter team offers a form for assistance; you can use the same form to report a Twitter member’s unacceptable behavior.

I Still Like Twitter, Despite Any Shortcomings

I still like Twitter. It makes me feel as if I’m part of a community, even while I’m sitting alone all day in my office. I’m just very picky about who I follow — I have only 33 Twitter friends as I write this — and I’m quick to turn off the Tweets of the people too quick to promote themselves or their products.

And I think that’s vital for any serious Twitter user.

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