Thoughts on Twitter

Dipping into a little social-media nonsense on this one.. hope you enjoy it!

[ Icon: Twitter Bird ] I have been using Twitter now for around two years. In that time, I have gone from hating Twitter to practically loving it. The more I use Twitter, the more I appreciate its value in terms of social networking, self-expression, and even online entertainment. What can I say, it’s just fun to be working online while sharing nano-thoughts with a group of like-minded individuals. In this post, I share some insight and elaborate on some important aspects of Twitter: following & followers, profiles, avatars, and tweets. Not all of it is especially earth-shattering stuff, but hopefully it will contribute to the growing pool of understanding about everyone’s favorite micro-blogging service. So without further ado..

On Followers and Following

I love it when people follow me on Twitter. Getting those emails that say, “Captain Crunch is now following you on Twitter!” always brightens my routine. Almost religiously, I check out the profiles of my followers, their followers, and who they follow themselves. After checking out many Twitter pages, I have noticed the following general types of Twitter profiles:

Following many, but with few followers
This is a common profile: people who follow thousands of others without many followers for themselves. Most of the time, this is the profile of somebody involved with a marketing campaign. Like, you know, one of those people or companies that thinks they “get it” by leveraging Twitter as a marketing tool. Although I find this sort of mindless nonsense embarrassingly shallow and obvious, there are always a small handful of folks that fall for it, or are just happy to get a new follower and so return the “favor” by following in return. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
Another frequently observed motive behind the “following-many-with-few-followers” profile involves building up your followers by following those with high rates of return follows. In other words, some Twitterers (twits?) will go out and follow as many people as they possibly can find (focusing on those who often follow back) in hopes of getting themselves a large number of followers in return. For example, I once watched as one twit launched his profile by following over 5,000 other twits. Within a month or so, the twit had amassed a following of nearly 1,000 followers, while simultaneously reducing the number of twits he was following by half. Unfortunately, there are many who play this game, all for the sake of a number.
A couple of other points about this type of profile.. Whenever I see someone doing this, I can’t help but think of spam. People who return-follow such profiles are similar to people who respond to spam comments on their blog or think they’ve inherited a million dollars from some rich dude in Zambia. Seriously, how much value can you get from watching hundreds or thousands of tweets per minute roll past your screen? How many of those people are you going to reply to? Direct message? Form a connection with? I don’t know, but it seems to me that the more people you are following, the less time and attention you have for each of them. If you are one of those people who is following several thousands of people with very few followers for yourself, I would love to hear your logic for doing so. If you think it isn’t obvious, you are sadly mistaken.
Following few, and with few followers
As Twitter becomes more and more successful, another frequently seen profile is that of the typical new user: few followers, and following few. We all experience this at one point or another, however each of us has different ways of networking and building things up. For myself, my policy has always been to only follow those who first follow me and are worth following, as determined by tweet content, type of followers, who they are following, and their profile information, website, and so on. Having a great website to go with your Twitter profile is a great way to look more follow-worthy, even if it the whole concept of doing so does seem a little backwards. What trips me out is when I see profiles with like 500 or 5000 tweets, but with only a handful of followers. Of course, when this situation is reversed, we may be getting into the next type of profile..
Following few, but with many followers
I once read somewhere that what’s-his-name has like 30,000 followers but does not follow anybody. While that’s admirable to some, it also seems a bit egotistical, arrogant, and rather depressing. Of course, that is a rare case, as most human beings actually listen to others and care about what they have to say, especially when people are trying to communicate with them. Nonetheless, if there is a sign of popularity in the world of Twitter, this is its profile: many followers (like thousands), but following very few. If this sounds like you, I am surprised that you are even reading this, as you probably have better things to do with your time. Think big names here, like Scoble, What’s-his-name, and all of those other over-extended big-shots that I honestly couldn’t care less about. What’s sad is how desperately some twits try to be something they’re not, building up as many followers as possible just to impress others. My advice? Be who you are and make the most out of your natural network. Whether that’s 4 or 400, you might be surprised at how much benefit there is available to you.
Following many, and with many followers
Long-established, well-maintained and well-cultivated Twitter profiles enjoy this profile: many followers, following many. This type of profile typically requires some level of notoriety or fame, or else some really kick-ass tweets, 24/7. The reason for this is that most Twitterers are finicky, picky, and flighty little things. They will pick you up and follow you until one of your tweets is a little off-key — and then, BAM — they’re gone, never to be twittered again. Of course, if you happen to be some rock star or media darling or something, the bounce rate is much lower because people are more willing to stomach anything that you might fancy to say. In fact, many people base their own actions on the behavior of celebrities, which is really sad. Conversely, reciprocating or even beginning with thousands of follows requires much work, patience, and attention. Nonetheless, I continue to see signs of these huge, well-established networks and circles of people who follow each other and stay connected with Twitter. Interestingly enough, it seems that more and more, these networks are merging, growing larger, and ultimately converging into a single, global Twitter network. Maybe.

On Profiles

I have been thinking lately about finally customizing my Twitter home page. Since signing up with Twitter in 2006, I have been using the defualt Twitter profile page. You know, the sky-blue background with a couple of clouds or something and the default colors for everything else. Yes it’s boring, but it works and is very familiar to people dropping by to check things out. Even so, I can’t help but wonder how many people base their decision to follow on whether the person’s profile page looks “cool” or otherwise satisfying enough. Personally, although I do enjoy a pimped-out home page, it generally is not as important as the person’s follow and tweet profile. Also, I have seen some hideous Twitter background images — neon colors, tiled fractals, party snaps, mug shots, and the list goes on. This degree of tastelessness is worrisome because it so closely resembles the type of garbage currently infesting that hell-hole called MySpace. Seriously, people, if you must customize your Twitter page, use some common sense and good judgment — just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. If I ever find the time to customize my Twitter page, I am going to emulate some of the more subtle, understated customizations out there: limited color palette, well-branded imagery, uniform colors and fonts and so on. Think “mature,” “distinguished,” and “professional”, as opposed to “cheap”, “sleazy”, and “look at me”.

On Avatars

Avatars are a wonderful thing: they represent everything about you within a small, square image and may be changed as frequently or as infrequently as desired. There are some really great Twitter avatars out there in the Twitterverse these days. I particularly enjoy anything that is distinct, unique, and visually interesting. Sadly, many people choose to simply use their mugshot for their avatar, and that’s just fine, I suppose, but there are so many ways to show your originality that it is almost a travesty of justice to simply slap some vanilla snapshot of yourself as if it’s something worth looking at. If that’s “just you,” then fine, be that way. But keep in mind that you can prop it out, change up lighting, switch angles, and even use Photoshop to mix it up. Whatever you do, be yourself, of course. Beyond that, I also enjoy watching the ever-changing avatars of people who are constantly updating their image. It’s like watching a virtual identity crisis unfold in real time. Conversely, some Twitterers, such as myself, haven’t changed their avatars in years. Some don’t have the time, some have managed to find that perfect image, and others may simply not know how to upload a new one. I suppose it all comes down to branding: everyone does it, but some are better at it than others. Oh, and one more thing: blinking, flashing, or animated avatars are extremely pathetic! I recently was forced to stop following a long-time follower because they had changed their avatar into some hideous, color-changing animated llama-looking thing — it was continually flashing from red to orange to bright yellow, and was just too much for me to stomach — nobody needs to look that desperate for attention!

On Tweets

The heart of Twitter of course is the never-ending stream of consciousness manifest in the short text messages known as “tweets”. They are fun to watch, neat to read, and occasionally worthy of a response. Some of my favorite tweets are the ones that are short, sweet, and to the point. Like, “crash landing my bi-plane”, “dropping my first hit”, or “bleeding out my eyeballs”. It’s Twitter for crying out loud! Short and sweet is the name of the game! That said, some of my least favorite types of tweets are as follows (no pun intended!):

Multiple Re-Tweets (mRTs)
Sure, if it’s news-worthy, life-altering, or absolutely “must-see”, then a single retweet (RT) is certainly in order. What I really can’t stand are multiple retweets, as if we all didn’t get it the first three times. Retweet it once or twice if it is absolutely essential, otherwise, shut your little tweet-hole and move on with your life.
Suck-up Re-Tweets (sRTs)
Even worse than multiple RTs are suck-up RTs. Like when someone you are following suddenly retweets something that Guy Kawasaki or Darren Rowse (or some other web idol) happened to tweet. I always laugh when I see those because it’s like watching a dog try to lick peanut butter off the tip of his nose — completely desperate, futile and hilarious! The only thing more pathetic are multiple suck-up RTs.
“Cool” Twitterers (@, @, @)
I don’t even know what to call these things, but they are the absolute worst! You know what I’m talking about here, right? Those tweets that include nothing more than a list of @friends that some twit happens to think are just so flipping great that they just have to tell the whole wide world. Stuff like this makes me sick: “Cool-ass dwarves that you MUST follow: @doc, @happy, @sleepy, @sneezy, @dopey, @bashful, @grumpy” — it’s like high school all over again. Please, stop the popularity contest and get a life.

Later, Tweeps!

Twitter is a social phenomenon that will require much more analysis, use, and contemplation before its full significance will be understood. With this post, I hope that the first-hand experience and insight that is shared will contribute to the growing body of literature and thought regarding the incredible micro-blogging service that is Twitter.