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Brainstorming for a better Twitter

January 28th, 2009 | by Klaus Holzapfel |
Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Twitter could use a little makeover. The objective of this post is to initiate a discussion and come up with a list of suggestions for Twitter on how to improve. I  met Twitter co-founder Biz Stone personally. He appeared to be very humble and is a good listener. Why not give it a shot?

Brief History
Twitter has changed its order of displaying followers a few months ago. The latest followers are now shown on top. This makes it very easy to follow a person who aggressively adds new (auto) followers and build a big number of followers for themselves. Many people have issues with this and call it spamming.

Instead of complaining about the status quo I’d much rather look ahead and address some things that could easily be improved – without making Twitter too complex and all of us ending up with the almost permanent “fail whale” again:

1. Freeze Twitter names once a user is past 500 followers
It is easy to change a Twitter username and keep your followers. You essentially hire some kids in India and build an account with 100,000 followers in a month or two. You could then sell this account to someone else who can stick their own name on it. I am surprised this service isn’t available yet – maybe it already is? Please do NOT run to the USPTO with this.

2. Provide better user management tools
Someone’s followers should not be visible to the public in a chronological order.

On the other hand there should be a more advanced follower and followee management system for users themselves.  I’d like to see when someone posted last, what their DM vs. reply vs. normal Tweet ratios are. How many Tweets per user per day? Etc…

An enhanced follower/followee interface could be a premium service. I’d pay $5 per month for it.

3. End supporting the big guys exponentially
Right now everyone can follow up to 2,000 people when they start. After the 2,000 benchmark you can follow your number of followers plus 10% of your follower base.
Examples:

  • If you have 3,000 followers you can follow 3,300 people.
  • If you have 50,000 followers can follow 55,000 people.

This opens floodgates. Power users should be more limited in how much they can reach out.

If people choose to follow you and you follow them back there is no need to impose a limit – no matter how popular you are. Barack Obama didn’t need to be too agressive to build his follwers on Twitter…

4. Give a little extra help for the new members
A controversial thought: How about offering new members access to a pool of 1,000 randomly selected members that offer reciprocity and will follow new users back?

Every new user would get to pick up to 100 users out of this pool. In case someone is trying to expand their network I’d see this as a reasonable way. It might sound a bit complicated but it would make me happy to see newbies get a little headstart.

5. Restriction of how many times you can follow/unfollow the same user
If a user tries to follow the same person 5 times in one month there should be a warning light going on. This is a clear indicator that someone tries to build a follower base too aggressively.

6. Better control of third party Twitter tools
Instead of making their API available to everyone Twitter might add an individual code for third party tools. This could weed out the bad guys offering abuse. If a new tool is not helping the community Twitter would have the power to shut it off.

Many third party Twitter tools are truly helpful for the individual users and for the community overall. Twitter would hardly work without them. But some others are clearly not. I.e. many people are abusing the auto reply feature offered by Socialtoo (I used it briefly but then recognized my mistake).

What can you do?
I made this up by myself – no focus groups or team of experts ;-) Therfore this list is neither perfect nor complete.

Please add your comments and I will update the list if I think your idea is in line with what I am trying to accomplish: A clear and brief message of what could be improved in a relatively short time – not a 10 page document. The Twitter folks are busy and won’t have time for this.

You can also do one or all of these

  • Uncopyright: You can repost this article on your blog. I am just a little guy and you might have a much bigger following. You can mention my name and link back to my blog but you don’t have to.
  • You could vote this article thumbs up or thumbs down. It will help to send a stronger message.
  • You also just add a comment stating: “I am in”. It will also add power to this effort.

PERSONAL NOTES
I have greatly benefitted from the “loophole” and added a lot of followers lately myself.  I also laid out my way of using Twitter very clearly in my Twitter policy. I stick to it.

I am not suicidal. I have no interest in putting a nail in my coffin and abuse my follower base.

Without having a significant follower base you might not have found this blog post. Of course there are other benefits of having a follower base. It helps to build a brand. It adds visibility.

For some people the # of followers is also a big ego booster: No-one who knows me personally has told me yet that I have changed because of my Twitter stats. If anything I am a bit more humble and feel more responsible in what I put out there. I am certainly not starting any of my conversations with: “How many followers do you have?”

This post was inspired by the legions of Twitter users who care about a nice and clean Twitter just as much as I do. You know who you are. Be well!

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  1. 8 Responses to “Brainstorming for a better Twitter”

  2. By Klaus_Holzapfel on Jan 28, 2009 | Reply

    We are obiously on different pages here. DM is a very important part for me on how I use Twitter. I try to avoid clogging my feed and not everything I have to say needs to be visible in public.

    If someone doesn't follow me back there is no way of direct messaging. Therefore I unfollow users that do not follow back. And a lot of other people with integrity do the same.

    So essentially if I follow someone I invite them to follow me back. I am not interested in one way relationships on Twitter. And I make no secret out if this.

    I am afraid that you have a set of rules that is different from mine or other Twitter users. I looks like you try to force your standards down the throat of everyone else.

    You know as well as I do that if there are loopholes – whatever they are – people will take advantage of them. Trying to educate others will always only get you so far. Try that with tax loopholes. Therefore Twitter needs more rules as it becomes more mainstream.

    I wish you would be a bit more selective on you label a "spammer". I think you are throwing that word around to easily. I looked up the definition on Wikipedia beofre I posted this.

  3. By Jeremy on Jan 28, 2009 | Reply

    Regarding Twitter "Follow-Spam" is pretty well defined:

    http://www.stoptwitterspam.com/blog/2008/04/a-definition...target=”_blank”>http://” target=”_blank”>http://valleywag.gawker.com/5036236/whats-follow-

    By following people with the intention of unfollowing them soon after, you're sending them no-value emails that most of the people who receive them don't want. Spam.

    I understand word choice is important. When a word like "loophole" is used that makes it apparent that you're talking about gaming the system and acting against the intent of the rules.

    Sure you can DM your followers, but DM isn't the end all / be all. Have you considered that the only people that follow you may be those that are willing to opt-in to just about anything? (Judging by the low rate of follow-backs, less than 50% you follow, easy.)

    You can have quick growth or valuable growth. Pick one.

    Jeremy

  4. By Gib Wallis on Jan 29, 2009 | Reply

    I'm not sure I understand what the danger is for #1 (changing a user name). After all, if you start off as Quasi-Modelo and tweet about forays as a body prototype for mannequins a lot, and after 500,000 users you sell your account to someone else who changes the user name to Work-at-Home-Free-Mortgages, then the person and the purpose behind the tweets will change, and people will simply unsubscribe.

    I like #5 (the limit to following people) so that a spammer doesn't harrass you with multiple requests. On the other hand, some people get cranky at each other and following and unfollowing might be normal for that relationship. Think of 15 year old on-again/off-again sweethearts or spouses debating a divorce and there's a human reason why real people might not be best suited to this.

    I think Jeremy's point is that if you give a host of guidelines and then confess that a loophole for one of them (about aggressively following people) is one you have just finished availed yourself of, then there's something to look at there. Also, Jeremy seems to advocate people policing themselves for honesty rather than technology.

    Contrary to Jeremy's position, I take your using the loophole as an example of a real person (non-spammer) doing something with no real averse effects. Further, I like that I can block spam bots. Some people don’t exist as people in social media, they are just spam bots and I believe we need technology to protect us – either our own or the social media provider.

    A note on your twitter policy: you don't mention how fast you unfollow people who don't follow back. I check out my recent follows about once a week or so. Two to three days is not a lot of time for busy people who's lives aren't twitter to return a follow.

    My own tendency (no policy yet) is that if I @ reply to people and they direct message me (as I'm following them), then they should follow me back, especially if it's really an offline comment. A friend of a friend did this repeatedly (I like her), so I unfollowed her and @ replied back. She must have tried to DM me and couldn't. She followed me right away and we've been mutually following ever since.

    Your mileage may vary.

  5. By Klaus_Holzapfel on Jan 28, 2009 | Reply

    Thanks for your insightful reply. I like your suggestion regarding a timeframe on how long you will follow someone until you unfollow them and will amend my policy accordingly.

    As for #1: I think it is still relevant because someone can by subtle and do a lot of damage until he/she gets busted.

    I think I should have refrained from using the word loophole because it sends the wrong message. My bad.

    Funny how you describe people following and unfollwing each other constantly. I can see that happening among some people;-)

  6. By Jeremy on Jan 28, 2009 | Reply

    You said in your post that you've greatly benefited from the loophole. I'm not sure what use any of your suggested improvements would be against a person such as yourself. Would you not just exploit a new loophole? There's a name for doing the right thing regardless of rules or people watching you. It's called integrity. An honest person never needs rules or systems to keep them honest. I believe the solution to the problem isn't a fix on Twitter's end, but making the conversation about use and abuse visible enough that new users are able to find a way to be a valuable community member. Your "Significant Follower Base" did lead me to this post, though only as an example for other users as what not to do. The "Nail in your Twitter coffin" isn't abusing your followers, it's your abuse of everyone who didn't follow you back.

    Jeremy

  7. By Paul Mackenzie Ross on Jan 29, 2009 | Reply

    Twitter as a core tool should stay pretty much as it is. The API and everything that stems from it is what devs and users can use to expand it if they so wish. The simplicity of Twitter is probably its most important aspect, its charm if you will, and any mainstream popularisation & incessant tinkering with Twitter core may well spoil the experience for those that came to it for its honesty & integrity in the first place. It's a bit like SMS. SMS is great. And if I want to use MMS then I can do that too, but it's a separate tool.

    As for expanding the rules, why? There is netiquette and there is "twittiquette". As a self-regulating community I think Twitter is excellent. Like I said to your Mrs, if you think you're being spammed you can simply "unfollow" and get more signal and less noise. Better still is that you can see a new follower's profile and tweets thus filtering out the flotsam before it washes up on your shore.

    If it aint broke, don't fix it :-)

  8. By Klaus_Holzapfel on Jan 29, 2009 | Reply

    You are making a lot of good points. Maybe I am wrong and underestimate the self regulating power.

    It works on Facebook but only because the rules are very very tough. You screw up once or twice and you are getting busted. But there you pay a much higher price and it is harder to start over in case you have to.

    I noticed the Socialtoo just added a very interesting feature: It is call "vetting new followers" and gives you a pretty good handle on what you want to do with new followers.

    In case you have the auto follow feature enabled: You can screen them first and decide what to do with them. Approve, irgnore or block.

    A lot of people are on Socialtoo and it will weed out spam-bots a little faster.

  9. By Dave Taylor on Jan 29, 2009 | Reply

    I like your suggestions, Klaus, and have to say that I agree with you that it's a bit much to expect new members of a community to magically follow community guidelines especially on as nascent a tool as Twitter, where there aren't even best practices agreed upon yet.

    It's nice to hope that the community will "play well together", but I know of well-known Twitter users who are quite aggressively exploiting the auto-follow feature to add thousands of followers in a short amount of time based on technology, not the merit or value of their twitterstream. Are they bad people or are they just using the system differently? And who are we to judge and be so complacent that we're right and they're wrong?

    I want to say that we should all grow our twitter followers organically and that it's a meritocracy, and that my 4500+ followers is a sign that "they like me, they really like me!" but I now routinely come across other users who have 10,000 or more followers yet have nothing to say and no name or reputation in the industry. Who ARE they? Should I succumb and double my followers by spending a few hours gaming Twitter?

    Interesting to note is that the Tweetlater team announced this morning that they were adding a 72 hour delay on autofollowing (they offer an easy autofollow utility for Twitter users) because of this problem. Clearly it's an issue, and I think we should be careful not to give in to the urge to shoot the proverbial messenger rather than think about the message.

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