The New Twitter and Why Im Purging All 30,000 of My Friends

This has been done many times before and I’ve resisted it for years now. The fact is, auto-follow is a core service to my company, SocialToo, so choosing, as a user, to move away from such is a big deal. We invented auto-follow. It’s a great idea because it focuses on relationships. The fact is, and it’s taken me a long time to come to grips with this:

Unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t want you to auto-follow. 

For that reason I’m using Twitter the way Ev and Biz want me to, and I’m starting over. Stay with me on this though, because there are better things in store, and I think there are ways to still focus on the relationship side of things. Let me explain.

The New Twitter

With the recent launch of embedded photos today and potentially videos within the stream on Twitter, Twitter.com is very quickly, just like Facebook.com is for Facebook, becoming the de facto client experience for Twitter users. I can go there and look at lists. I can see all the photos and videos of my friends. I can get regular updates from them. In the future, developers will be able to build apps for the experience (you heard it here, folks). The fact is, I’m getting more and more of a great experience on Twitter.com and having much less of a need to use Tweetdeck (my current Twitter client of choice) as a result. Especially with browser extensions like Kynetx, my web browser is now becoming my multi-network experience and I need a separate social networking client less and less these days.

There was one problem though, and I mentioned it on Twitter today: My default feed on Twitter defaulted to my main Twitter stream and Twitter provides no experience to “hide” users that I follow from the stream. Twitter’s entire focus is on the stream, not the actual users like on Facebook, and because of that I don’t think “hide” will every happen.

How I Used to Use Twitter

Since I auto-follow, I’ll be first to admit my main Twitter stream is getting pretty cluttered right now with 30,000 people in it, and in TweetDeck, I don’t even have it as a column at the moment. For my purposes though, auto follow worked well for me. I have people that read my books and read this blog and watch me speak, and I want to have the opportunity to meet those people and get to know them eventually.

It didn’t really matter that my main feed was cluttered though because by auto-following, I got to focus on what mattered most – relationships. Each and every one of my followers (with the exception of bots, which there are many) has some sort of interest in me, and I never want to neglect the opportunity to meet them, converse with them, and perhaps follow their updates some day. For that reason I would use lists, and the people who I had built relationships with and whose updates I wanted to follow I would add to those lists. Rather than my main feed, I would use a series of lists to see what people were up to and I would create a column for each inside Tweetdeck. It was much more organized that way, and by doing so I could focus on a backlog of people I could potentially get to know better, and I really would as they DM’d me, replied to my updates, and more.

Twitter is Made of Content, Not People

Today I came to a realization though that Twitter wasn’t built that way. On Facebook the relationships are 2-way, so accepting every friend request and using lists to filter people out makes a lot of sense. It’s more a contract on Facebook – “I’ll trust you if you trust me back”. I could then use lists and privacy controls to ensure my closer family and friends were protected.

However, on Twitter, an almost 100% public ecosystem, I don’t have that liberty. When I follow you, you don’t have to get to know me back. It’s all about the content, not the people, I want to subscribe to according to them – I don’t think that’s going to change unfortunately (but my focus on people will still remain the same). Regardless of Twitter’s focus, since I was using lists anyway, it really didn’t matter if I followed you in the first place. If I wanted to get to know you you could still reply to my tweets, and I could still add you to the lists I pay attention to. Not to mention the fact that Biz Stone himself has said he didn’t agree with auto follow.

So, wanting to use Twitter.com more, and realizing Twitter’s intentions, I decided it was time for a change in strategy. My focus still being on relationships. I decided that I would go ahead and unfollow everyone first, starting with a clean slate. Then, I’m going to focus on a new auto follow strategy.

My New, Still People and Relationship-Focused Strategy

Instead of auto-following everyone that follows me, I’m now going to start running a script that auto follows everyone that mentions my name, as well as people I add to a specific list. So, if you or I engage in conversation, I follow you. This way, I follow everyone who truly has a genuine interest in being a part of my community. I am also, through the list, able to follow others that I just find genuinely interesting. If they spam me, I just have to block them and they’ll never be followed again. And of course, I can always manually follow as well if I don’t want to trust the script (which I’ll likely do).

As a result of this I’m going to start a new focus on SocialToo as well. Auto-follow will still exist. The current tools will all still exist. However, I’m going to start focusing more on lists, and on being able to auto-follow and auto-add people to lists that are truly engaging. I have many of these tools written right now (if you want one right now ask me and we may be able to work out a deal), and should start integrating them shortly into the services we offer.

So if I unfollowed you tonight, don’t worry. If you are worried, just retweet me or reply to me or do something that mentions my Twitter handle (@Jesse) and you’ll be refollowed as soon as I’m done with the purge. I’m excited to see where this goes. Following Twitter’s own intentions should put me more in a mindset to understand how future users will be using the service.

If you have any ideas as I do this, let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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18 thoughts on “The New Twitter and Why Im Purging All 30,000 of My Friends

  1. I'm probably one of those people who have been “using Twitter wrong”, but I never understood why auto-follow would be even remotely desirable.  One of the interesting approaches that Twitter took to connections (person to person) was that they were asynchronous.  Want to follow someone?  Click, done.  No need to have them approve you.  In some respects they basically copied public blogging in that regard.

    The polite argument never made much sense to me either (that it is only polite to follow everyone who follows you).  I don't reply to every piece of email that gets sent to me (hundreds of spam emails a day make that very undesirable), so why would I automatically have an interest in following someone just because they follow me? 

    Like

  2. It is about me wanting to build relationships with the people that follow
    me. I follow back as a token of appreciation for showing some sort of
    interest in me. People really take it to heart when you follow them, even if
    you can't read every piece of content they write. When I'm getting hundreds
    of these a day I just can't manage that process manually (which I would if I
    could). Showing genuine interest in people is a key factor to building
    strong community.

    Lastly, there's something to be said about people being able to DM you as
    they chose. My community can't do that if I'm not following them.

    Like

  3. Are you really showing genuine interest in someone if you follow them and then don't read what they write?  This strikes me as some sort of symbolic “token interest” as opposed to genuine interest.  Perhaps showing a token interest is enough for most people then?

    This is exactly why I only follow 49 people on Twitter right now.  Because those that I do follow I have a genuine interest in reading what they have to say.  If I don't have that level of interest, then I don't follow them.  And I have no problem unfollowing people if they become spammy or annoying/unpleasant.  Just like I have no problem not picking up the phone to talk with telemarketers.

    The DM feature is the only thing that gets close to being an issue in this area.  But I don't see that as being hugely significant.  There are very easy and public ways to get ahold of me, ones that don't ever require that you signup for Twitter in order to use 🙂

    Like

  4. It can also be discouraging when you're doing your best, but still follow many more than follow you. I try to push content that's interesting to the demographic I'm interested in reaching, but one of the things I've run up against is that, unless you're already well-known, it's very difficult to build followers on Twitter. It can also be self-feeding: I suspect that people are less inclined to follow someone with a low follower count, although I can't confirm that myself.

    I like the idea you have here: following people you're actually in conversation with (as well as anyone you manually follow, of course) makes a lot more sense than a pure autofollow or following people manually.

    Will you be sharing the script at some point? I can see that being incredibly useful.

    Like

  5. Jesse,

    Nice integration of the Google +1 button — I'm still fiddling around with mine.

    I'm an auto-follower.  I'm also a Hootsuite user.  I hardly check in to Twitter.com — only to check on my lists and look at the saved search results.  Then I'm out again.  

    Interesting that you are changing your position on this.  While I'm not as enthusiastic, I'm intrigued to hear how this goes for you, and the results for others on Social Too.

    Thanks for offering another point of view to consider!

    ~Keri

    Like

  6. I like your new strategy. Seems like the list of people you follow would likely be much “closer” to you, and more likely to want to build a relationship.

    Any idea on when we might start seeing a Twitter.com app ecosystem?? I really like the sound of that.

    Like

  7. I still believe in auto-follow. I'm just wanting to give twitter.com a try
    and in order to do so I had to change my strategy. I'm actually still
    auto-following. I'm just auto-following by people that mention me, not by
    people that follow me.

    Like

  8. It's still an imperfect system, at least in my view.

    I am using Twitter more and more to find content rather than people, but Twitter is still more oriented to following people. Using myself as an example, I have been added to several Oracle-related lists, but when people look at my content, they find a lot of stuff that is not Oracle-related. Many Twitter users tweet on a variety of topics, some of which are interesting to me, and some of which are not. So while your new incoming stream will be better than the old one, it still won't be perfect.

    Now excuse me as I figure out a way to work the words “Jesse” and “Stay” into a tweet to get back on your list… 🙂

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  9. What makes you think that everyone who follows you is truly interested in you? This strikes me as naive. What about all the tools that let people follow Twitter users based on keywords in their tweets, or mimic the followers of other users? People who use these tools are hardly expressing genuine interest in the people they're following.

    I don't want to follow back people who have only followed me in the first place to either sell me something, boost their follower counts, etc., etc. These people have no genuine interest in me, and are hardly deserving of “appreciation.”

    Like

  10. I don't neglect them. I check out every single person who follows me. It's really not that hard. I follow back almost everyone except obvious spammers, get-rich-quickers, gun nuts, corporations I have absolutely no interest in, local merchants in cities thousands of miles from my house, etc.

    It seems to me that it's actually *auto-follow* that fosters neglect, because you don't actually have to pay attention to who's following you. It's simply an automated system handling the process for you. 

    Like

  11. Mark, I have hundreds of people that follow me every day. I can't afford to
    look over every single one – I simply don't have the time. I'd rather at
    least do something about it.

    Like

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