The twitter follower fallacy

Crowd at Lincoln's second inauguration, March ...
Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

There’s been much a discussion lately about the value of having hordes of twitter followers, sparkled mainly by the Twitter‘s  Suggested Users List. Jason Calacanis came to the point to offer Twitter $250K to be  one of the top 20 Suggested Users for two years.

The argument is simple: the more followers you have,  the more people receive your message,  the more power you have to market you ideas, products, services, or even yourself.

This sounds like good old marketing. Is it, really?

My personal experience of twitter and all the other social media is that the social experience does not scale. You cannot actively follow more than a few dozens of people. You cannot subscribe and read more than a few hundred feeds. You cannot subscribe to hundreds of youtube channels and watch even half of them.

By actively following, I mean, paying attention regularly or even occasionally to the message  ‘broadcasted’. I will not delve into the territory of the entailing  ‘conversations‘  because  it is even less scalable.

It doesn’t take to0 much brains to agree to this observation. Even if you are paid to follow other people’s updates, there is only so much you can take and do.

So why people like Jason glorify a practice that can bring little back?

Because it can bring back more than a little but only if two conditions are met:

  • 50% of twitter users follow only 10 people or so. If you happen to be  one of those they follow, their attention is guaranteed.
  • Not all twitter users are equal. There are people that had a big audience before joining twitter, Calacanis being one of them.  And others that have a bigger audience, who  are not even active twitter users (:think Madonna) . These celebrities  will receive preferential treatment in people’s attention, even if they are crammed among hundreds of others.

Besides, there is little trick that lots of people play,  that adjusts their social experience to their  true capabilities: twitter clients like tweetdeck allow segmenting and  grouping those you follow. If out of the thousands you follow, you are indeed interested in just fifty, you only have to include these fifty in a special group and interact/follow only with them.

In this way, you can follow back without hesitation every single one who follows you, and ignore him for ever after that.

To summarize, a big crowd of followers is valuable if the crowd’s  attention is more or less guaranteed, and this applies only to those of your followers that follow a small number of people or were actively following before twitter.

And here starts the fallacy: actively seeking thousands of followers regardless of their profiles or regardless who you  are does not bring back any profit. It does only pollute the twitter experience with daily twitter spam, driving gradually people away from this medium.

You might argue back that the twitter growth does not concede  with my statement. I can only argue back that a tanker starts turning from the προς  and it takes quite a distance before the turn becomes observable.

Update 24/3/2009: Just saw a somewhat related post here.

The Calacanis effect: 1st AWS Athens meetup

Jason Calacanis in OpenCoffee Greece

Image by nikan_gr via Flickr

Jason Calacanis urged people gathered to listen him in the last Greek OpenCoffee, to abandon their isolation, form groups of common interests and advance and thrive on cooperation. Half jokingly,  half seriously, he appointed John Nousis, cofounder of the Zuni student social network, as the one responsible for a meetup of people interested in cloud computing and Amazon Web Services.

Well, today we witnessed this ‘joke’  come alive!

Close to 40 people gathered in  the cafeteria of Eleftheroudakis’ bookstore to watch John’s presentation, discuss and network.

I got a positive feeling from the meeting for the following reasons:

  • Most people gagthered were IT professionals
  • They seemed to have a genuine interest in the subject flared by an unconfessed concern about some project they were running.
  • There were lots of ‘new  faces’ which means that this meetup motivated people that we do not usually see in other meetups.
  • The subject itself (cloud computing, scaling, need for ‘unlimited’ bandwidth etc) points to projects that do not bear the usual characteristics of  Greek startups: local focus, limited reach etc.

“Now what?” you might ask. I am not sure whether or when there is going to be another meetup, but my suggestion is that it should. And it should have a more concrete form: to train people interested in the basics. Because startups don’t need only computing power that scales, but also people to maintain it.

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Meeting Jason

Yesterday I met Jason Calacanis. He was attending the Stream 2008 unconference in Athens,Greece  and the opportunity was ideal.
The meeting wasn’t by chance though. I learned about his coming through some Twitter friends and sent him an email asking for an interview.
He counter proposed that I should go to Stream and videotape the whole session he would be leading on Friday afternoon.
It didn’t take long for me to agree. I run there with my colleague Spyros, and recorded the whole session, plus an extra 10 minutes interview.

These are the two videos that follow. People interested in startups, especially now, under the heavy shadow of the looming financial crisis, should definitely watch the first one, where Jason relates his recent experiences from the Techcrunch50 event.In brief, the things covered are the following:

  • Observations and conclusions from Techcrunch50
  • zero cost startups and microfinancing
  • zombie startups
  • the end of servers
  • venture investment in the form of hosting
  • oversourcing of crowds
  • countries that generate startups: US, Israel, Korea, Japan and China.
  • risk aversion and role of negative press in Europe

The bullets might look a bit cryptic, but watch the video and you’ll understand.

The sound is a bit harsh in the first video as there is a lot of background noice (mostly coming from the air conditioning), but voices are audible.

The second is a bit more personal as Jason talks about his Greek roots and Mahalo.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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