Those Who Give Twitter *Get* Twitter

Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb wrote a post arguing that the people working at Twitter aren’t using the service the way its power users do, and that this bodes ill for Twitter. His main arguments:

  • Twitter’s employees don’t twitter very much: an average of 2 to 3 tweets per person per day.
  • Twitter employees don’t follow very many other people: only 2 out of 49 Twitter team members follow more than 500 people and no one was over 1k.
  • Twitter staff members aren’t following top Twitter developers in the community.

I can’t really address the third point, but the first two–and especially the second–are hardly helpful to Kirkpatrick’s case. To the contrary, they argue that the people who work at Twitter get it. And, to make sure Kirkpatrick got it, Twitter CEO Ev Williams even wrote him a letter, in which he said:

Many people fall into the trap that you should follow all or most people back out of a sense of politeness or so-called engagement with the community… At a certain point, you’re not actually reading any more tweets by following more people — you’re just dipping into the stream somewhat randomly and missing a whole lot of what people say. That’s fine, but I believe people will generally get more value out of Twitter by dropping the symmetrical relationship expectation and simply curating their following list based on the information and people they want to tune in to.

Amen! I’ve been hammering this point here in most of my posts about Twitter, but here is a handful of examples for newer readers:

And of course the whole point of TunkRank is to discourage the vicious circle of reciprocity and fake following. That’s baked into the the measure which, like PageRank, divides the voting power by the number of out-links.

The comments on Kirkpatrick’s post suggest that a lot of regular Twitter users also get it. I find that reassuring, especially given the hype around Twitter in the last several weeks. Twitter can be a useful tool but it will help if people don’t devalue it by imposing cultural norms that devalue the social network. I’m glad the folks who have given us Twitter realize that.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

9 replies on “Those Who Give Twitter *Get* Twitter”

I agree. The difference between using Twitter “right” and using Twitter “wrong” is if you are really reading what you find interesting or being social and following your followers.

But saying that someone is using Twitter wrong would be an odd thing.


We’ve discussed it a lot here and I’ve always agreed completely with your take on the “best” way to get value out of twitter. (It’s one reason TunkRank, even in it’s unmodified, simplified form is still superior to any other measures to date).

For example: I follow 2 twitter people & I only have 1 twitter person following me (I’m pleased as punch who it is) and that fits completely with the best way to get value from my twitter stream. I mean most of what I have to say about twitter, HCIR, nlp, machine learning, etc. is irrelevant to 99% of the twitter folk (just as most of what 99% of what they have to say does not interest me) so I follow just the 2 people & I would not expect many to follow me.

That said however if twitter folk who are in support, development, community engagement, etc. are not following active developers & top advocates it does make one wonder why the heck not.

Beyond interacting with your friends, colleagues & concepts you like, following your developers & advocates (if you have either) just seems like not only a very good use of the twitter stream but good business sense… It might simply be that much of the twitter org is young and inexperienced and more interested in chatting within their own cliques than engaging more broadly but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.


Henrik, I’m hesitant to tell people they’re using Twitter wrong, since I’m a fan of live and let live. But I do criticize turning Twitter into nothing more than a follower hoarding game as devaluing the medium.

Chris, I agree that it’s odd if Twitter staff aren’t following active Twitter developers–that’s the one point of the three I can’t discount. But I also didn’t investigate its validity.


Agreed, without validation it’s just “hearsay”.

I can’t make it high-priority but when I get a chance I’ll identify all tweeple people & dev/customer specific tweeple people & then run it through the project & see what the real numbers are and report back. 🙂


This problem can be resolved with categorization of links. Like, in LiveJournal, one can have a lot of “friends”, but then read only certain portions of them by just typing /friends/”groupname”. That works pretty well, actually. And nobody feels rejected 🙂


Both the blog post and the discussions bring out interesting points. I do not follow every body who follows me but try many of them out for a while. Like Pavel suggests, I divide them into a few groups. There are interesting possibilities for getting metrics that reflect individual tastes. I know what I want, but have difficulty generalizing it.


To tweet a dead horse, take Twitter CEO Ev Williams as an example. Over 800K users follow him. He follows about 1K himself–which I already think is a stretch. Clearly he can’t pay even a modicum attention to each of his followers. Should that offend them? Should he pretend to pay attention to them, just to make them feel better? I much prefer that he not do so; like him, I believe in people “simply curating their following list based on the information and people they want to tune in to.”

Better filtering tools would be nice. But let’s forget that choosing whom to follow is itself a filtering tool–and one that offers the very kind of transparency that Twitter was designed to cultivate.


It has always made sense to me to follow the people you like reading and to steer clear of tweets or tweeters that you don’t like. I suffer from twanxiety in this regard, initially feeling bad for not following my followers just because…… stick to your guns people and you will have a useful resource full of good info. Follow everyone and you will drown in a sea of mediocrity.


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