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Twitter Thoughts...Second Time Around

Twitter I've been back in the Twittersphere for a couple of months now after trying and aborting it initially.  I have to admit that the experience has been much more pleasant this time around.  Why?  First of all, I was (and have remained) pretty selective about who I'm following.  More on that in a moment.  Secondly, the Twhirl client I've been using on my laptop (thanks, Steve!) is far better than just doing everything from, which is what I used during that first experiment with Twitter.  That said, I keep hearing a lot of good things about Tweetdeck, so I'll probably give that a shot in the next couple of days.  Twitterffic on the iPhone is a great portable client too, btw (thanks Laurie!).

My initial disappointment with Twitter had to do with the poor signal to noise ratio.  I was seeing far too much junk and I gave up.  That's not the case this time because, as I mentioned before, I've been very selective with who I follow.  I'm currently only following 40 other feeds and I can't imagine letting that go above 100, for example.

Given that last point, I'd like to make an observation: There seems to be a strong correlation between the quality of a feed and the number of other feeds that person is following.  As the latter goes up, the former seems to go down.  The best (highest quality) feeds I follow are generally written by people who follow less than 500 other feeds, and most are less than 100.

I chuckle when I see someone is following 1,000, 2,000 feeds or more.  Really?  How do you find the time?!  I can't help but think these same Twitterers are just clicking the "Follow" button as much as they can in the hopes of reciprocation.  "I'll follow you if you'll follow me", that sort of thing.  Because those high-follower feeds tend to be the weakest, I find myself reconsidering (and canceling some of) my feeds pretty regularly, much more so than I do with RSS feeds.

So am I wrong or is there a variant of Moore's Law happening here that looks something like this: "The quality of a tweet is reduced by half for every 500 feeds the author is following above a base of 500."  IOW, if someone is following 400 others, their tweets have a quality level of 1.0.  If someone is following 700 others, it drops to .5.  1200?  The quality level gets cut in half again to .25.

What's your experience been?  Have you found any great Twitterers who follow more than 500 others?



I just checked mine and although theres one over 1200 I can't say I pay much attention to it. Not sure if your rule is valid but it seems to apply for me. Is it possible there are better tools out there to let someone follow that many people? Seems hard to believe though.

Ann Kingman

Joe, I used to agree with you until I found Tweetdeck. And I think it also depends on how you want to use twitter.

Tweetdeck allows you to put people into groups, and view each group in a column. That's where I put the people that are most important to how I use twitter. For instance, I have a "book people" group and a "social media" group. My total number of people in those two groups is probably around 50 total. Those are the tweets I read first. They are people that I have 2-way conversations with or else people that I read and learn from on a regular basis.

Everybody else (I follow around 800 right now) are in my "all friends" group that is default in Tweetdeck. I scan this column when I have time. There are often interesting posts, with links to blogs, etc. that I find of value. And sometimes it's just entertaining. If I find myself interacting with someone from that column on a more regular basis, I'll move them into one of my groups.

The value of following that many and having a similar number of followers comes when I am trying to either get information about something, or else spread the word about something worthwhile. If I want to crowdsource "the best iphone app for Twitter" (Tweetie, by the way, well worth the $3), have more followers will give me a better chance at answers that are valuable. If I want to spread the word about a great post on your blog, having a larger number of followers increases the possiblity that your great ideas will spread.

All of this goes with the caveat that I still only follow people who appear to be interesting -- I don't blindly follow back those that follow me, and I don't follow spammers or people who seem to only promote themselves, their sites, make money quick schemes, etc.

So I'd recommend you give Tweetdeck a try. You may rethink your position on following. And if not, that's fine, too -- the beauty of twitter is that there are so many ways to use it.

Kat Meyer

I have to second what Ann says. Though, I don't use Tweetdeck as much as I should, it does make it very convenient to sort out your followers/follow-ees, and keep up with the conversations that are most pertinent at any given time. And, I have to thank Ann (for among so many other things) recommending Tweetie. It is akin to ichat -- it's a great u/i with all the features of traditional twitter.
Glad you got back onto/into Twitter. I enjoy reading your tweets!

Michael S. Hyatt

Joe, I have to agree with Ann. I follow everyone who follows me, because I have seen it exponentially grow my number of followers. I use Tweetdeck to manage it all. I have a group with just my family (about 12 total people) and one with just my closest friends (about 50 more). Occasionally, I will look at the whole stream and see if there is something worth noting.

My experience is the exact opposite of yours. I find the most interesting people are also the ones following the most people. There are definitely exceptions, especially if the Twitterer is following way more people that he or she has followers.


Joe Wikert

Thanks to everyone for the great feedback on this. Mike, you're definitely an exception here since you're following more than 3K people and I enjoy your tweets. I downloaded TweetDeck last night but didn't take the time to configure it. I'll do that later today and see if it helps.

Carolyn Jewel

I follow just under 500 people, but they fall into different spheres; book publishers I don't often interact with (but sometimes!) though I read their tweets with interest, news orgs or people in media or technology (rare interaction, but interesting posts from them); and a much smaller core of people with whom I regularly interact. I'm careful who I follow. They need to seem interesting to me. Not all of the people I follow are frequent tweeters, and I unfollow those who seem to just make noise.


Hi Joe -- Correlation? Maybe. Causality? I am not sure.

Let me try to parse your claim that "The quality of a tweet is reduced by half for every 500 feeds the author is following above a base of 500."

The measure of quality is, I suppose, relevance.
In my experience, quality is achieved by answering the question "what is interesting to other people" rather than "what am I doing".
People that get that distinction tend to remain interesting no matter how many feeds they follow (unless they are panderers to begin with). @chrisbrogan and @guykawasaki come to mind.

Relevance of an individual tweet aside, signal to noise gets worse in aggregate if you follow lots of people who follow lots of people. You see more @ conversations between fellow twitters that have no relevance to you whatsoever. Even tweetdeck can't help you with this, but again this has nothing to do with the quality of other people's output. It is a problem with your filter.

When you said "I chuckle when I see someone is following 1,000, 2,000 feeds or more. Really? How do you find the time?" I understand you to mean you don't understand how they find the time to read every tweet. Most people don't. The asymmetric nature of twitter makes this difficult by design but nearly impossible past a certain threshold. That threshold is lower than you would think. For me following 100 people was a strain. At 150 it was an impossibility.

I would risk saying if you aren't following anybody than twitter is a glorified rss feed. If you are following between 1 and 100 people the experience is interchangeable with chat. Above 100, twitter become a different animal altogether.

Lastly, I have noticed that people tend to tweet less the more followers they have. The quality of their tweets doesn't go down. They simply tweet less often. Stage fright? Or maybe the sense of community is lost -- I am not sure.

Give tweetdeck a shot. It is a bit of hog on resources but it is a decent filter to start with.

Best regards.

Book Calendar

I think it depends on what you are using Twitter for. A lot of people are not there to make conversation unfortunately. They are there to make announcements or release news. I don't think the New York Times, CNN, or New York Times Books talks to anyone, they just put in URLs for their articles. They are aiming to get as many people to follow their announcements as possible. I think there is a kind of split audience for Twitter those who make announcements, and those who want to talk to each other. This also goes for the advertisers who are there to announce products to sell.

Bill Peschel

I'm still trying to figure it out. Since I'm working full time and also writing a book, I don't have enough time to dig into it, so I'm following a number of people and reading posts like yours to figure it out.

I tried to install Tweetdeck twice and it failed, so I'll try Twhirl and see what happens.


I'm most irritated by paid shills, people who are hired by media companies to hawk their stories. On Twitter, it looks something like this: "I can't believe this has happened! (link)" and "Have you ever thought of doing this? (link)"

If I'm interested in reading the site, I'll subscribe to RSS feed. The tweets are redundant.

I don't mind the media outlets that clearly identify themselves. But I've run across some that either have staff people use their own names or hire freelancers who then use names. Now you may think using names adds honesty and transparency, but it's the opposite. These are not people who are interested in cultivating relationships and engaging in discourse; they are not people who are sincerely sharing information and growing networks. They are being paid by some SEO to increase click numbers. I get that; it's a valid business model, I suppose. But it strikes me as false. Media companies should identify themselves.

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