Friday, April 11, 2008


WARNING: What follows will quite possibly be the nerdiest post in the history of Crushed by Inertia. You've been warned.

I did not realize Twitter had rules. Apparently, it does. Elaborate, unspoken rules governing conduct. What I'm saying is, I may have accidentally violated a Twitter rule. Even worse, I actually feel kind of bad about it. That's where I'm at right now, in my life...I'm actually concerned about my conduct on Twitter.

The whole thing started when my boss, @JasonCalacanis, encouraged his legion of followers (the "Jason Nation") to follow me. See, I feel like, if someone goes out of their way to follow me on Twitter, I should in turn follow them back.

This is not just common courtesy (although, if you asked me, it sort of is...what fun is a one-way conversation?) Twitter only makes sense if you follow lots of people, including some people you don't know.

When I first signed up, I only had a few friends. Most of them were in my office. It was dull. Not because we were boring. We just didn't need Twitter. We were all sitting right there.

Now that 1,000 people are following me, and I'm in turn following almost 1,000 people, my Twitter feed is actually kind of amazing. At the very least, it's functioning on different levels.

1. News feed

Twitter is just a collection of people commenting on whatever they are doing, reading, hearing or watching. Following 1,000 people means you're getting updates on several different current events at any given time. Twitter users, I've found, tend to read a lot as well as write, and I now discover 5-10 interesting articles or blog posts per day via strangers.

2. Social outlet

This one's kind of obvious. You can meet interesting strangers, network and get to know acquaintances better if you're just talking to people online all day.

3. Public art project

Now, now, hear me out. Just me writing little snippets about whatever I'm doing is meaningless. But 1,000 people doing it all day every day? Now that's fascinating. Browsing my Twitter feed on a random night is like reading an experimental novel (albeit one with a rather mundane writing style.) People, exhausted, flop down on hotel pillows as others get up, shower and head to work. Someone rants venomously against the cable company as another drinks "primo" at some place called "The Otter."

4. Perspective

I'm not saying that Twitter gives you an accurate, scientific sense of where people stand on anything. These 1,000 people I'm following are not evenly spread out around the world - current events in San Francisco get far more attention in my feed than those in, say, Burundi.

But there are people outside of Los Angeles, which is a start. I tend to forget, for example, that anyone remains a global warming skeptic. I haven't spoken to someone who honestly doesn't buy the whole "global warming" thing in a while. On Twitter, I read global warming skepticism constantly.

"Boy, it sure is cold today...Wish they'd send me some o' that global warming stuff."

And we all share a hearty laugh.

Anyway, I've really been enjoying reading my Twitter feed for all these reasons. And I'm not the only one.

However, I was told this evening (by more than one fellow Twitterer) that you're not supposed to follow that many people. That it's rude to follow people about whom you aren't deeply, sincerely interested. The reasoning goes like this: I'm following 1,000 people. I can't possibly read every tweet they write...Even if I had nothing else going on, the come in at a pretty steady clip. Therefore, I'm skipping all the incoming tweets, I won't be able to carry on a conversation and, thus, I'm abusing the system. (Or "spamming," to use their term.)

I'm not sure how widespread a rule this is. In fact, I'd always heard the opposite...that it's rude to not give people the benefit of a follow if they follow you, provided it appears that they actually contribute and don't just send out spam or random messages.

I'd say this rule keeps its adherents from getting the most out of Twitter. Also, I kind of disagree with this reasoning fundamentally. I mean, if I click "follow" on your Twitter page, am I really entering into an unspoken agreement to read everything you write? I frequently reply to random people on Twitter, and respond when people reply to me. It's not at all difficult to keep up conversations, really, provided it's a time I can actually devote some attention away from what I'm doing.

I'm not sure anyone has the expectation that I will copiously read all that they contribute...I certainly don't have that expectation of anyone. I get to what I can get to, and I just assume others are doing the same.

So, anyway, silly rule, I don't subscribe to it, if you follow me (@Lons), I'll most likely follow you back. I do have some Twitter suggestions, though...Not rules, but my own personal guidelines for Twitter conduct.

1. This one should be so obvious. If you're on the East Coast, don't blow what happens on popular shows on Twitter. Let me enjoy Chef Ramsay's put-downs the way they were meant to be enjoyed.

2. No more "Mmmm...[WHAT YOU'RE EATING]" posts. If you want to tell us what you're eating, at least say something more substantive than "mmm." Unless you were once a member of the Crash Test Dummies, and the tweet is meant ironically. (The exception to this would be if you are eating something interesting or exotic. "Mmm...antler soup" would be acceptable).

3. If you're going to set up some system to automatically post updates to Twitter, make sure it doesn't post too often. I don't need to know the status of your XBox Live account every three seconds, DnkeyPncher187, thanks all the same.

4. Don't send out random, aimless invitations. "Hey, anyone wanna go get some coffee?" This is like being the Twitter version of Michael Scott.

5. Don't bother posting a breaking news story if more than 2 hours has already passed. Yes, Charlton Heston died. We know. Very tragic.


Christopher Finke said...

Your rules are good. The one you "broke" is lame.

Larry said...

Dude you rock... enjoy the ride and have fun with it!!

Lisa said...

Different people interact with it in different ways and for different reasons and use it in ways that make sense to them. If you're trying to have conversations, then follow people back.

Some people have posted their "rules" about how they choose to follow back because they are followed by so many people because that's how it makes sense to them and keeps it meaningful

The only flag for me is anyone who is following 1,000+ people and has fewer than 100 following - probably not adding much to the conversation at that point.

Anonymous said...

Rules are like laws... to be a "good" rule, there has to be a victim if it is violated. Just who is victimized by "excessive" reciprocity?

What about the rule against people who make up crap rules?


Merrycricket said...

There's a rule about following people? Nobody told Scoble that.... Maybe he'll see your post. And what about Jason? Or is it that you're not considered one of the big dogs?

Make twitter your own and rules about how many people you follow be damned!

Lons said...

I think the rule exists in some ways as pushback against the Pirillos, Calacanises and Scobles out there, following thousands at a time. They're seen as abusing the site, repurposing a conversational tool as a vehicle for marketing. I don't agree with this view, but I can understand how someone might come to this conclusion.

I'm just saying that, having done it for a week now, I think excessive following makes the experience more enjoyable, and enhances my engagement with people, not the other way around.

GeekMommy said...

The "rules" on twitter are always self-imposed.
If someone doesn't like the ones you follow? they always have the option to unfollow you.
Similarly, if you don't like the way they function? One click and you're off the hook!

Twitter communities are built by like-minded, like-using individuals.

But we're all also rebels and anarchists - we don't follow someone else's rules, just our own.

Good list tho!

bertas said...

I solemnly swear I will not tweet about what Ramsay is doing... :)
Although if I may I would suggest Kitchen Nightmares the UK version, much more fun then the US version...

and good on you for making your own rules... isnt that what it is all about really?

In regards to global warming, you might find this interesting it is a blog post by Stephen Fry, about his debate about the global warming with an individual who does not believe in it... it is a loooong read but well worth it :) If it is not you have my permission to call me a silly blond :)

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