Over lunch at the classy Black & Blue (map), I finally got @KeithBurtis and @jhsu to see why I was disturbed by the way I was using twitter. There was an imbalance, and I sought to fix it.
As we munched on our lunch special Kobe Beef Burgers, I mentioned how I was losing grip on how personal twitter used to be. As twitter grew in popularity, so did the number of friends and followers I made. I believe that since I was an early adopter of twitter, and taught classes where I had students try twitter, I had exceptional traction which propelled my numbers even higher. Folks looking at the decent follow count might think that I’m actually interesting to follow, and by late 2007, I had crossed the holy 1,000 follower count.
As with blogging, having a larger audience came with a conscious responsibility to share more value with my particular twittersphere. Since I produce content over a variety of services, and since I was lazy, I used third-party twitter services like Twitterfeeder to send my flickr, del.icio.us as well as blog posts from here, automatically as tweets. The key idea was to have my twitter stream consistently (and automatically) productive.
The 5 Stages Of Twitter Acceptance by @rohitbhargava – Mr. Tweet Blog
Combined with the ever-handy Socialtoo service, I could get an email report of twitter users who followed and unfollowed me on a nightly basis. I did use Socialtoo’s auto-follows and auto-DMs at first, but that was what trigger the sudden realization of how I was losing my twitter identity: I had become a faceless twitter user. While basic users (including bots) use twitter as a dumping ground for links (sometimes lifestreams), highly engaged users made everything personal by being more conversational; an passage from blogging all over again.
I was using twitter like I was on speed, pumping out hard and fast…. the numbers had seduced me:
Twitter Nutrition Facts
courtesy of Mr. Tweet
Pragmatically, most would say that the conversation is a signature of being human, which in itself is a value which we cannot yet reproduce mechanically simply by constantly tweeting links. The reward of twitter was that our connections felt alive whenever someone @replies (reciprocates).
In a low-resolution environment of 140 characters, I thought I could get by with being human through a simple machine. On the contrary, twitter was about the celebration of being human, and I had a choice whether to partake in it. The humor, spelling typos and mis-directed links, all added to the texture of twittering much like the beautiful flaws of an oil canvas painting.
Granted everyone has the freedom to tweet as they like, though the cost of which comes in the unfollows. While @jhsu noted how twitter works best for quick, short alerts, @KeithBurtis reminded me that there’s a difference between sharing vs blurting (great article!). We were in agreement to how we tend to get sucked into the game of numbers, where the natural inclination was increase followers/friends across social networking services.
At some point, some of us get jaded. That’s where we fall back into the primal way of communication, herein returning to the close knit friends who tend to reciprocate more so than others. An effort had to be made to save my twitter sanity…
So I began pruning.
Reducing noise, stress.
Remembering less is more.
Keith joked that he did the same, and by removing irrelevant followers, it gave him that fresh hair cut feeling. He used Twitter Karma, which lets you see your followers’ last posts in a glance, amongst other stats. Since I needed to unfollow a ton (bad case of auto-follows), I preferred MyCleenr, which lists followers based on how long ago their last tweets were. Those who haven’t tweeted in more than a year, went straight to the delete bin, while the remaining corpus were visually inspected over time.
As silly as this sounds, now I feel reborn.
I’ve even started blogging in person again. The way I previously used twitter drained away all my love for thinking things through. All I had cared about was fitting everything into 140 characters. Life became too fast, thoughts became too bite-sized. I essentially felt dumb and numb, and it had a larger impact on the way I perceived things than I had realized.
In a Buddhist kind of way, to be happy on twitter, meant making others happy too. And to be true and honest, Keith’s advice was to talk to someone without an agenda. For me, the biggest move was to ignore the numbers and just enjoy life. Just like how some of us used to blog, we could either live it up and be ourselves, or be encumbered by the wants of others, letting the number of unfollows pull you down.
Lastly, be sure to read David Pogue’s experiences with twitter… there’s truly an uncanny resemblance!