TwitSpace: A Twitter UI Improvement That Ruined It

Something has been unusual about Twitter in the last two months.  I couldn’t quite pin it, but it seemed there was a mass increase of spammers or people that have spammer like behavior.

It all started with a UI change.  Or so I think.

About 2 months ago Twitter changed the order of your Follower list. It used to list your followers, in order that they joined twitter.  Now it lists the people that just followed you, like this:

Twitter following change

Pretty simple UI.  Made it quite a bit easier for me to add people that followed me.  Cool.  But soon the users figured out that ‘people that just followed you’ was a gold mine of people that just took the action of following someone.  Open up a few profiles, follow the 10 people that just followed them.  Repeat until you have 13k followers.  If people were really looking to just add numbers, then go for this search and follow everyone.

TwitterSpam

Now you have authority.  Or so you think.  Now you are important.  Or so you think.  Now you are a spammer.  Or so I think.

Welcome Twitter, the MySpace.

To me, gone is Twitter as a reputation management tool.  Gone is authentic behavior.  Gone is creativity.  Gone is the fun.  Or at least it is hidden behind a pile of cheap sales pitches. The question now is ‘what can community do for me?’ and not ‘how do I act and build this community?’

And it all started with a UI tweak.

I’m taking some time off.

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  • Another thing I've noticed, mainly since the creation of TweetDeck, is that many people are being less picky with who (and how many) they follow. Nowadays, tons of people are following 1,000-5,000 users. How do they keep up? They don't. They watch their replies feed and vanity search to see who is talking to or about THEM. Gone are the days when people use Twitter to see what their friends are doing.

  • good call, man… I feel the same way.

    it's getting tougher and tougher to do anything on twitter. plus more annoying.

    not sure I'm gonna take a break from it (perhaps my addiction is more deep-set than yours), but I'm at least considering it.

  • princessleah7x

    I'm bummed that you are leaving twitter, although I myself have noticed a similar behaviours and I understand and respect your decision.

    I hope we still keep in touch though!

    Will you be on brightkite still? [=

  • princessleah7x

    don't you follow 5,000+ Shaler? d=

  • RunItsTheFuz

    It's the nature of the beast, the same happened with Myspace and now Facebook to a lesser degree.
    I'm a bit curious as to how other people following 5,000 others affects you in any noticeable degree, do they somehow cheapen your comments or any that your friends have made?

  • anthelios77

    Does it really ruin Twitter? I agree it changes things and maybe for the worse as you say. Although I must say that I never believed in authority on Twitter based on the number of followers since Twitter is so close to IM networks. Authority on Twitter can't be measured that way.

    I simply follow those that interest me. After all, it is the following (and connecting) of interesting and inspiring people that is the real strength of Twitter. If someone who adds me seems interesting, then I will follow back otherwise not.

    I guess this change you speak of has led to more chatter in the Twitterverse but I turn it off so I only see conversations between those I follow. Hence I have to say I don't really see the problem. If I look for authority I search topics and look for retweets.

  • andrewhyde

    Yes, you and I have 2nd accounts that we use to follow a more manageable group… but once you get up there, it becomes hard to keep it authentic.

  • andrewhyde

    My worry is your experience, or the experience of a new user will just be pushed to the follow numbers game.

  • andrewhyde

    I think just the concentration on building numbers connected with the affiliate marketing crew is where it is going to be a unique problem with twitter.

    If you are getting 10 follow requests a day from spammers, or those with spamming habits, it can make your experience of the service suck.

  • robjohnson

    yep – twitter is at the same stage that blogs were a few years ago. initially it was a small, tight circle of friends posting crap – snide remarks, jokes, pointless thoughts, etc. and then a lot of people showed up and some people started watching their followers count grow and they began to think about influence, brand, and other self-focused nonsense. add services like qwitter, twittergrader, and the like and now you have people who are “celebrities” (with all the triviality that brings).

    gone are the tweets that invited people to join you for lunch at old chicago. gone are the tweets that took a friendly jab at local startup founders. there's too much at stake now. you have to think about your “audience”.

    as for me, I miss the old version of twitter and its intimate carelessness. so for now, I'm using brightkite more for sharing stuff with friends. brightkite may eventually succumb to the same forces of course, and when that happens I'll probably feel the same.

  • I disagree with you Brian. I personally use Twitter for just the reason you laid out. I’ve follow about 100 people, and am followed by around 250 (maybe?). I never automatically follow someone who follows me because I really only want to hear the tweets of people I either know in person, online, or at least am interested in hearing what they have to say.

  • I disagree with you Brian. I personally use Twitter for just the reason you laid out. I’ve follow about 100 people, and am followed by around 250 (maybe?). I never automatically follow someone who follows me because I really only want to hear the tweets of people I either know in person, online, or at least am interested in hearing what they have to say.

  • NULL

    I’ll still be highly active on other services. And this blog.

  • NULL

    I’ll still be highly active on other services. And this blog.

  • I created a 2nd account for two reasons: first, as above, the Twitter experience became way too narcissistic and I wanted to keep a better eye on select people; and second, I wanted an outlet where I didn't have to be careful about how much or when I posted, not so much as “thinking about my *audience*” but to avoid getting complaints – which isn't a problem any more.

    Now that so many people are following en masse, they'll either be okay with using it as a platform of narcissism or they'll take the approach we did — though, today, the solution isn't creating a second account, it's using new tools like TweetDeck, etc to filter out the people you only want to “fake follow”

  • andrewhyde

    I agree with you here. But I now get 10 emails a day from salesman / spammers. Think of what this will do to new users. Then they will start thinking that is how they need to act to fit in.

  • andrewhyde

    it actually is easier than I thought.

  • It's not anything intentional or nefarious, it is just the Tragedy of the Commons at work. Anytime the network grows too far beyond “Dunbar's Number,” problems start to arise. People bandy about numbers like 150 for the number of stable social connections that can be maintained before things start to break down, but I think this number depends heavily on the rules and restrictions of the network. It will be interesting to see if Twitter can implement smart, effective features and restrictions to keep the value of the network from degrading.

  • hubs

    Is it bad (i.e. ruining your twitter experience) if others are following people without discretion?

    Is it bad if others use twitter as a popularity contest or vanity tool. How is this ruining your experience?

  • hubs

    I'm curious as to how your experience is affected by the number of people others follow. Could you expand on that?

  • I also think tools like Twollow http://twollow.com get seriously misused and result in serious spamming. This will happen with just about any tool that people value numbers of friends, followers or contacts over quality of posting.

  • hubs

    Exactly! Very well put anthelios77

    However, RT will soon be on the way out as a “source of reputation” too. I'm going to create a bot (or several bots) that will RT anything I tweet that has a url in it. You know something like that is just around the corner. Already I see cliques of people that RT each other pretty habitually. I think RT will be a good “measure of authority” for about as long as “number of followers” has (probably a shorter amount of time).

    Already I often wish I could turn off retweets.

  • hubs

    You could always use block. That way you can choose your audience. You don't have to broadcast loudly on twitter. Or turn you account private.

  • True, it is not good for new users. I get the feeling however that new users often don’t get Twitter anyway. They mostly just use it for IM, not micro-blogging. Not saying they should be ignored, they deserve a good experience like myself. It would be good if new users were guided on Twitter.com on who to follow and new followers should be presented in a less intrusive way.

    And about getting all those mail.. Personally I think I will disable getting them or put them directly in a mail folder. Mr. Tweet could possibly sort out the interesting followers for me, I hope. I do think Twitter should address this soon though since relying on an external service to avoid the ‘spam’ is silly.

    I guess my point is that you can still have a very good experience on Twitter if you know how, but it should be easier to know how.

  • True, it is not good for new users. I get the feeling however that new users often don’t get Twitter anyway. They mostly just use it for IM, not micro-blogging. Not saying they should be ignored, they deserve a good experience like myself. It would be good if new users were guided on Twitter.com on who to follow and new followers should be presented in a less intrusive way.

    And about getting all those mail.. Personally I think I will disable getting them or put them directly in a mail folder. Mr. Tweet could possibly sort out the interesting followers for me, I hope. I do think Twitter should address this soon though since relying on an external service to avoid the ‘spam’ is silly.

    I guess my point is that you can still have a very good experience on Twitter if you know how, but it should be easier to know how.

  • In many ways, I think you guys are missing the point. There are two distinct vectors on twitter: Followers and Following.

    Followers you have little control over the number, and depending on your tact (do you want to have a “message,” a personal brand, whatever) your reputation and voice (in essence your influence) stay relatively intact. If one selects people to follow simply based on their follower number, then a major subjective measure is missing (quality of message/tweets).

    Of course, you can drive followers higher by following more and employing spammy tactics (I think your example is a fair one). But look at my follower numbers, over the past month, I have had kinda an explosion in followers. Even after I dumped most of the people I followed, the number continued to increase. (Even with FollowFriday I added about 120 net, which would have occurred over friday/saturday timeframe anyway).

    What changed? Not sure. My message has been refined over time. The things that I write about have slowly morphed maybe (even though I feel like I havent changed much), so I think its because the quality of my tweets has improved. I am clearly not 1) a spammer, 2) an auto-follower, 3) a marketer (affiliate or otherwise).

    The people you follow, you can absolutely control. That list should actually drive the question of influence in an interesting way. Can I follow all the cool kids? Of course. But more likely, I will follow people I either 1) find interesting; 2) personall know; 3) cover a specific topic. Match that with the people who follow me, and at the end of the day you get a clear picture as to the value that person is bringing to the table.

    I keep my followed number around 500. I make sure that its a list that people earn their way onto. I make sure its a list that asserts some level of influence over my thinking and decision-making.

    My follower number continues to grow daily by about a net of 50. Is that an indication that Twitter is broken? Not really. It means that there are 50 seriously weird people out there that find my tweets interesting. Thats about it.

    (BTW, I also have 2 accounts, and use tweetdeck. Mostly so that I can keep track of the interactions that are occuring by between me and another person, but also between people I trust and like.)

    Finally, if one uses Twitter as a singlar point of reputation determination, they are simply not very bright. Online trust and influence are only truly a measure of a person's complete content generation, not just their tweets.

    At the end of the day, a person's activities online are their choice. Andrew, if you decide that a few have spoiled Twitter for the many, and leave, cool. But, I imagine you will find that most everything online has been exploited by those looking to make a buck off of something cool. Which makes the only choices 1) working around the problem; 2) working to fix the problem; 3) or dumping the internet itself.

  • The problem I have with the “Follower Arms Race” is that spammers are now pointing to it as expertise. Spamming your way to thousands of followers then calling yourself Legendary Twitter Guru isn't just silly, it's doing a disservice to those who don't know any better than to listen to you and then become the scum of Twitter themselves. It's the same thing as happening upon a 1998 Broncos Super Bowl Champion ring in a pawn shop, buying it, then claiming that you played on that team. You can get a bit of attention with the quick easy route, but you'll be found out in the end. Teachers and those who hold themselves out to be experts are held to a higher standard.

    It's not Twitter's fault when “Marketers” or “Promoters” abuse the system, just don't participate in black hat behavior or tolerate anyone among you who does.

    Jeremy

  • andrewhyde

    I fully agree with this, and don't have high hopes that twitter will make any changes to UI for this to happen again (the intimate small group messaging).

  • andrewhyde

    I've read that number at 100 and 150, and would love to read more about studies that address this issue.

  • andrewhyde

    That and a certain linked in group seem to be bad news to me.

  • andrewhyde

    What changed is the UI. Because #followfriday has lead you to be a) retweeted and b) caused you to follow more people, you are ripe for the picking of a follow (and then and unfollow if you don't reciprocate).

    I agree with you on the uses of twitter are highly personal. I will reiterate that communities evolve based on decentralized leadership and the tools they have. Seeing Twitter won't evolve (or hasn't for the past 2 years) we would then look a the users to keep spammers and spammer type behavior in check. Since many see numbers as a sort of reputation management, it is much harder for the real community to step forward.

  • andrewhyde

    I think this is part of a larger conversation about the community of twiiter (very interesting) and the twitter app (very bland and unresponsive).

    Ball is in the users court to voice their opinions on the subject matter. Then it will be in the companies.

  • Sure, the UI shift certainly made it easier for some to mass follow
    and hope for the follow back to increase followed numbers. (throw a
    script or two in there, and its mass effect.) Your example is a good
    one of this.

    But decentralization can only work in non-scable communities. To allow
    for the decision-making to be done by mostly the members of the
    community is just unwieldy. What does scale is the concept of self-
    governed communities, where the laws of the community are agreed on
    and enforced by the members of that community. My favorite example is
    John Locke’s analogy of the horse corral. You can do what you want as
    long as you are inside the corral (societal laws), but once you move
    outside of the corral, you no longer have the acceptance and
    protection of the community.

    wont the same happen in twitter? The folks (spammers) that are outside
    of the communities rules (dont spam) will be eliminated, not listened
    to or outed as spammers? That the folks that have built real
    reputation will just ignore the rest, and continue to use twitter as a
    vehicle for continued and rapid conversation?

    Also, while numbers are a measure of influence, any single number is
    not. Kevin Rose is not influential simply because of his twitter
    followers. He is the sum of all of his content (from TechTV to Digg to
    Rev3). Kevin has little influence over my personal decision-making
    because his expertise and influence does not exist in a channel that I
    pay much attention to. Yet, for many people he is influential because
    he is a trusted source in a highly visible channel.

    Your example of Rob McNealy shows that while he has a large number of
    followers, he wields little to no influence because he not engendered
    any trust, and the of the sum/quality of his content does not lend to
    expertise (which has to be given, not taken).

    Again, to judge reputation simply on a single number doesnt do the
    community justice, but the community will decide the value of its
    participants, not the other way around. To suggest that Twitter is
    broken without hope for correction just feels way to premature.

    Twitter functions as it was intended to. Its the people that fucked it
    up. The community will deal with those (as a decentralized/self-
    governed community should). For example, I blocked Rob months ago when
    I realized he was a creator of content, not a creator of conversation.

  • Sure, the UI shift certainly made it easier for some to mass follow
    and hope for the follow back to increase followed numbers. (throw a
    script or two in there, and its mass effect.) Your example is a good
    one of this.

    But decentralization can only work in non-scable communities. To allow
    for the decision-making to be done by mostly the members of the
    community is just unwieldy. What does scale is the concept of self-
    governed communities, where the laws of the community are agreed on
    and enforced by the members of that community. My favorite example is
    John Locke’s analogy of the horse corral. You can do what you want as
    long as you are inside the corral (societal laws), but once you move
    outside of the corral, you no longer have the acceptance and
    protection of the community.

    wont the same happen in twitter? The folks (spammers) that are outside
    of the communities rules (dont spam) will be eliminated, not listened
    to or outed as spammers? That the folks that have built real
    reputation will just ignore the rest, and continue to use twitter as a
    vehicle for continued and rapid conversation?

    Also, while numbers are a measure of influence, any single number is
    not. Kevin Rose is not influential simply because of his twitter
    followers. He is the sum of all of his content (from TechTV to Digg to
    Rev3). Kevin has little influence over my personal decision-making
    because his expertise and influence does not exist in a channel that I
    pay much attention to. Yet, for many people he is influential because
    he is a trusted source in a highly visible channel.

    Your example of Rob McNealy shows that while he has a large number of
    followers, he wields little to no influence because he not engendered
    any trust, and the of the sum/quality of his content does not lend to
    expertise (which has to be given, not taken).

    Again, to judge reputation simply on a single number doesnt do the
    community justice, but the community will decide the value of its
    participants, not the other way around. To suggest that Twitter is
    broken without hope for correction just feels way to premature.

    Twitter functions as it was intended to. Its the people that fucked it
    up. The community will deal with those (as a decentralized/self-
    governed community should). For example, I blocked Rob months ago when
    I realized he was a creator of content, not a creator of conversation.

  • anthelios77

    That is true. I guess what we will be left with in the end is word-of-mouth.. I see ill in people gaming the system with bots and stuff but luckily it can be kept out of my sphere of the Twitterverse. And hopefully the serious folks will not game the system cause they want the good followers. Quality over quantity!

  • Elena

    In my estimation, the points you bring up about twitter “spammers” are less the fault of a UI change than the fault of human tendencies toward egoism, self-importance, and pure old fashioned greed on an ever-growing Twitterized scale. Personally, I'm so over reading about how twitter can be used to push and market one's brand, and to make one lots and lots of money. The great thing is that I don't have to read those people's “updates”. I simply ignore or unfollow. I'm much more interested in keeping up with journalists and contributing members to our community than self-inflated social media experts. Hope you're not down too long. 🙂

  • hubs

    Twitter stated in their API instructions that this change in the user interface would happen a long time ago. The UI change is somewhat recent, the fact that it was going to happen isn't.

  • Interesting observation about the UI change and its effect on spam. I hadn't noticed it myself but now that you point it out, it makes perfect sense.

  • One of the beauties of twitter is that you can just ignore the people who follow you. The number of people who follow me is twice the number of people I follow myself. I block the occasional annoying spammer but mostly I don't care. All my posts are public anyways and have been since the beginning so what do I care if some dorky social media guru wonk in kansas is following me and 10,000 other people.

    If it bugs you that random idiots can follow you then make all your posts private. Privatizing your posts has been part of the twitter UI from the beginning for just this very reason.

  • andrewhyde

    I agree with you, it is easy to follow idiots.

    The point is that this leads to a poor user experience. I have 5 emails from the same person trying to follow me, and when I don't follow back, unfollowing me and then following me again. If this becomes common place, it sucks for everyone.

  • andrewhyde

    very well put!

  • andrewhyde

    I agree with you, it is easy to follow idiots.

    The point is that this leads to a poor user experience. I have 5 emails from the same person trying to follow me, and when I don't follow back, unfollowing me and then following me again. If this becomes common place, it sucks for everyone.

  • andrewhyde

    very well put!

  • One of the beauties of twitter is that you can just ignore the people who follow you. The number of people who follow me is twice the number of people I follow myself. I block the occasional annoying spammer but mostly I don't care. All my posts are public anyways and have been since the beginning so what do I care if some dorky social media guru wonk in kansas is following me and 10,000 other people.

    If it bugs you that random idiots can follow you then make all your posts private. Privatizing your posts has been part of the twitter UI from the beginning for just this very reason.

  • andrewhyde

    I agree with you, it is easy to follow idiots.

    The point is that this leads to a poor user experience. I have 5 emails from the same person trying to follow me, and when I don't follow back, unfollowing me and then following me again. If this becomes common place, it sucks for everyone.

  • andrewhyde

    very well put!

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