Saturday, November 7, 2009

Twitter Q&A

Over the past few months I've noticed that some people have misconceptions about my use of Twitter, so here are the facts in Q&A format, for the record:

Q: Have you ever spammed anyone on Twitter?
A: No, never. And I do not send bulk or automated DMs at all.

Q: Do you use automation or other "SEO tricks" to gain followers on Twitter?
A: No, I have never used automation for anything on Twitter. In fact, with only extremely rare exceptions, I use the standard web interface for everything.

Q: Do you follow indiscriminately in order to entice people to follow you back?
A: No. In fact I rarely follow anyone who doesn't follow me first. And now with the new Twitter Lists, people I might have followed first in the past I often put on some List instead.

Q: Do you follow in return, everyone who follows you?
A: Absolutely not. In fact I block a large percentage of those who attempt to follow me (see, and those I do follow in return have all been checked by hand.

Q: Why are your following/follower numbers usually so balanced?
A: I view my followers as contacts, and I am following them in return so that two-way communication via DM is possible. I welcome "real" one-to-one communication via DM from any of my contacts.

Q: Yes, but the numbers are so huge, how can you possibly read all the tweets?
A: It isn't necessary to read each and every tweet, and I wouldn't even try. I closely monitor my unique user name with a saved Twitter search and also respond to all @replies and DM's that are clearly "real" communication. I long ago created a couple of additional accounts to follow certain "narrow" categories of users more closely, but Twitter's new Lists are now making these extra accounts unnecessary.

Q: How do you keep your following/follower numbers so closely balanced?
A: First of all I check anyone new who starts following me by hand and I either block or return the follow. I used to go through my entire following list by hand about once per month to selectively unfollow most of those had who stopped following me and I even used to send individual @replies occasionally to ask why. Twitter then placed strict limits on the number of people who could be followed, first as a percentage and later as "hard" numbers, so I had to go through the list more often in order to simply return the follows of my new followers. Later Twitter made it increasingly difficult to page through the following list by hand and so I wrote a small script to do this, which I manually run from time to time. The script does exactly what I used to do by hand, except it cannot discriminate and and simply unfollows everyone who is not following me. Especially now with the introduction of Twitter Lists, I run the script more often, since I can now keep these numbers almost perfectly balanced all the time, because anyone I would normally follow first I usually place on a Twitter List instead. I have people on my "scrutinized" List for instance, whom I have almost always followed but who have never followed me. Until the recent introduction of Twitter Lists, I used to have to manually re-follow these people or follow them from one of my extra accounts.

Q: Why do you unfollow those who unfollowed you, are you really so vindictive?
A: No. As I've explained, the way I use Twitter from my main account, all of my followers are contacts, and two-way communication is possible via DM. If someone stops following me, the communication becomes only one-way in my direction, but not theirs. So my reason is simply a matter of fairness to myself and to everyone else. I treat my main Twitter account as a social community. Admittedly huge.

Q: Why do you have so many followers, anyway?
A: I believe people have enjoyed reading my stream over the past year or so and have told their friends about me. I tweet about history, politics, technology, and current events, which many people find interesting. I'm very social and I like to interact directly with people on Twitter in a meaningful way. I'm a long-term ex-pat, and the cross-cultural aspect also plays a role, since I tweet about life in Prague. I also debate on a range of topics and I welcome dissenting views.

Q: Why do some Czechs seem irritated with you recently?
A: While I considered setting up a separate account to follow Czechs (tweeting primarily in Czech language), I never actually did it, because I already had many bilingual Czech contacts in my main Twitter account, and so I ended up intermittently following some native speakers over the past year or so, in some cases even once per month. It is a small and fairly tightly-knit community, with low numbers of followers typically, and some of these Czechs left their e-mail notifications for new followers turned on, and even saved these e-mail notifications for a long period of time. Since most of these Czechs are used to being followed only once and forever by their fellow native Czech speakers, the appearance and re-appearance via Twitter's notifications of some foreigner in their e-mail inbox has been labeled by some of them as spam, even though I never sent a single e-mail to any of them myself. In fact they requested for notifications to be sent by Twitter so these clearly shouldn't be considered as spam. But some Czechs were annoyed by this intermittent following, even going so far as to ascribe, incorrectly, various sinister motivations for my doing so. I personally turned off these e-mail notifications after my first week on Twitter and certainly never saved any of these notifications myself, so it never even occurred to me what might be happening. It was never my intent to irritate anyone simply by intermittently following them, but apparently it did. This special sensitivity of Czech speakers is so clearly different from most English speakers that it will be the topic of a later post about "Twitter Anthropology". I now put any of these Czechs who I might want to follow intermittently on a Twitter List, so there is no e-mail notification involved, and hopefully this will solve the problem along with any irritation it caused.

Your questions and comments are, as always, welcome. I publish all comments and usually even reply. My answers above are truthful and accurate, so I will not publish comments of anyone who simply disagrees with their veracity.