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.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why I Blocked You On Twitter

As PragueBob I have more than 64,000 contacts on Twitter, but I've never used an auto-follower or any other type of automation. None. Ever. Automation cannot decide who to follow or what to say, so on Twitter it's almost totally useless and should be avoided 99,9% of the time. Exceptions do exist, but these are so rare that it will be a very short post in which I discuss them, later.

Since I consider Twitter to be not just a microblogging site but also a social networking site (and a very good one at that) it is my policy that all my contacts on Twitter are mutual. As such, when people follow me on Twitter, I either follow them back or remove them from my followers list to avoid scanning this list repeatedly, because it is simply too time-consuming. Automation wouldn't help, and I wouldn't leave such choices to an algorithm, anyway.

All of my contacts on Twitter are mutual and I prefer it that way, because any of them can send me a Direct Message (DM), and I can reply to them with one. This "back channel" on Twitter is quite different from the public stream. If two people are following each other, then they can send each other a DM, similar to a private e-mail or SMS, and that's very important I think. I'll say more about how DMs can be used most effectively in a later post, but for now it suffices to say that too many people abuse DMs on Twitter by sending unsolicited self-promotion messages, and this is really spam, so it should never be done, not at all, ever. When someone follows you on Twitter it means that they might find what you have to say interesting, and in fact tentatively. It does not mean that they've invited you to bomb their private DM Inbox with spam or other nonsense, especially by way of introduction.

So, all of my contacts being mutual means that if someone follows me on Twitter, then I have to follow them back, right? Wrong. I will only return the follow of someone I deem to be worthy. "Worthy" simply means a normal person or business not falling into one of the offensive categories I've listed below. Otherwise I block, because I don't have the time or patience to deal with offenders repeatedly. I used to block/unblock, which is perhaps a kinder, gentler way of getting people out of my followers list. But too many people just didn't "get it", so now I simply block anyone who I don't follow in return. Likewise, if I follow someone and they don't follow me back after a reasonable amount of time I unfollow (or sometimes even block) them, although I might make several attempts, which sometimes results in getting myself blocked, but that's life.

Does all this make me an elitist? No, it most certainly does not. It simply means that I'm somewhat selective (why should I return the follow of a porn promoter or spammer?) and I strongly recommend that you be selective, too. Anyone who knows me at all, also knows that I actively seek out contacts from all over the world, from all over the political spectrum, from all races, creeds, genders, religions, and sexual orientations. I encourage, even thrive upon, diversity. I'm probably the most "equal opportunity" person on Twitter, and I mean that quite sincerely. But I've also blocked literally thousands of people who showed up on my followers list, and here are some of the reasons why I blocked them after taking a look at their profiles:

1) Pornography. It shouldn't be on Twitter, there are plenty of websites dedicated to this. I'm no prude, and in fact I'm pretty sure that my sex life would make most people envious, but if I ever do feel the need for pornography I'm also sure that I can find plenty of it all over the Internet without it following me on Twitter or spamming my e-mail.

2) Foul language. Twitter is a public place, and as such foul language should be avoided. Again, I'm no prude, and I have a richer x-rated vocabulary than most people, having spent time in some of the world's roughest places, but socially well-adjusted people know how to curb their tongues in public.

3) Suspicious profile. This includes: using the default avatar instead of a real photo or image; nonsensical, missing, or clearly erroneous Name, Location, Bio, or Web fields in the profile. I immediately block anyone in my followers list with the default avatar. You can't walk into a bank with a paper bag over your head, either.

4) Suspicious behavior. This includes: accounts with no tweets; accounts with lots of followers but with few or no tweets (an indication that the account is only being followed by autofollowers); accounts following others to the limit allowed by Twitter (an indication that the account is in fact fishing for autofollowers); accounts with tweets that run completely contrary to other information in the profile (for instance a "venture capitalist" or "banker" spewing a continuous stream of cheap affiliate links.); accounts that use "bait and switch" links, saying one thing but linking to something else entirely (usually an unrelated affiliate-marketing site); accounts that engage in spam, which can be in the public stream or private DMs. I'm usually somewhat tolerant with people trying to do business but selling completely nonsensical crap through affiliate links is a no-no. I do have affiliate links on my blogs but they directly relate to the content on the blog, so it's not just some random, desperate attempt to sell anything to anyone; accounts with repetitive or nonsensical tweets, "Blogging:", "Reading:", etc., over and over again; accounts that have no @replies to anyone (meaning they never engage in a conversation with anyone, this is only OK for news agency sources, weather bots, and such, never for people or companies).

5) Infantile behavior. Do I really have to explain this? Lots of tweets like, "Watching TV", "Sleeping", etc., etc. Unfortunately some of the worst offenders used to be the Twitter founders themselves. Maybe they've grown up a bit recently, but I don't know since I rarely even attempt to follow any of them anymore, mainly because they're such antisocial #twittersnobs (more on "hashtags" in a later post).

Stop and think for a moment, do you really want your legitimate followers (in my case "contacts", since they're mutual) to have to share the same list with those offenders falling into the categories I've listed above? I don't, because I think it's unfair to them, in fact I think it shows great disrespect. However, if ever I blocked you and you feel that I did this in error you can always appeal to my Virtual Assistant TwitRadiator to intercede with me on your behalf.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Dark Side of Twitter and Social Networking

Perry Belcher's bio on Twitter reads "Perry Belcher - Seriously Bad Ass Marketer & Neurological Copywriter With a Gift From God." In reality, he is a confessed felon with a ten year suspended sentence, an Internet con artist who the courts have forced to pay $1 million in restitution to his victims. The scam Perry Belcher has been convicted of (so far) involved preying upon seriously ill people desperate for medical cures, but the "miracle products" he sent them in exchange for their hard earned money were ordinary household herbs such as oregano or chili pepper. Perry Belcher is one of the worst of that new breed calling itself "Internet marketer", in his case the 21st century equivalent of an old-time snake oil salesman.

You can read details about Perry Belcher's arrest and conviction here (three, quite unbiased articles I must say, considering the serious nature of his crimes): 1) 2) 3)

As of this writing, Perry Belcher has nearly 37,000 followers on Twitter, and this means that he can send direct, one-to-one messages (or DMs on Twitter) to each and every one of them. I was briefly one of these unsuspecting dupes, not having researched Perry's background thoroughly before I followed him on the "advice" of which listed him as one of the top 100 "Twitter Elite", and as such someone worthy of my respect and admiration. I have since contacted the Twitter user responsible for this terrible oversight of listing a felon among members of that exalted rank. Unfortunately nothing has been done about it, which is the main reason I've written this post, in order to warn an otherwise unsuspecting public, because I seriously doubt that Perry Belcher would have anywhere near 37,000 followers on Twitter if most people really knew the truth about him.

Everyone who is a Twitter user and reads this (even if you are NOT following Perry Belcher) should immediately consider taking the following, simple action as I did, in order to protect youself. While logged in to your Twitter account, visit and on the right hand side of the page under "Actions" press the link that says "block" by the username perrybelcher. Wait for the next page to load, where you will be asked to confirm the action and make sure that you do so. That's it. Now Perry Belcher and other criminals who work with him (and I suspect their number is growing, based on veiled threats I've already received for exposing him) cannot send you direct messages or easily read your Twitter stream from his account, in order to try to "get to know you" and fleece you out of your money or worse. An added benefit is that you will no longer be exposed to Perry Belcher's constant, inane drivel in your own Twitter stream, either.

Now if you still decide to start following or continue to follow Perry Belcher on Twitter, at least you've been warned. But this whole affair points out the dark side of Twitter and social networking in general. We all need to be more vigilant about who we decide to be "friends" with on this and other social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. The price for not doing so can be your wallet with less money in it, while a criminal like Perry Belcher is laughing all the way to the bank.

Please help me protect others like yourself by sending them a link to this post, or at least by warning them about the presence of criminals like Perry Belcher on Twitter. Thanks.

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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Twitter on Twitter

As my community has grown to nearly 10,000 contacts, almost all of them mutual (I follow them / they follow me), I've become accustomed to posing questions and receiving almost instantaneous feedback from many different people all over the world. It recently occurred to me that these questions and answers might be useful and interesting to a wider audience, so I've decided to post them here on this blog from time to time.

To provide a kind of introductory post, I asked my Twitter community the following question:

"What's the best thing that's happened to you as a result of your being here on Twitter? And could it have happened just as easily elsewhere?"

Here are the responses I received:

"I stopped nagging at my hubby for being on Twitter. Decided to join in on the fun instead. So, no probably couldn´t happen elsewh"

"I have met some absolutely incredible, totally amazing folks here on Twitter - Happen elsewhere? Possible, but I doubt it :)"

"I could never have met all the tweeple I've met here! There's no way I would've reached that many in so many places!"

"- great thing about Twitter - hundreds of real connections have been awesome - and helping each other out - give, give, give"

"meeting like minded bloggers. Yes; could have happened elsewhere but Twitter made it easier."

"Hard to imagine running across someone from Prague here in Tomball, TX otherwise, Bob! I love the worldwide range here."

"The best thing about being on Twitter is getting some great insights for my biz fast. It would take longer outside it."

"great question - I've met some really interesting people whom I might not have noticed on other social networking sites"

"I met @barefoot_exec and decided to join her incredible mastermind group. I have met some amazing people thanks to Twitter!"

"Meeting up in real life with tweeples I'd never meet otherwise ... enriching friendship."

"Here's my "best thing that's happened to me on Twitter"... . I'd love to hear others' stories."

"I've had some amazing Twitter stories, but my SanDisk story is the biggest. Just posted on @chrisbrogan's blog:"

"Oops I missed the question. For me I might find my Girl Friend in here someday, I am trying hard.. lol"

"No single thing, but lots and lots of small epiphanies over a very short period of time. Twitter = knowledge accelerator for me."

"Best twitter monent(s) - Learning new things about space, interacting with ppl I read/listen to."

"The people! That's the best part of Twitter"

"Best about Twitter: Meeting & networking with twitter colleagues around the world."

"what ever it is be assured it would have happened MUCH slower................."

"Hello. Best experience has been (virtually) meeting (genuinely) friendly, helpful , generous people. And the random tourettes bol"

"one more place for my like-minded psych and tech folks to hang out!"

For me, Twitter is a giant Rolodex full of interesting people I can call on for help and advice anytime of the day or night, engage in lively and insightful discussions, or just hang out with.

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