Twitter Evolution (Here Come The Civilians)

I joined Twitter a little over two years ago, around the time of SXSW 2007. I was already about a year behind its launch. I wrote Twitter Has “Ruined” My Life in June 2007. This picture is on that post, and includes Mike, Justin, Anil, Kenyatta, Debbie, Grace, Eric & myself and was taken by Jared. I fully expect to see 5 if not 6 of these same people later today at an IRL get-together.. two years later:

Photo Credit: Jared Klett

The reason I joined Twitter is the same reason I joined any Social Media site. There were people that I ALREADY KNEW that started using a new site, app or tool and I wanted to be involved in this new (and hopefully BETTER and INNOVATIVE) way to contact them or keep up with what they’re doing. What that did was give Twitter a particular flavor for me. It was the place where I went to receive up-to-the-minute information about people that I was keeping in contact with anyway via newsgroups or forums or email or their blogs or whatever.

The first thing I did was stop looking at the public timeline. Some people are fascinated with what random people have to say about random topics. I’m not one of those people. It’s very nice that someone in France saw a bird. I was interested in ‘hearing’ about who was trying to find a cab in Austin Texas to get from one SXSW party to another or that someone had a question or answer about videoblogging or editing or some other topic I was interested in. This is because I joined Twitter following certain people, meaning they were going there, so I wanted to be there too. Granted, it was about 50 people, but I already knew from prior experience with them what I was going to hear from them, and that’s what I was ‘buying’ into.

I remember standing on a line at nighttime, waiting to get into a party (which I normally don’t do, but this was extenuating circumstances), and I happened to be standing behind a few civilians (people not deeply involved in the internet) who started talking about what they had Twittered. One of the gals had announced that she went shopping. Another one had announced that they were going to be coming to this party that we were waiting for. I remember thinking “ah… THESE are public-timeline-people” and considering how all of us standing there use the same service but will never be in contact with each other, because they’re talking about NOTHING! Or, I should say, all the rest of THEM will never be in contact with ME. They’ll have their little pocket of people to communicate with and share stories about ice cream parlors and the mall. I remember being glad that everyone has their own set of people they Twitter with and having absolutely ZERO INTEREST in any of them becoming a follower of mine on Twitter.

Fast-Forward to July 2009 and all the civilians are running around trying to get more Twitter followers. Huh? They don’t care who you are. They don’t care what you do. They don’t care what you said… or IF you said anything at all. Follow, Follow, Follow, Follow, Follow. The clear focus is quantity over quality… like as if you get a prize for having a certain amount of Twitter followers.

I understand why this is, to a degree. For a lot of people, Twitter is their first opportunity at feeling what it’s like to be popular. The concept of one-to-many communication is fascinating and enticing. People can send a message from their phone on a bus somewhere and be heard all over the world, or at least by all of their followers at the same time, even if they’re all locals. You can tell a joke and 10 people might “lolol” at it. You can be the first one to break news about a bridge falling down or a plane landing in water. Normally, the only people who would hear you are people who you could physically tell, or people who read your blog after the time it takes you to post it and the time it takes them to check it and read it. All of a sudden, you get to feel like thousands of people care what YOU have to say. I see why people have become addicted to that feeling.

Personally, while I fully APPRECIATE the fact that randoms read my material, I’m most interested in what the people who know what I’m talking about and go through the same things I go through think and have to say about what I post. Right now, I have 2,586 Twitter followers and I’m following 895 people (which is STILL too many people to follow and actually read what everyone has to say). I know people with TENS OF THOUSANDS of followers who are also following that same number of people back! :O … Obviously, they’re using Twitter for a different purpose and experience than I am, but at those numbers, it’s clear that the vast majority of those people being “followed” are actually being IGNORED due to so many posts coming through on each refresh that most of them are flooded off the bottom of the stack before ever having a chance to be seen. Also, if someone COULD read thousands of posts a day, that would mean that they weren’t WORKING and were about to get FIRED from their jobs.

So this is what’s fascinating and annoying to me about the evolution of Twitter, or maybe it’s not evolution, but that the lunatics are now running the asylum. Every show you turn on, some civilian is talking about Twitter and trying to sound intelligent when they’re reading off of the teleprompter and don’t even know the proper inflection to put on words. They SHOULD be embarrassed, but they’re not, because they know that nobody else watching their report knows anything more than they do about the topic.

Twitter addresses are becoming like phone numbers to the civilians. They’re treating this like as if having 2,586 followers means that I have 2,586 people’s phone numbers or 2, 586 people’s ear when I want to talk about politics (which is never) or sell them something or have them all tune in to one of my live broadcasts. Not only is that completely untrue, but with all these people running around trying to get followers by adding everyone in creation, your list of followers is incredibly diluted by people seeking that virtually anonymous fame / acknowledgment. I think the funniest / most pathetic part of this is when people add you and then you delay checking their profiles for a few days, and by the time you do, they’ve already UNFOLLOWED YOU! 😀 This is completely ridiculous and shows you who only added you in the hopes you would add them back and inflate their fake popularity ranking of Twitter followers.

Is any of this a problem? No. I still follow the same core of people I’ve been following from 2007 to 2009. I’ve added people along the way whom I’ve found to be interesting online or that I’ve met IRL and shared good times with. 🙂 I add some people because their bios look interesting or indicate that they might have something to say that I might want to hear or that they might have an answer to a question that *I* have, should they choose to follow me back. It’s just interesting, seeing people coming to the table these days with ZERO sense of community, looking to win a blue ribbon for having the most people follow them in the least amount of time or gaining people that they can peddle their wares to online. *yawn*

There are lots of interesting new people showing up as well, diving into Twitter head-first with valuable, RELEVANT information. Hopefully, they’ll be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and find good groups of people to interact with efficiently & productively. I used to subscribe to the concept of “follow everyone that follows you”, but as I said, that became too many people to honestly follow, so I pared it down to ~700 and now it’s back up to ~900. I’ve been using apps to set up groups, which helps.. but I think I need another subdivision so I can sort people by RELEVANCE and attempt to get back to the essence of what I loved about Twitter when I first started using it.

~ Bill Cammack

Twitter: BillCammack
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