April 20, 2009

Twitter Caps Following Limits, Denting Auto-Follow Services

Another day, another Twitter limit that impacts its developers. Following on to Twitter's statement last month about auto-following practices being "disingenuous", the company is back at it again, telling users that "it is unlikely that anyone can actually read tweets from thousands of accounts", and limiting the number of accounts that a single person can follow in a day to 1,000. While that may sound reasoned in practice, it's going to impact the way highly visible accounts can use the service, and again, throw a monkey wrench into entrepreneurs who are looking to fill gaps in Twitter's service.

In the last few weeks, Web and print media have been awash in discussion of some of the largest accounts on Twitter reaching the 1 million follower mark. Assuming Ashton Kutcher and others were to follow Twitter's rule to only follow 1,000 new accounts a day, it would take Ashton 3 years to follow all that follow him, assuming no more new users found his account interesting. It seems Twitter would prefer that these celebrity accounts only follow, say... 93 as Ashton does, rather than the nearly 400,000 Britney Spears follows, which I would guess would be even higher if it weren't for Twitter's API troubles.

I speak to this point not so much as a standard Twitter user, but also as an advisor to SocialToo, which Jesse Stay has worked on to help Twitter users like Guy Kawasaki, myself and many much more visible accounts to stay even on their following and followers, as well as many other features. One of the premium options SocialToo has offered has been a "catch up" option, where users could catch up and follow all those who they were not previously following. Now, SocialToo could only add a maximum of 1,000 a day, making the service good for smaller users, but not for the rapidly-expanding numbers we see on many accounts.

Lest you think I'm just trying to cover for SocialToo here, take a look at how other Twitter developers in the last week by slowness and caps that Twitter is placing on their ability to get data to feed their services. Mr. Tweet has been reporting service disruptions and apologizing to users and Tweet Later reports problems getting data from Twitter. TweetLater even notes from earlier this evening, "At the time of writing there were 1.7 million unprocessed API calls on the processing queue, and the queue is still growing every second."

It's likely Twitter is issuing this newest limit to try and stop spammers and go after the worms that have recently impacted the system. But the ecosystem that has helped the service grow to such high visibility is getting impacted. Hopefully there can soon be a resolution that lets Twitter be secure the right people with the right tools are doing the right things, and that the bad guys are being appropriately stopped in their tracks.

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