August 06, 2009

To Jump on the Massive Unfollowing Trend Would Be a Mistake

For weeks, in my ever-increasing list of potential future blog post topics, I have had one titled, "What If I Purged My Twitter Followers?". Trust me, the option has crossed my mind on the rare occasion I log in and try to use Twitter or any of its 3rd party apps in the way the Twitter team had intended - as I watch update after inane update swim in a sea of half-baked offers and hashtaggery. But even as I see some notable folks talking about taking apart their list of connections with the subtlety of Jack Nicholson wielding an axe in The Shining, I'm still ignoring the temptation to join them. While I may weed out some clear spammers now and again, I think to massively prune my list would introduce more problems, real and emotional, than it would present solutions.

Since I started using Twitter in early 2008, I have somehow amassed more than 12,000 connections. Thanks to my employing an auto-follow capability from SocialToo, a company run by Jesse Stay who I advise, those who add me as a connection in Twitter gain a reciprocal move almost instantaneously, without my lifting a finger. While some may think this is "disingenuous", doing so saves me the time of reviewing each new follower one by one to gauge "worthiness", and it also enables them to send me direct messages - as Twitter will block the capability otherwise.

Scoble's Unfollowing Is Easily Seen Via TwitterCounter

I recognize there are problems with spammers on Twitter. I get my fair share of automated direct messages. I see ridiculous accounts that look more like robots than people. But if I set an artificial standard that required me to have a personal relationship with an individual in order to follow them on Twitter or any network, I would be selling myself short in terms of getting to potentially know the person, and I would be selling them short by not giving them a chance when it is likely they just wanted to be connected in an environment where they were comfortable.

Assuming I were to abstain from using an auto-unfollow service (SocialToo does this also), and I took 10 seconds to review each of the 12,000 accounts, it would take more than 33 hours to adequately cleanse my feed. And I know if I did use an unfollowing service, a lot of great people would be thrown out with the bathwater. I saw Scoble's experiment, only to have it impact friends of mine like Drew Olanoff and Kent Newsome, who are both real humans who contribute on Twitter and other networks. I know, without question, that there are many future peers on the Web that I just haven't had the luck to meet yet.

Benjamin Franklin, once paraphrasing Blackstone's formulation, said, "It is better [one hundred] guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer." So too do I see it better that 100 spammers fill my feed than I lose access to the innocents who remain. I am not so self-centered as to believe I know the full set of people who I can learn from and derive value. So don't look for me to start shaking my numbers down on any of the networks - even if it is getting more popular.

Also see: Twitter is for Following Topics and Listening, Not for Following People from February 26th for more background on this.