What is Twitter’s Maximum Density?

Hey… it’s time for another – you guessed it! – post about Twitter!

‘Now, GeekMommy,’  you might say to yourself, ‘what is it with all these Twitter-centric posts? Seriously… you might as well rename this blog All About Twitter and have done with!’

Well perhaps… but while I love other peoples’ perspectives, I tend to write about whatever has me most passionate at the moment, and for the past few months, that’s Twitter.  Mostly because I spend more time Twittering than I do blogging now.  But that’s something you probably already know.

Even so, this post has been floating around in my head for more than a week now.  Three things prompted me to take a self-imposed Twitter-time-out and write it though:

1) I keep having blog post ideas that I sit on for a day or two only to find out that everyone and his sister is posting about it now and there’s little point in my taking paragraphs of bandwidth to say ‘yeah! me too!’  So maybe I can get this one up before the blogosphere collectively thinks to post about it again.

2) A post this morning by Shel Israel [@shelisrael] about his own Twitter follow policy – reminded me yet again that I’d rather write this here than put it in someone else’s comment section.

3) A series of twitters by Jeremiah Owyang [@jowyang] made me think that maybe reason #1 was a little more pressing than usual:

jeremiah’s twitterstream

My own Twitter activity has increased radically over the past couple of months… and while I’ve been pretty faithful to the self-imposed guidelines I listed here – I wrote those when I had maybe 2/3 the number of follows/following that I do now.

It’s amazing how fast Twitter is suddenly growing.  After SXSW, there seemed to be yet another new surge of users.  I know that it’s not just me, because of evidence like that above and tweets from many of my Twitterpals that they are seeing a huge surge in percentage of new followers – whether they are in the thousands of followers or merely dozens – the influx is definitely there.

So the other night I was having  a discussion on Live!Yahoo with a couple of friends including @anjrued & @mrxinu about the maximum number of people one can follow on Twitter and still actually have meaningful engagement with them.

The inimitable Robert Scoble [@scobleizer] follows nearly 17,ooo users on Twitter as I write this.  Depending on whose statistics you use, the average Twitterer follows somewhere between 8 and 25 other users.

At present, I’m following and being followed by some 800+ users on Twitter myself.  I generalize it, because I know that a number of those accounts are, in effect, stagnant.  Their owners have neither updated nor viewed Twitter in months.  I wish there were an easy way to account for ‘active’ users, but I don’t really have a tally.

When I was down around the low 100+ mark, I remember thinking to myself “surely I can never keep up with more than 150!  Even now, I log on and have pages and pages of twitters to ‘catch up’ on and am barely managing that!”  What happened though, was that I actually changed my style of using Twitter.  I stopped trying to ‘catch up’ and started trying to ‘step in and out’ of the Timestream.   Sure, I might go back a couple of pages to see what the current buzz was, but I mostly used things like the ‘Replies’ tab and Tweetscanned my own userID to see if there were tweets concerning me that I ought to pay attention to, and then jumped into the fray.  This change in usage seemed to coincide with an increase in connections on Twitter.  Granted, I owe a large part of that to the amazing Guy Kawasaki‘s [@guykawasaki] Alltop.com – which connected me with as many new people to follow as it did bring me to the attention of new followers.  But I never would’ve survived the influx if I were still using my old method of Twittering.

But now I come to the point where I think I’m reaching maximum density on the number of people I can follow and honestly interact with.

To me, Twitter is all about the conversation.  Like Shel mentioned in the post I linked above, I don’t want to spend time on ‘non-real’ people.  That means I’d like to at least have some clue who someone I’m Twittering with is.  Even if it’s something as simple as “male, lives in Toronto, likes Linux” or “female, lives in California, 2 kids” I’d rather have some image in my mind about the person I’m talking with.

And it’s all about that last phrase, not “talking to” but “talking with.”

There are those who still believe that anyone not using Twitter solely as a status update platform are somehow “corrupting” it or trying to “turn it into a chat room.”  To them I’d say, don’t bother to follow me then, I’ll drive you nuts.  I’m not sure how one can utter the phase “Social Media” and somehow ignore that first word and expect people not to interact socially.

I’ve said before elsewhere that blogging reminds me more of public speaking with the Comments thread being the post-lecture Q&A session – and Twitter reminds me more of a public dialog.  Anyone can jump in with an opinion at any time – and it is the weight of the words that matters, not necessarily the status of the person saying them.

That may be a bit optimistic – and I’ve been known to wear rose-colored glasses more than once in my life – but it is how I choose to perceive Twitter and how I choose to behave there.

So at what point do I have to adjust my “guidelines” for following back, as Jeremiah has done?  At what point do I have to say – I’m sorry, but I’m not going to follow anyone else without trimming my own following list a bit first?

I’m thinking it’s fast approaching.  Because my choices are to either change my expectations of Twitter and the way I interact there – or to start limiting the number of people I’m promising to interact with.

I just really hate doing that – even though I kind of know it’s inevitable.

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~ by Lucretia on March 31, 2008.

13 Responses to “What is Twitter’s Maximum Density?”

  1. I think twitter should be used by each however suits them best. It’s so versatile, why try to limit people by telling them how they should use it. You do what you want to do. Personally, I don’t see it as a public forum but rather a small chat room with people I know. That’s why I only follow people I know personally (have talked to via email/chat or phone, and a small handful (like you) whom I’d like to know because they seem interesting or we happen to have something in common (like being geek moms). :)

    However, I might someday use my second twitter account more for following random strangers. I think a lot of people should do that – have a separate account for those more intimate conversations like I have on my regular account. Instead of worrying about who to follow or not follow, just open a separate account for a smaller group and maybe even make it protected if you want to.

    With apps like twhirl you can post to both accounts from once place.

  2. @Natalie – thanks for the feedback. You have a great point.
    I’ve just found that I’m horrid about ‘multiple accounts’ and maintaining them.
    I suppose there are more and more folks doing the ‘public v. intimate’ Twitter accounts – I’m just afraid that I wouldn’t be good about updating both.

    It’s tricky, this navigating entirely new waters – isn’t it?

  3. Good blog again. I’m glad I got into your followers/followed list before you (may) change your policy.

    I only follow people I know, or a very few, like you, that I find interesting. And, btw, “married in Illinois with 2 kids, HS tech teacher, scrapbooker”… just so you have the visual picture. ;-)

    I just posed the question a week or so ago (to which no one replied) as to whether I should have separate accounts for my separate “identities”… mom, teacher, scrapbooker, etc. For now, just one, because I’d be crazy with a ton. Too many passwords to memorize.

  4. I’m new to Twitter and really enjoying it. I may change my mind (check back in a month or so) but right now I follow people who seem interesting. If their Twitters are interesting or I follow through to their blog and they seem like they have something interesting to contribute I follow.
    I’m also following different people than the people I regularly read blogs by. At first glance, some folks are a LOT better at Twitter than blogging (and vice versa).
    I do think you get the most out of it by actual interaction – but sometimes I feel like a weird stalker when I reply to someone I don’t know. However, in the Internet world it only takes a few conversations to feel like you “know” someone new. Doesn’t it?

  5. Great post.

    I, too, have wondered about the separate accounts, but have decided to stick with just one. This week in fact it proved smart.

    On Sunday I posted about leaving to go to my daughter’s equestrian vaulting. Had I had separate accounts I would have posted this to my personal one. However, what happened is that @charpolanosky, someone who would have been associated with my “business” account, asked me to guest post on her blog about girls sports. I would have missed this.

    Also, I find that one of the things I love about Twitter is getting to know people holistically – a bit about their work, a bit about their personal life. The people I follow who only post about work are not as interesting to me as those who mix it up a bit.

    And, as always, I love interacting with you GeekMommy on Twitter. You enrich my Twitter and my life.

  6. Yes, thanks to Guy I found you, and I’m writer, traveler, collector of beautiful things & books w/ 2 boys in VA. Glad to know I’m not the only one having angst about how to keep up with all my “social media” friends. Living in a very rural community, my online communities allow me the access to socialization and business opportunities that weren’t available before. I’m only in this for the last year and a half, but I’ve been online since 1992. Research was always my focus, not people. Switching gears to personal interactions with people I meet online has made such a positive difference in all areas of my life. Consider yourself to be in that group, it’s a pleasure to tweet with you!

  7. sounds like a common LinkedIn debate.

    I may be part of the new surge on twitter having heard and seen twitter, but not participating until the Inc Mag article last month…thought it would be fun to tweet about it! My addiction is starting…talking about it on Your Brand Radio and posting about it like you…

    I like that I found you via Scott’s tweet to his blog about you…and we are both in Denver;)

  8. @CMLisaY – thank you! I understand the ‘following folks you know + a few more interesting’ that’s where I started and well… :) Twitter will do that to you! I’m very lucky tho, in my estimation – it has provided me with some very good friends I would’ve otherwise never met.

    @Mary-Frances Main – I totally agree! Blogs v. Twitters can be very different! I actually think I’m probably better at Twitter, because it keeps me concise! :) Just jump in with the @’s tho – the worst that will happen is someone will just ignore the @… and then you can either try again, or move on to someone more open to conversing! I try hard to respond to @’s to me – unless they’re things that really don’t need a response like “yeah I agree!”

    @Kim Dushinski – that’s a very good point! I’m glad you get the chance to guest post – and you know I really appreciate your interaction on Twitter!

    @BGreen – thank you! it’s nice to be included in that group. I do know what you mean about how Social Media changes not only our use of the internet, but our outlook in general. Some of the people I consider the most cherished in my life are those I’ve met online over the years and thru socmed. It’s like finding friends without being hampered by geographical proximity!

    @David Sandusky – I haven’t read the Inc Mag article – going to have to go hunt that down, thanks for the heads up!
    I’m not sure which tweet it was that lead you hear (someone blogged about me? I’m clueless!) but I’m certainly glad you are here!
    Are we connected on Twitter as well? One of the disadvantages I’m finding is that I know someone is on Twitter – but finding them on there often requires other information – like branding or knowing a userID they’ve used elsewhere.
    Still – I’ve met the most amazing folk in the Denver/Boulder area as well that are knee-deep in this social networking – and have to wonder how long (if ever) it would’ve taken me to find them w/o Twitter.

  9. I have always just jumped in here and there, when I can. I never went back and read all of the pages of tweets that happened while I was offline. I was always amazed that you could do that.

    Now, however, that more and more people are adding all of us as contacts, I’m noticing that jumping in here and there isn’t very productive. I am rarely engaged or responded to by anyone because they are already knee-deep in conversations.

    I kinda miss the intimacy of the smaller community. But I love the information sharing of the larger community.

  10. @dawn – yeah, I kind of miss the ‘cozy cafe’ feel too… but I suppose the growth was inevitable!
    Personally, I’m disappointed in myself if I’ve missed engaging with you lately – you’re still one of my earliest and most valued twitterpals! :)

  11. […] isn’t about lists and isn’t just about Gary.  Plus this is an amazing piece on the carrying capacity of twitter and personal use of the platform, again an open discussion. Thanks for being good people […]

  12. I’m fairly new to heavy Tweeting and still having figured out my balance and how to use it for me yet. Thanks for the ideas!

    @alotofnothing

  13. Great post. I also feel the need to follow the conversations, not just the @me’s. When I jump in, i try to go back a few pages and see what I missed although reponding seems mute due to the extended time that’s passed… sometimes I do anyway. I don’t follow nearly as many people as do you, but it works for me and I do feel a connection with those I’ve been conversing with. I usually click through to their blogs and comment. Many have done the same with my blog and I do feel that the conversations have really taken on more depth. Twitter has been good to me. I hope I’ve contributed some back as well. ~ @teachakidd

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