Tag Archives: Twitter

5 Rules* For Working the Social Net

*In this case, these “rules” are not unlike the “Pirate Code” from a popular movie series.  They’re guidelines, meant to be followed when it’s convenient for you.  For the most part, they’ve been convenient for me.

With the advent of Google+ there are a lot of people thinking (and not thinking) about how to properly use a social network.  The typical behavior when a new network is discovered is to dive in headfirst and find every person you’ve ever known that’s currently using the service.

This is completely normal.  It’s akin to showing up at your class reunion and scanning the room for familiar faces.  You don’t want to be the awkward person that’s all by yourself, after all.

What’s not such a good idea is what brings me to my first rule:

1. Don’t follow everyone!

While the top image is relevant to this rule, the bottom one is even more telling.  Mr. Dembo‘s a very smart person with a lot of Web 2.0 savvy and a job that centers around community building.  He could theoretically surf social networks in his office and honestly say that’s part of his job description. If he says something is too much, it’s too much.

If you want a social network to be social and not just a noise machine, there is a definite limit to how many people you can follow and still have a conversation.  On Twitter (the social network I’ve spent the most time on, historically), my personal limit is somewhere between 50-100 people depending on how active they are and how much time I have to read posts.  Your own mileage may vary, but when I see someone following over 100 people I begin to seriously doubt that they could be following any of the conversations.

Of course you can still use your network as a megaphone to broadcast things, but that just requires more people to follow you – not the other way around.

2. Have more followers than you follow!


Minecraft creator Notch is doing things right, at least by my standards.  The mystery person… not so much.

A good social network is an asynchronous one.  With the exception of a newly created account, you should always have more people interested in what you have to say vs. the other way around.  Following a grossly disproportionate number more than you have following you – particularly when it’s over 100% or 100 followers more – makes it seem like you’re playing the numbers game.

What’s the numbers game?  That’s when you’ve decided to treat your social network like a game and your follower count like a high score.  A “cheap” way to get that number up is to break Rule # 1 and follow everyone you can.  A percentage of those will follow you back out of gratitude.  You then unfollow everyone and repeat the process until you’re happy with how many people are following you.

(Except they’re not really following you, because if they follow everyone who follows them then they will quickly have all meaningful conversation drowned out by noise and spam.)

If you see someone like the censored picture above, chances are they’ve no interest in what you have to say.  Following them is a waste of your time and a reinforcement of their negative behavior.  I tend to block people like that.

3. Block people!

The above account was also following 18,514 people at the time I took the screenshot.  It started following me while I was writing this post, and I blocked it before I took that screenshot.

There seem to be a lot of people who feel the “block” feature on a social network is meant for accounts that are vile, profane, or promote illegal activities.

It is.

It’s also useful for helping to police social networks.  Any network that’s reached a “critical mass” of users is far too large to be adequately regulated by that network’s paid staff.  They have to crowd-source that responsibility to their user base.

There’s a reason why Twitter has a “Report Spam” option.  It acts the same as the “Block” option, except that if enough people report that account the staff will look into it to see if it should be shut down.

Don’t be content to allow spammers to follow you.  Report/block them, and you’ll end up helping to make that social network a better place – one click at a time.

4. Follow interesting people!

(Which of these two accounts do you think might be more interesting?  I know which one I’d pick.)

OK, enough about not following – let’s talk about who to follow – me!

Just kidding.

Who you follow is totally subjective and depends on only one person: you.  Life is too short for you to spend all your time scrolling past posts that don’t hold your attention.  Every person you follow should be interesting to you.  Frequent posts about mundane activities (I’m going to bed! I’m getting  sandwich! I’m studying!) might be interesting to you if you are particularly close to that person, but if you’re not, they’re noise.

Follow people who frequently post things that make you sit up and take notice.

5. Post things that are interesting to you.

Yes, I finally caved in and posted a screencap of my own posts.  Relevant, I guess….

Chances are that if you want to actively participate in a social network, you want to find people who have interests similar to your own.  If you post things that you think are interesting, the (non-spammer) people who follow you will most likely be interested in the same things.  It’ll take a while for the network to build up, but it will build up.

And you won’t have to agonize over what to post next or whether or not something will make you lose followers, because they’re already following you for being you.

Hopefully, being you comes naturally.


I don’t assume that all these rules apply to everyone.  They’re my rules that I’m trying to follow myself.  That said, I’ve found them to be very helpful to me.

If you’re testing the waters of social networking – or you feel like you’re drowning in the deep end – perhaps some of these might work for you as well.

(And should you decide I’m interesting, perhaps you might want to follow me on Twitter or Google+.  Only if you want to, of course.)

Microblogging Addiction Study

The following are excerpts from lab notes taken by psychologist Dr. I. M. Nuts and sociologist Dr. R. U. There. Their study was on the effect of microblogs on human personalities. It should be noted that while Twitter was used for this experiment, Plurk is better.

Pre-Study Interview:

Subject looked confused. “Micro what? Is that like MySpace?”

Interview 1:

Subject was made aware of the microblogging format. Created an account and posted “Trying out Twitter. Is this any good?” Added everyone in the computer lab to their “Following” list. Did not log in again for three weeks.

Interview 2:

Subject asked a question on Twitter. Surprised to actually get a meaningful answer within five minutes, subject began checking Twitter daily. “Followed” list expanded to fifty people.

Interview 3:

Subject changed cell phone plan to include unlimited text messages in order to microblog from any location without spending a lot of money. “Followed” list expanded to 150 people, including several imaginary ones like Darth Vader and Fake Steve Jobs.

Interview 4:

Subject is posting regularly on Twitter, with more than 100 posts per day. Conversations range from links to cute kittens with funny words under their pictures to deep philosophical conversations. Subject seemed reluctant to visit for the mid-point interview though. Asked “Can’t you just send me direct messages on Twitter?”

Interview 5:

Subject’s microblog postings per day have expanded to more than 300. Postings like “Brushing my teeth” are common. Occasionally posts “At a red light.”

Interview 6: 1,000 posts a day. Posts like “Brushing my teeth” are now preceded with “Getting the toothpaste” and followed with “Rinsing.” With the inclusion of posts like “Changing lanes” several friends got together to perform an intervention. Those friends were removed from the subject’s “Followed” list.

Interview 7:

Subject was too agitated during the exit interview at the end of the study, most likely due to the poor cell phone coverage and lack of computers in the interview room. Insisted on beginning each sentence with “@DrNuts” or “@DrThere,” depending on who the subject was talking to. Seemed mentally unable to talk to any staff member if their name was unknown.

Exit Interview:

Subject is recovering nicely in the local hospital’s mental health wing. We are optimistic that the subject will one day be able to enter an Amish community and continue to live a long and healthy life with minimal nervous twitches.

Academic Aesthetic 165: Twitter vs Plurk

Warning: If you’re sick of hearing about micro-blogs like Twitter, Pownce, Jaiku, and Plurk, today’s podcast might not be for you.

Those of you who’ve been listening for a while (at least since show 128) may recall how enthusiastic I was over a website called Twitter.  I found micro-blogging to be incredibly addictive in spite of its 140 character limit because the conversations were worthwhile.  I quickly established a PLN (or Personal Learning Network) of fellow educators and thoroughly enjoyed the learning (and joking around) that ensued.

Then Jaiku came along, and I hoped with all my heart that the people in my PLN would all jump ship and move over to there.  Alas, while some did, most didn’t bother, so I eventually abandoned Jaiku and reluctantly returned to Twitter.

Fast forward to the creation of Pownce, and history repeats itself.

I loved Pownce for many reasons, most of which I won’t go over here.  Its coolest feature however was the ability to have threaded conversations.  Reading through the posts of everyone I’m following on Twitter is like standing in the middle of a crowded room.  You hear snippets, but not always a complete conversation.

Ok, usually not.  The problem was while I would often see people responding to other Twitter-ers, I wouldn’t see what was being responded to unless I was also following that other person.  Through the creative use of putting “@” in front of user names I could find that individual, but if they were prolific with their tweets then it would still be hard to follow the conversation.

And remember, it was conversations that made Twitter cool in the first place.

The best way to solve this seemed to be following everyone that everyone else in my PLN followed, but there is a physical and mental limit to how many people I can follow so I merely replaced one problem with another.

I  still think Pownce is among the best micro-blog formats out there, but the only times my PLN moved over there were when Twitter was down. Granted, that meant they were there a lot, but never to stay.  Most conversations on Pownce could be summarized as follows:

“Oh, Twitter’s down again.”

“Is Twitter up yet?”

“No.  It’s so annoying that it’s down so often.”

“I know!  I’m about ready to – hey, it’s back up!”

And that’s the last I would see of them on Pownce until the next Twitter outage.

So once again, I abandoned a better service for Twitter.  As much as I liked Pownce, I had to stay with my PLN.

My Plurk TimelineAnd then came Plurk.

Plurk has a few annoying things about it, most notably a lack of text messaging support and a right-to-left scrolling “timeline,” but every post can receive threaded responses so my main problem with Twitter is already solved.

Plurk also has something called “karma.” This has nothing to do with reincarnation, it’s simply a score for how well you’re interacting with others.  I’m not too certain about the algorithm used, but I do know that your score goes up more for posting only a few “plurks” that generate responses from others than it does from posting 1,000 “plurks” and getting few, if any, responses.  Your karma can go up as you gain followers, but the method I’ve seen on Twitter of going through and following hundreds of people in an attempt to get them to follow you in return will actually hurt your score.

That’s something cool that I didn’t expect to see in a micro-blog.  In my opinion one of the cancers of Web 2.0 sites has been the large number of people who treat it as simply a game where whomever has the most followers wins.  I’d first heard of this happening on MySpace when a friend complained that her brother had more “friends” than she did, even though he didn’t really know most of them and she knew all of hers.  (I think she wanted me to create an account so her score would go up by one … I still didn’t.)  I’ve since seen this problem on Facebook, Twitter, Jaiku, YouTube, and even to a limited extent on Pownce.

But I’ve yet to see it on Plurk.  They’ve essentially replaced one score, your number of followers, with another score, karma.  There are still ways to game the system, I’m sure, but I’m not getting 20 friend requests a day from people who are already following over 1,000 others on this service, and I like it better that way.  (I often block those people when I see them on Twitter.)

On top of that, Plurk’s karma score encourages more meaningful conversation than Twitter did.  Posts itemizing everything you’re doing from minute to minute can actually lower your score, as you won’t get many responses to “Hey, I just made some hashbrowns.”

Plurk also has something else: Steve Dembo.  Steve’s taken a liking to Plurk himself, and as a result many of those in my PLN have either made the switch or are now active in both. My one reason for staying on Twitter is gone. If I check only Plurk I feel that I have a sufficiently large and knowledgeable PLN.

Or do I?  There are enough people who haven’t made the switch to make me wonder, so I did a little three-part assessment of my PLNs on both services.  Using Ping.fm I posted to both sites simultaneously, setting up a series of hoops to jump through.

Round 1: “Is this thing on?”

This was simply to test the waters to see who was not only listening, but willing to respond.  I wasn’t too surprised that my first response came from someone on Twitter – after all, I have more followers there, so at any given time it’s more likely that someone’s loading their Twitter client right after I’ve posted something.  What Twitter didn’t have was staying power.  Responses there tapered off after only 6 responses out of 273 followers.

Plurk, on the other hand, had 18 different people respond out of a smaller pool of 68 followers, some of them responding more than once.

These numbers included some people who were unbiased and used both services, and therefore responded using both services.

It should be noted that when I posted the round 1 results, at least two people on Twitter complained and more than one person on Plurk thought the result was very unexpected.

Round 1 Winner: Plurk

Round 2: “I have a question.” (a: Work b: Play)

One of the reasons for having a PLN is to use it as a resource when looking for answers.  With that in mind, I asked two questions.  The first one asked for useful online tutorials for the free, open source Photoshop replacement known as GIMP.  Responses were limited to one on each side, but the one from Twitter was to a page that listed multiple tutorial sites, including the one that the Plurk responder provided.

My second question was for people to “waste my time” by letting me know what their favorite web-based games were.  Chris Craft posted a creative game involving Google searches on Twitter, but on Plurk the same question got me two very well designed Flash games and one reference to building up one’s karma score.  Oh yeah, and someone complaining that after they read the answers they wasted some of their own time playing those games.

On top of that the conversation in that thread continued on Plurk even after I posted the results, hammering in the solid win for Plurk.

Round 2 Winner: Tie (a: Twitter, b: Plurk)

Round 3: “Convince me.”
For the third and final round I simply asked for people to tell me why their micro-blog of choice was better.  I received just one answer on Twitter, though it was concerning Twitter’s compatibility with text messaging services so it was a darned good argument.

On Plurk I had several responses, ranging from short and sweet to links to full-fledged blog posts on the subject.

Round 3 Winner: Plurk

So there you go, my take on the micro-blog battleground.  I don’t expect Twitter to go away ay time soon, but apparently I’m getting a lot more out of Plurk than Twitter these days.

And hey, whether or not you agree with my somewhat subjective results, I’d love to hear your opinion in 140 characters or more.  You could always leave a comment here, but I’d rather see you write your own blog post or record your own podcast on the subject.  If you link back to me when you post it, I’ll be sure to see it when I search Technorati or Google.