The Twitter sphere1 is a strange place, admittedly, but it’s one that I find value in. Because of the idiosyncracies of that particular paradigm, I’ve become involved with Oregon Blogs, spoken at Ignite Portland #5, been a guest on Strange Love Live and become a part of The Portland Ten, not to mention meeting a large number of just really top notch and fabulous people, both here in Hood River and in the big, crazy city of Portland.
None of this would have been possible without my active involvement in the Twitter sphere. Well, honestly, all of this would have been somewhat more difficult, however, not impossible. The point is that I find value in micromessaging.
I hear people talk about how stupid it is to have this website where you just shout about “What you’re doing.”
“Who cares what you’re doing,” they complain, “it’s so stupid!”
I hear them and I smile and stay quiet. Twitter, like many things in the Web 18.104.22.1689build34 world, is something that either you get, or you don’t get. That is to say, it either provides you value, or it does not provide you value.
Still, I do have a problem with Twitter. Actually, it’s not with Twitter, it’s with the culture of Twitter. You see, the concept of what it means to follow someone is backwards to me. This one is hard to explain, so I will instead give you the Twitter sphere it seems to be, and then the Twitter sphere as I feel it should be.
I often hear (or, read) people talking about how many others follow them as if it is some milestone. I actually have quite a few 2 and I happen to know of two people (unnamed) who have noted that I’m impressive because I gained so many followers so fast. They are trying to do that. This alone is strange enough, but somewhat understandable if they are in marketing or some other field where having an “audience” is necessary.
Often, when I follow others, I’ll get a response that, boiled down, amounts to “Thanks for following me.” This strikes me as odd. I follow someone, and they are happy to have another follower to their list. Someone else is in their audience. Their numbers are growing.
The point of this, obviously, is that it is the following that’s important. Thus, when someone follows you, you should feel honored, you should thank them. You should, of course, follow them back. I mean, it’s the least you can do. They are in your audience, are you too good to be in theirs?
And then there’s Qwitter and other services. Sites that tell you when someone– ack– stops following you. The un-follow. That’s bad. It’s like being dumped, right? Why’d they un-follow me? Was it something I said? Is there something I should do? Are they just a big, fat jerk? Well, I’m going to un-follow you to! Take that!
It’s as if following is some important act. Following is the metric we measure by. Thus, not following is something we try to avoid.
This importance on following is backwards to me for one main reason: Fundamentally, I am a listener. Sure, I like to make people laugh, and pride myself on trying to be funny and all, but my path through life is fundamentally one where I strive to reach a place where I can experience as many other human stories as possible. The best way for me to experience those stories is through listening.
So, I have a fundamental disconnect with this view of Twitter– the view that following is the metric. When I follow someone, it is so that I can listen to them. So that I can hear their story. In the cold, calculating way of approaching it, I follow them because they provide me with some value. I don’t expect them to thank me. In fact, my general approach would rather be to thank someone when I begin to follow them.
“I’m following you now because you said something interesting to me and I want to hear more. Thank you for telling your story.”
I will not thank you for following me, because if you follow me, then I am assuming you are doing so because I provide you value. I may say things that help you, I may say things that make you laugh, but I am saying something that you want to hear. I’d like to think that we have a future in conversation, but that’s not always the case.
I started this post so that I could try to explain the reasoning behind a recent Twitter update in which I mentioned aggressively culling the numbers of people I follow (i.e. bad). Furthermore, I actually stated that people could shout out to me if they want me to follow them.
Now, in the context of following as the metric: How incredibly arrogant of me! Following is what’s important. Being followed is the goal. So here I am suggesting that the people out there should feel they have to prove that they are worthy of my follow? What a bastard!
As soon as I posted that tweet, I started getting responses, replies and DMs, and wished I had worded that differently.3
Here it is: I don’t want a lot of followers. That is to say, I’m not against having them, but I am in no way seeking them. Someone fairly recently told me that they wanted to have as many followers as me. Why? I am assuming that everyone following me is getting some value from what I say (what that could be, I’ll never know– I mostly just talk about things like goats and booze.). If I provide you value, then I’m glad. If I don’t, then I question why I’m in your Twitter stream, because it doesn’t make any sense.
I won’t thank you for following me, and I won’t ever regret you un-following me. If anything, I’ll thank you for un-following me, because it means that you care enough to walk away when you no longer care to listen.
Everyone should take my posts in the context of listening as the metric. In fact, I’d suggest that it would be best to take the entirety of Twitter in the context listening as the metric, but we’l start small, with just me. So, let me rephrase.
I meant to say is this:
“Hey, there are a lot of people whom I’m not really listening to as much as I’d like to, and that’s not fair to either of us. There are friends who’ve had joys and sorrows that I’ve missed, and that really saddens me. There are also friends that I haven’t yet met, and that makes me glad. But there’s this large amount of people whom I’m not really listening to, and you may be one of them. It has little to do with you’re doing something ‘wrong’ as with the fact that I only have so much capacity. I could feign having more capacity, but that too is not fair, to either of us. I feel you deserve someone who will listen, rather than just wish for less background noise, so I am un-following you. Thank you for letting me follow for a time, and providing me some value.”
Unfortunately, Twitter is limited to 140 characters, not 1400 words.
That’s why I have a blog.