Andrew Baron stirs up a Twitter storm

by Mathew on April 13, 2008 · 7 comments

Andrew Baron, founder of the video-blog Rocketboom, seems to have stirred up quite the hornet’s nest by putting his Twitter account up for sale on eBay — along with all of his followers. When I first saw reports of this last night (on Twitter, of course), I thought it was a harmless enough prank, something Andrew clearly came up with as a lark. But the amount of commentary it has sparked in some quarters suggests that he has poked a stick into something important. What is the real value of a community, and can a community be bought and sold?

Obviously, Andrew can’t actually sell his followers. As he notes in the auction itself, his followers could all disappear as soon as the sale is complete. So what is he selling? His Twitter ID, for one thing. Of course, you would assume that whoever bought it would change the name to something else — but what if they didn’t? Andrew might have to put up with someone using his name on Twitter and pushing messages out to followers who may think it’s him (ask Shel Israel about that).

And what about some of those 1,400 or so followers who don’t particularly care who they’re following? Maybe they’ll be just as happy to follow whoever buys the account (for which the bid was $500 last time I looked). Andrew’s offer — which I assume from some of his comments was designed more as a thought experiment than anything else, as he shifts his Twittering to @rocketboom — reminded me of the guy who is selling his whole life, including his house, his job and his friends. (There are more comments from Andrew here).

Experiment or not, some people seem outraged that Andrew would even think of such a thing — to sell a community. Others say it’s no different than a media property selling its readership to someone else. Is it just a publicity stunt? More importantly, will social-media marketing types come to certain conclusions about the value of community depending on what the sale price is? Stowe Boyd says they shouldn’t, and that a true community can’t be sold, but others say there could be some value in such a purchase.

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