No one actually “follows” 2,000 people

by Mathew on August 12, 2008 · 16 comments

There’s plenty of discussion out there (and I use that term loosely) about Twitter imposing limits on the number of people users can follow. This seems to have gotten started by a post from Brent Csutoras saying he ran into a 2,000-follower limit and was surprised by it, even though co-founder Evan Williams described the rationale for the limits on the Twitter blog in a post last week — including the fact that there is no hard-and-fast number for how many followers you can have, something he expanded on in a comment on GigaOm.

When I first saw these reports, I wondered the same thing that Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch does in his post: namely, who the heck can follow 2,000 (or more) people on Twitter? I realize that Loic LeMeur of Seesmic and the Scobleizer and others have tens of thousands of people they follow, and claim that this enriches their lives greatly, but I don’t think they mean the same thing by “follow” that any rational person would (and Loic’s argument seems to boil down to the fact that it’s polite to follow people back if they follow you).

If I recall correctly, Scoble has said that with 20,000 people on his follow list, he gets a tweet every second, or more. I would argue that’s just white noise at best — like having the radio on while you’re doing something else. It’s certainly not actually paying attention to someone. Twitter’s limits seem like a sensible response to “follow spam,” which has been on the increase, and I hope they don’t cave in just because some people want to brag about how many people they’re following.

  • http://blogcampaigning.com Parker

    I think that David Jones said it best a few months ago: “Anyone who has time to follow more than 300 people needs a job”

    and @gangles – interesting point. I hadn’t thought of that!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think there are many bragging rights for following lots of people. Being followed, now that’s a different story.

  • http://gangles.ca/ Gangles

    I wonder how this will affect services such as @HashTags (http://twitter.com/hashtags)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I think some people want to show they are following a lot because it
    means they are more social-media aware than others, even though it’s
    impossible to be part of a “conversation” with thousands of people –
    at least not in any real meaning of the term.

  • http://rizzn.com Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins

    @gangles and @parker…

    Services like hashtags are already getting screwed by the API limitations, so it’s pretty clear here that Twitter isn’t concerned with a lot of the effects on third party tools.

  • http://orangelifemagazine.com Daniel Gibbons

    Regardless of this tweak, are you seeing any evidence of Twitter shifting into the mainstream? I still barely know a single person outside of the tech community who has heard of Twitter, and those who have simply think it’s a mostly useless toy.

    The tough thing is Twitter is completely useless when you first get started (no followers and it’s hard to know who to follow) and quickly becomes useless again when you’re following lots of people. I don’t think this latest change will do anything to make it really useful for normal people.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I’ve had the same experience, Daniel — most of the people I mention it to have heard of it, but have no idea why anyone would want to use it. And several people have tried it, but don’t really know what to do with it once they get on it.

  • http://www.rgdirect.com Scott Kinoshita

    It sounds like Csutoras must like spam or having more information than he could possibly use. I only use Twitter to follow people who A. I really do want to know what they’re up to and B. Are active enough for Twitter to be useful. I don’ t need Twitter for anyone else.

    As to Gibbon’s point — I don’t think Twitter is something you’d want to sign on to on its own. If you are person who already has followers — and I don’t mean on Twitter, I mean regular consumers of the media you produce — then Twitter is a useful tool to offer them. So there shouldn’t be a ‘useless’ period when used properly — you should sign on because you have someone to follow or you have people following you already. If you’re following too many people you’re defeating the purpose of the tool again.

    I could see Twitter being useful for normal people in the following capacities:
    - Weather updates
    - Sports updates (favourite teams only)
    - Update notices for favourite websites that don’t update on a regular schedule
    - Celebrity updates (favourite celebs only)

    This of course would also require the media producers to want to use Twitter appropriately. I don’t want an update that it’s going to be a bright sunny day on my phone, but “Severe Thunderstorm” or “Tornado Watch” most definitely. For sports, I actually wouldn’t mind play-by-play tweets — not to my phone, but Twitterfox; a little pop-up in the lower right corner to let me know what’s going on. I don’t care about celebrities but there are a few websites I enjoy that are updated sporadically — but once again, not to my phone.

    So I think it’s just a matter of another tool not being used for the job it was meant for.

  • http://www.storyofmylife.com/antje antje wilsch

    me three

    (normal) People don’t know how to get followers or how to respond to people they’re following but who aren’t following them. To them it’s just useless noise to most people except the same people over and over who like to hear themselves talk.

  • http://www.storyofmylife.com/antje antje wilsch

    PS those new up and down “voting” things sit on top the names on the page here and I had no idea what they meant……

  • Anonymous

    Mutual following does allow the direct messaging function, so even if you’re not following 2,000 you may be stating your willingness to let 2,000 people message you confidentially.

    But I agree with your basic point, particularly with Twitter’s search capabilities through Summize: If you were following 5,000 people you were probably filtering that output somehow to make sense for it, and you can just as easily filter with Summize or something similar.

    A.

  • http://twitter.com/kilyn10 Kimberly

    Matthew – I completely agree, following 2,000 tweets is ridiculous. Plus users have to contend with Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc, etc. to deal with. Sometimes too much, is too much!

  • http://www.agoracom.com AGORACOM

    Mathew, broken record time for me again. Twitter is yet another “cool” tool created by bored tech geeks that the masses are never going to embrace. Not because they don't understand it – because it doesn't add any further value to an already over connected world via e-mail, SMS, IM, cell phones and Facebook.

    I've been using it since Mesh 2008 and see value in following about 30-40 people that are relevant to my business (You, Kedrosky, Evans, etc.) but shoot me if I follow 200 people, let alone 2,000.

    Still too much emphasis on “cool” and not enough on utility in the Web 2.0 world.

    George

  • Process Piping

    omeone who follow many people is just for get followers

  • http://moneymakers.4ugood.com/ Lester e.a.Wilson

    I must say,everyone is raving about twitter and how you can get thousands of people to follow you.

    I don't know what all the fuss is about,as said before,how many people really follow 2,000 people.

    Just putting your name on a list and say you are following someone,does anyone seriously thinks that people really do?

    I know for a fact i don't.

    I wish people would grow up and tell the truth!!!.

  • http://moneymakers.4ugood.com/ Lester e.a.Wilson

    I must say,everyone is raving about twitter and how you can get thousands of people to follow you.

    I don't know what all the fuss is about,as said before,how many people really follow 2,000 people.

    Just putting your name on a list and say you are following someone,does anyone seriously thinks that people really do?

    I know for a fact i don't.

    I wish people would grow up and tell the truth!!!.

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