Mar 09

Tweets In The Rear View Mirror May Appear More Numerous Than They Are

Blog 7 + FT + Proven By Science8 comments • 416 views

You may or may not be aware that I’ve been spending a fair bit of time on Twitter lately. This began as a work exercise – “what’s the point of this then?” – but has become something more as my enthusiasm has grown. And as my enthusiasm has grown my participation has grown.

This morning I realised I’d sent six posts to Twitter in an hour. Not many by some standards, but if you’re only following 20 people and one of them is me, it must seem like I’m absolutely caning it.

And that – together with this blog post on the fallacy that number of followers is a measurement of ‘influence’ – got me thinking about how we perceive audiences when writing online.

By “we” I mean “I” – I bet there’s some good research on this, but I’m just jotting thoughts down.

Twitter is like some other services I use – LiveJournal and Tumblr – in that the default mode is a flow of information, and the more people you are following the faster that flow is. With Twitter, because all content has a fixed length, it’s practical to follow a lot more people.

But how your activity on these services is perceived isn’t a function of how many people you follow, or how many people follow you. Perception of your activity is governed at the individual level by how many other people someone is following.

This means the same individual can appear laconic to one follower and loquacious to another. If my 6 tweets are 30% of someone’s twitterstream, that’s a fair chunk of their attention I’m trying to muscle in on. If they’re .3%, I’m barely noticed.

If I was posting this on my marketing blog, I’d say that this implies you’d be better off trying to get people who aren’t following many others to notice you than going for the ‘big birds’. But I’m not, so I’m more interested in how the “casual tweeter” processes this information.

And the answer, surely, is “very imperfectly”. It’s simply too hard to keep in mind the very different shares of attention you’re demanding and commanding.

So what I hypothesise happens is this: you assume on some level that the people you’re interacting with on Twitter (or in any decentred web space) are using the service in roughly the same way as you.

We project our own experience onto the ‘standard experience’ and use a service accordingly.

In other words, on Twitter people become more chatty in proportion to the amount of input they’re receiving. That’s mostly determined by how many people they’re following, but it’s also influenced by the number of @messages they get, and the application they’re using.

This is a completely testable hypothesis, and I’d be interested in seeing if it’s true or not.


  1. 1
    Alan on 16 Mar 2009 #

    i’m just about to stop following some of the chattier twit-celebs

  2. 2
    mike on 16 Mar 2009 #

    I suspect that if a statistical survey were done, it would show that people using Tweetdeck were chattier than most – as the Tweetdeck screen divides into three equal columns for tweets, @replies and DMs. When I started on Twitter in late 2006, too much @replying was seen as bad form. Then they added a preference setting, allowing you to block other people’s @replies to people you don’t follow – and then along came the apps – and now it’s almost seen as bad form NOT to @reply your friends on a regular basis.

    My biggest assumption – and I know perfectly well that it’s a false one – is that everyone else reads pretty much 100% of their friends’ tweets. (I unfollow as many as I follow, in order to keep my “following” total hovering at around 60 – which might make me look rude to some, but if I’m following you then I do at least pay you the courtesy of properly following you, and reading everything you post.)

  3. 3
    Tom on 16 Mar 2009 #

    I am just about getting used to the fact that if stuff happens when I’m asleep I don’t have to check back on it…otherwise I try and read everything (though I don’t follow every link, obviously).

    Mind you I read with @replies on.

  4. 4
    poohugh on 16 Mar 2009 #

    #1: me too, slowly cutting them down.
    I think the way that you use twitter can depend on what product you use to update it/scour it (I sniggered to myself when i saw that Boyd Hilton (for it is he) updates his straight off the web! Lolz.). I use twitterfox which suits my very unorganic, something’s just popped up way of using it, to feed into my river of news much like my RSS reader does. The clinical look of tweetdeck fills me with dread, and would seem to take much of the haphazardness of the whole thing.

  5. 5
    Alan on 16 Mar 2009 #

    “I read with @replies on”

    see i don’t even know what this means. i only use the ipod client and it’s not all that sophisticated.

  6. 6
    Tom on 16 Mar 2009 #

    You can change your settings to that you can or can’t see replies people make to people you don’t follow. If you turn it on you get lots of half-conversations which can be voyeuristically interesting!

  7. 7
    Lennie on 16 Mar 2009 #

    I’ve been wondering if the noise produced by twitter is actually one of the positives. If you can easily identify the tweets you want then the rest provide a background. I follow three or four people just because I don’t know them, its like over hearing strangers conversations in a bar.

  8. 8
    Alan on 16 Mar 2009 #

    ah yes – i did set that and just forgot about it. ‘The @ Replies setting can be confusing. Read the help article if you’re unsure.’ ded right

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page