A recent post by Marshall Kirkpatrick, How Twitter’s Staff Uses Twitter (And Why It Could Cause Problems), makes some interesting observations and raises questions about the direction of Twitter based on the way Twitter staff use it:
We’ve examined the posting and following habits of people on the company’s staff and found that Twitter team members don’t follow very many other people, they aren’t following many of the top developers in their own community and they don’t even Tweet very much.
Marshall suggests — to perhaps over-simplify his thoughtful post — that these behaviors may not lead to decisions about Twitter functionality or the company’s business model that serve the interests of the greater Twitter community, or at least the community of dedicated Twitter users. He cites the recent blackeye over unilateral and unannounced changes to replies functionality (generally referred to as #fixreplies on Twitter) as one example of how different patterns of use might lead to design decisions that run counter to the wishes of the Twittosphere.
He also posted a response by Ev Williams, Twitter CEO, to an earlier draft of his post. Ev says, among other things, the following:
As you know, there are lots of different ways to use Twitter. Many people fall into the trap that you should follow all or most people back out of a sense of politeness or so-called engagement with the community. But the fact is, having more followers does not give you more time in the day (as much as I’d like to sell that). At a certain point, you’re not actually reading any more tweets by following more people — you’re just dipping into the stream somewhat randomly and missing a whole lot of what people say.That’s fine, but I believe people will generally get more value out of Twitter by dropping the symmetrical relationship expectation and simply curating their following list based on the information and people they want to tune in to.
I follow almost 1,000 accounts. Among these, yes, there are celebrities (because I’m interested in how they’re using Twitter as well as what some of them have to say). There are Twitter developers. (You mentioned a few I don’t follow — there are several that I do.) I try to follow all Twitter employees, some potential employees, industry leaders, friends, family, and other people I care about, people (or organizations) who make me smarter, or people who make me laugh. It’s hard to know if this is the *right* set of accounts to follow. And I’m constantly curating my list. (In fact, I’m now following @atebits since you pointed it out. Account discovery is something we need to work a lot on.)
1,000 feels to me currently to be about the right number — but I still miss a lot. And other people (like Biz and other folks in the company) are comfortable with a much smaller number because they don’t want to miss as much.
Also, keep in mind that a following list does not reveal, necessarily, what one is paying attention to. Hundreds of people give me feedback by mentioning @ev — which I check many times a day. I also have saved searches for “twitter” and other related terms.
I agree with Ev that the asymmetric follow model has benefits, and the kneejerk ‘follow everyone back’ etiquette is unworkable and unscalable, especially for those with more than a few hundred followers. However, nearly everything else he says doesn’t add up for me.