Twitter barrier of entry and ego inflation

Twitter is wonderful, as many of us know. But Twitter is hard, also, The barrier of entry is high, and one of the most difficult things is finding people to follow (here are some tips).

So Twitter and Twitter users have introduced a couple of ways to overcome this difficulty: #FollowFriday and, most recently, Twitter lists.

The tools are meant to help people find people to follow. The problem is, every time someone recommends you should follow person X, either in #FF or by placing her on a list, person X is flattered. Her ego gets a boost. Now, depending on the psychological perspective we use to look at this (Western or Eastern), the ego boost may or may not be a good thing for person X himself. But what makes it annoying for all of us is that person X cannot keep it to himself. He has to count the number of lists he’s on, the number of times she’s been recommended, and let all her followers know – usually, this is done in the form of thanks: “Thank you everyone for putting me on 500 lists!” It is annoying, because along with the sincere thanks we see an overinflated ego that cannot be contained within oneself.

So, #FF and Twitter lists become ego-inflating tools, and many of us find them annoying. The question is, even though annoying, do they help newcomers find people to follow?

Unfortunately, Twitter got rid of what I thought was the best way of finding people to follow: Seeing all @replies enabled one to identify new people connected to the people she was already following. Now, you can only see @replies if you follow both people in a conversation. As Twitter adds capacity, I hope they’ll come back to the old model – it will help newcomers build their social network slowly and organically.

Now, back to the annoying part, should we blame the tool or the people? Or, is this not a problem, and no one needs to be blamed?

Personally, I would like to see a bit of humbleness… What’s your take?

Building Relationships part 2

In the previous post in this series, I argued that Twitter is great for building bridging social capital – loose connections with large numbers of people who are quite different than you. Bridging social capital has several benefits, innovative thinking and new work opportunities being among them.

In this post, I draw upon Dale Carnegie to give you very simple advice about how to build relationships on Twitter. This question seems to be on my students’ minds a lot.

I fully believe that at this point in our social media world, the most precious and scarce resource is attention.


To build relationships, give people attention.

How do you give them attention? Reply to what they said. Jump into conversations, or reply to lonely tweets. Say something nice, or interesting, or supportive, or ask a question. Be careful with humor, it may or may not come across right in writing.

I was reading a women’s magazine’s yearly mandatory article about how to have fun at holiday parties. This line from a fashion model’s mother sounded like the perfect blend of Dale Carnegie in the attention economy:

“Look everybody in the eye and make them feel special. Give them warmth and attention.”

What are some of the things you do on Twitter that make people people feel special? How do you give warm and attention on Twitter? Can you share some tips with my students?

Building Relationships part 1

This is part of a series of post about building relationships online and the relationships we build online.

The initial idea was triggered by reading in one of the books for TECH 621 about marketable relationships. Marketable relationships were defined as relationships we build for the sake of the relationship, without expecting an immediate reward. However, the rewards, often in the form of employment, speaking engagements, etc., come as a result of having these connections. Nothing new here. This is how connections work.

I don’t particularly like the term “marketable relationships,” but luckily, the concept does go by another name: social capital.

Social capital was defined by Bourdieu as one of three types of capital:

  1. economic (financial resources)
  2. cultural (knowledge resources)
  3. social (connections, acquaintances, people we know who could do us favors)

Putnam (the one who wrote Bowling Alone) further broke down the concept of social capital into 2 sub-types: bonding and bridging capital.

  1. bonding capital = close relationships  among homogeneous groups (birds of a feather, your close group of friends, family, etc).
  2. bridging capital = loose connections with diverse people. It is out of these types of connections that most benefits and innovations emerge.

So, here are some hypotheses:

  • Many people use Facebook to maintain bonding capital
  • Many people use Twitter to build and maintain bridging capital

Are these the predominant uses of Facebook vs. Twitter? To how many people do these hypotheses apply? Do they apply to you? Are the trends changing towards Facebook becoming more open to loose connections and to building bridging capital? i.e. do you “friend” people you don’t know very well?

[update 10/25: Facebook’s new News Feed vs Live feed feature makes Facebook technology more conducive to maintaining bonding capital, because the algorithm selects the updates to show you in the News Feed based on the previous level of interaction -connection depth?- with that person.]

Next posts in this series:

How social media change organizing

I gave this presentation in TECH 621 today – I’m pretty proud of the way I synthesized and organized (what I thought were) the most important ideas from Clay Shirky‘s book “Here Comes Everybody.”

I’m not sure how well it went over in class – students seemed tired, and we didn’t have time to discuss as much as we might have liked to. So I’m posting here and inviting students and readers to continue the conversation in the post’s comments. If you have read the book, I believe you’ll appreciate this synthesis. If you haven’t, I’m not sure how much sense it makes…


Questions? Comments? Cabbage jokes?

Reading notes: Twitterville

Twitterville is a collection of stories about Twitter written by a twetizen who is enchanted with the Twitter village. It is a business book as much as it is a piece of
anthropology – by reading stories about a place, we infer its values, social norms, and culture.

Most of the stories are wonderful, uplifting, and show the positive side of Twitter. They are not, I think, your everyday Twitter stories – they are the extraordinary events that stand out in a place’s history. I’m glad someone took the time to document and save them. I remember living through most of them, and it felt great to read these accounts of recent Twitter history. Israel is an excellent story teller, and if I didn’t envy his warm, fluid, friendly, yet clear and simple writing style so much, I’d go on and on praising it :).

I loved reading the book, and enjoyed every page of it. I can imagine critics complaining that the book is overly positive – that it portrays Twitterville as a better place than (they think) it is. Israel’s Twitter enchantment doesn’t bother me, primarily because, like a respectable ethnographer, he spells out his biases clearly and repeatedly. He explains his point of view and enables the reader to decide how to interpret the content. As a qualitative researcher, I do not believe in the myth of objectivity. I think the best we can do is explain our biases, so readers can make informed decisions about interpreting our writing. I see very little of this in popular literature, and I hope more authors will adopt this practice.

… and Israel’s enchantment with Twitter doesn’t bother me, because I can relate to it and I share his point of view. I was initially amused by the claim that Twitter can lead to… world peace. But as I read the last chapter, I realized that, as a firm believer in the power of communication to make and break our world, I too, think, that conversation is the best solution – and that it can, indeed, help us make peace.

In the news


Mar. 26 – Social hours – Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly article about using social media at work


Oct. 7 – Twitter tool could help educators, e-campus news

Oct. 6 – Quoted in the Journal & Courier about a new Twitter tool, need4feed.

Aug. 9 – Newspaper article published in The Spartanburg Herald Journal (South Carolina) about some of my Facebook research.

Mar. 8 – Politicians are a-Twitter over the new social media, The Spartanburg Herald Journal, S.C.