Friday, July 25, 2008

How to Defend Twitter's Spam-Fighting Follow Throttling

So, the twittersphere is in an uproar about those dropped follower counts. Is everyone more afraid of the lost high-count vanity or that so many people follow without thought that we might never regain many of the legitimate follows? Either way, there is a lot of complaining about the apparently service mishap from the company that we shell over so none of our hard earned dollars to. The mistake is one thing, but I see quite a bit of sentiment against the very method they undertook to combat the spam problem. I challenge that claim, because I think they're on the right track limiting follows, and I'm going to explain why.

For Popular People This Means...


You're popular by how many people follow you, not the other way around. You can go on your way, with thousands of people hanging on your every toilet flush, and Twitter can still limit those damn spammers from following you along with ten-thousand other ego filled, txt-fingered masters of the twitterverse.

For "Community Managers" This Means...

Now, ReadWriteWeb makes a claim that so-called "community managers" are harmed by these changes. Examples include Comcast, JetBlue, and Pandora, who use Twitter to keep in touch with their customer base. Now, kudos to some random guy at each of these corporations signing up under his employer's name. However, a reasonable use case falling under this category of twitter account just shouldn't be worried with how many people they can follow. Just like the populars, its all about how many people are listening to you, because what those peasents have to say doesn't even register to you.

No one is reading closely to a timeline filled by thousands of follows!

For Spammers This Means...

Don't follow thousands of people when only a couple dozen morons fall for your bullshit.

For Twitter This Means...

Discourage the need for any legitimate uses of massive follow lists, you blue bird lovers. The value of following anyone breaks down soon after hitting three digits, so figure out why people are doing that in the first place. There is a small set of reasons that are even conceivably plausible.

Heavy twitter users who have migrated over to IM or TXT based usage may have discovered a nearly hidden feature about your follow lists: it is two tiered. That's right, you have important people and everyone else, but this is only revealed if you start to use IM or TXT and filter the updates you get, likely to reduce phone charges. I found a different usage, because limiting the updates was great, even when I have unlimited txt on my plan. When I started using desktop clients more often than my phone, I wanted that back. Bring this to the forefront and let us have our active follows and our passive follows. We should probably only care to see our passive follows on some broad timeline, versus our narrow timeline. While you're at it twitter, lets make this taggable, but that's a whole other story.

Aside from this, the only other reason I see is the number of things you can't do on twitter without explicitly following someone, or being followed by them. Open up direct messages (optionally), even without follows. Let us do more without following people. Of course, the addition of passive follows, as I mentioned previously, would do just as well to fix this.

The number one benefit these changes would have would come from expanding the notification options to ignore the passive follows. That is, don't tell me if someone is following me passively, because they don't really care about me, so I don't really care about them. They can put whatever restrictions they want on active follows, within reason, and we can all still keep track of thousands of twitterers, without looking like spammers. All you need to do is attack the number one reason spammers mass-follow: they're abusing twitter to send plain old fashioned e-mail spam, with a very crappy costume.

In The End

Summing up with the bold lines:
  • No one is reading closely to a timeline filled by thousands of follows!
  • The value of following anyone breaks down soon after hitting three digits
  • they're abusing twitter to send plain old fashioned e-mail spam, with a very crappy costume
Concluding easily that automated checks and limits on following lots of people is fine, because only spammers have a real reason to do it.

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I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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