The 5 Phases of Twitter

The other night at our weekly Beer and Blog meetup, we had a pretty interesting discussion about Twitter. It all started because one of our friend who is a promoter recently had his Twitter account suspended. As far as I could tell, he wasn't doing anything wrong. His tweet-stream had a mix of conversation, random tweets and information about things going on in and around Las Vegas. For some reason he managed to trip the suspension switch and down his account went. We decided to rally on Friday and see if we could help convince the powers that be to give him back his account. I'm quite pleased to see that they took notice, reviewed his account and then reversed the suspension.

The conversation went on to cover how we each use Twitter and for what purpose. Communicating with friends, physical in-person friends, being the main reason. This brought to light something that I have been noticing for a while; the way I have been using twitter has changed several times over the past 2 years. That lead to this post.

Here is how I've used Twitter since I opened my account in July of 2007.

What the hell is this?
I'm not sure how I heard about Twitter that first time, but I signed up and I probably tried to talk a group of friends in to signing up, too. I got the basic idea right away, but without a group of friends also on the service, it wasn't all that useful to me. I would spent the next several months ignoring Twitter for the most part. Picking it up and putting it down without much regularity.

Oh, cool. follow follow follow.
In early 2008 I started planning a trip to Alaska. At that time I bought a digital SLR camera and started trying to learn as much as I could. Then, it all clicked. I found several photographers online who already had twitter accounts. I immediately started following them and anybody that they followed, I followed, too. It was like being spoon-fed free information. These guys would throw out tips or links to tutorials and a ton of other helpful information. If you were the least bit interesting, I started following you… and likely anybody that you followed.

Hey, I'm semi-popular.
As I was getting all sorts of free information from Twitter, I started to return the favor. I started using desktop software like TweetDeck to search for “wordpress.” I would then read the messages that came in and would respond immediately to anybody who was having trouble. I'd either answer their question directly if it fit in 140 characters, or, I'd have them contact me for assistance. The more I helped out, the more followers I would gain. Of all the phases of my Twitter history, this was by far my favorite.

Stop spamming me.
at some point along the way, I was introduced to a service that absolutely must have been conceived by the Devil himself. This service would update your Twitter account to automatically follow anybody on twitter who would follow me. At first I thought this was a brilliant idea. Wow, what a time saver. At the time I was basically following anybody who didn't look like an out-and-out spammer if they followed me first. Not to mention, I was still going out and finding tons of new people to follow on my own. So, the amount of people I was following was getting to be crazy. The amount of TwitterSpam I was getting started to be too much. I shut down the auto-follow service and spent an entire afternoon going through and removing anybody I was following who was even the slightest bit spammy.

What did you say? I missed it.
Recently I've had something annoying happen several times. I'll either be at lunch with a group of friends, or at our weekly meetup and somebody will mention an upcoming gathering or maybe a cool new iPhone app or website and when I ask about it somebody will respond, “I sent the link out on Twitter yesterday, didn't you see it?” No, as a matter of fact I didn't see it. And here's why…

I do a lot of my Twitter activity from my iPhone. The software I use will load up the last 100 tweets from the people I follow when I first start it up. Way back when, that would cover a few days of activity. The other night while we were having our Twitter conversation I loaded up the software and saw that 100 tweets covered 14 minutes. (I double checked, that is NOT a typo.) So this means that if you did not send the tweet directly to me (like an @reply), or if I didn't happen to check Twitter in the 15 minute window following your tweet, I missed it. This seems to defeat the purpose of Twitter, doesn't it? I want to know what my FRIENDS are up to. I want to hear their recommendations. It's not that the rest of the Twitterverse isn't interesting, because it is. But, if it means missing what my friends are up to, then I'm just not that interested.

I'm going through a major Twitter purge right now. My goal is to be able to see at least the last 4 hours worth of tweets when I load up my iPhone app. That may be ambitious, but a boy can dream, right? Do I expect to lose a lot of followers because of it? Yeah. But, if I plan to continue to use Twitter, I have to use it in a way that makes it useful to me. The benefits far outweigh the consequences.

So, what about you? Does your Twitter history sound anything like mine?


  1. PokerVixen on July 18, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Does this mean I need to tweet less so that you can make your four hour goal?

    • john on July 18, 2009 at 3:53 pm

      Ha ha, no. You fit in to the group of people who I want to hear what’s going on. I miss a large percentage of your tweets because of the amount of noise in my tweet stream. So you just keep right on tweet’n

  2. Anne on July 20, 2009 at 6:17 am

    I'm on and off in Twitter and I still haven't grabbed it fully. I don't update my status very often (once every three weeks on average) but I do follow frequently some friends and twitter links I find attractive. Maybe I should start following you!

  3. Monica on July 24, 2009 at 6:30 am

    I have just done a massive purge in my twitter account and stopped following people whose updates didn't catch my attention any longer and I stopped letting others follow me. I'm planning a trip to Mexico and I'm sure I'll find good tips from other Twitter followers… guess I'll be cleaning my Twitter account again soon!

  4. Buddhacom on July 27, 2009 at 4:50 am

    My tweeting day is quite different. In fact I've been so bombarded by spam that I almost avoid it all together. Though I still go on occasionally to read peoples tweets, but I visit specific peoples pages and such instead.

  5. Joseph Smith on July 28, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    The signal to noise ratio overwhelmed me a while back and now I glance at twitter a couple of times a day. I find perhaps 1% of the tweets I get are interesting, and these are either messages from friends or articles that I’ve not encountered before.

  6. Robert F. Ludwick on August 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Actually, that mirrors my own Twitter experience for the most part, except I didn't enable any auto-follow behavior, heh.

    I just don't have the time to check each and every link that I see in Twitter. And I follow a lot of people for a lot of different reasons, too…

  7. Bruno Stehling on January 23, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Dear John Hawkins, I'm not sure on the limitations of Iphone apps 'cause I haven't used them yet, but I overcame this same problem (missing close friend's tweets) making a private list on twitter where I've added only my closest friends. So, when I open my twitter client, it opens the home-feed (all users tweets), and another colum with only the tweets from my closest friends, which has obviously way less tweets and thus covers a way longer time. That would definitively help you with your problem, even knowing that you follow hundred of times more people than me. I'm sure that at least Hootsuite, one of many twitter clients capable of spliting lists into colums, has a Iphone version, cause I've seen the sign on their webpage. Sorry for the mispellings, cheers, Bruno Stehling, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. PS: I don't feel like I fit your friends-following profile, specially 'cause I'd write 90% of my tweets in portuguese, but feel free to follow me (I'll surely not auto-follow you haha – I don't use it – but I'm adding you anyway to my geek-list haha, kidding, to my blog-lists for sure right now). profile: brunostehling