Marshymellow: Getting my Twitterverse back under control

I'm addicted to Twitter. There, I admit it.

Whenever I'm near a computer, TweetDeck is usually open. When I'm out and about, my iPhone usually has Tweetie fired up. I use Twitter to consume information, and share information with others. To communicate with people I know, and people I don't know. The bulk of my use of Twitter is following friends, fellow Neowinians, and others with similar interests... Yes, I'm one of those people who talks about their life on Twitter, and who enjoys reading bits about the lives of others. Call me voyeuristic if you want, but I find these things interesting.

However, my Twitterverse has been under attack for the last few months.

I started using the service back in 2007 right after I got an Xbox 360 for Christmas. It was around the time that Xbox Live was having serious problems, and I'd just got copies of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 which I was unable to play. At the time, Microsoft's Larry Hyrb (aka Major Nelson) was using Twitter to broadcast information about the status of the service, so I signed up and began following @majornelson. From there, I started following some friends like @timdorr and @blackice912 who were Neowin staffers who used the service. At the time, Twitter had not really become something anyone outside of geekdom was really using or even aware of.

My use expanded around this time last year, as we developed a tool to integrate Twitter with Neowin for our staff retreat "Neowindex" ... Neowin Live would syndicate the Twitter feeds of staffers to the site and allow us to update our status and comment on activities like "playing TF2 with the Valve dev team" or "playing Xbox 360 on the Northwestern with Sig" -- before this time I was using Twitter as a tool to get information from people, now I was starting to use it to contribute information back into the stream. Even if it was only to the 50 or so followers I had at the time.

As 2008 progressed, I started to "tweet" more, follow more people, and accumulate more followers. My stream was full of interesting people with interesting things to say who engaged in conversations with me and others.

Then 2009 came around, and I discovered a tool called SocialToo. SocialToo's most interesting feature was the ability to automatically follow those who followed you. I usually did this manually, so the thought of saving myself some time by using this tool was useful. Things were good for a short period of time, and then something horrible happened... I started getting followed, a lot.

Over the course of the last three months, my Twitter followers multiplied 5x. I went from getting a handful of new followers a week to getting 20 or 30 a day. At first, I was flattered, because I thought these people actually cared about what I had to say. However, I soon realized what was going on. The Twitter spammers had figured out I'd follow them back and started using it to their advantage.

My stream was now being polluted with people who had 30,000+ followers, people who claim to be search engine optimization (SEO) and social media experts, multi-level marketing (MLM) experts and other "work at home" salesmen who were turning my personal knowledge and communications tool into their own advertising tool. The people in my stream were treating me like a number, a follower, a tool towards their own personal advancement or financial gain. I wasn't paying attention to the people who I was following back, and as a result, my stream had gone from clear and fresh to a polluted mess.

I cannot honestly imagine that all of the followers these people have accumulated have gone to seek them out and actively follow them. Chances are they are people like me who automatically follow you back and don't pay attention to what they've done. The mass number of followers these "Internet experts" are accumulating don't enhance the service, they degrade it. Not only is it being degraded from a social stand point, in terms of the value of the content being generated by these users, Twitter is spending mass amounts of funds for storage, bandwidth and processing power to give people the ability to SPAM other users for free. Rumors are circulating that Twitter will begin charging power users and businesses, hopefully this will drive some of them away from the service, or at the very least allow Twitter to recoup some of their costs.

The usefulness of Twitter should come through the interaction you have with others using the service, not how many followers you can get.

For now, I'm staying on SocialToo, but I have a new method of going through my digest of new followers and unfollowing those who are obviously following me as a ploy of gaining followers and enhancing their e-penis. It generates more work for me, but it's easier then missing legitimate users who want to actually use the service in a useful way and communicate with me.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, you can find me at @Marshalus. I have lots of conversations with Neowin visitors on a daily basis and if you don't claim to be an SEO or MLM expert, I'll probably follow you back.

"Marshymellow" is a new column about life and technology by Neowin Managing Editor, Michael Stanclift (Marshalus)

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