Crossing the Twitter line that shouldn’t be there

Twitter is a strange beast, isn’t it? Everyone uses it differently. For some, it is a means of promoting their work. For others, it is a place to follow comedians and laugh at jokes. Some use it as a replacement RSS feed, following those streams that are simple “new blog post” updates. Others use it as a way of keeping in touch with the family. A handful of people follow only celebrities. Some follow and don’t type, others type and don’t follow.

The rich tapestry of Twitter helps to make it what it is. If everyone used it the same way, it would be a most boring place.

Personally, I use Twitter as a place to post 140-character snippiets about my life, keep track of interesting links, share things I like, and see what other people are sharing in return. I try and keep the number of people I follow down to about 100, and it changes all the time, depending on what is happening.

Whilst Strictly was on, I followed lots of dancers, but now it’s over, they’re all gone. During the F1 season, I follow a lot more fans, drivers and teams, but for now it is whittled down to just a couple. When it’s time for Wimbledon, I’ll likely follow everyone I can who is tweeting about the tennis, but as at this moment, it’s just a couple of racquet-related accounts.

My tastes are always changing, and my Twitter universe is a fickle one.

A day or so ago, I had my first tweet from someone upset that I had unfollowed them. It came as a complete surprise to me, because I didn’t realise people followed their “follower” lists to such a degree. I have no idea who is following me, and I tend to think it is none of my business. My tweets are out there in public, they can be accessed individually, in a stream, with an RSS client or via the medium of searches and lists. To me, the number of traditional followers is somewhat irrelevant. I’m not sure I’ve ever even looked at the list of people that follow me, and although I do still get the emails, I rarely read them. I should really change that setting.

So it was a shock to me that anyone would be upset that I’d unfollowed them. Firstly that they’d notice, and secondly that they would take it to heart. How can you when it is such a fickle thing? When everyone uses it in such vastly separate ways? After a bit of discussion about it over on Sidepodcast, we established at least three completely different systems that people used to enjoy the content, and manage their followers.

In the end, Amy came up with the ultimate advice, putting it better than I ever could:

never never never take twitter personally

8 thoughts on “Crossing the Twitter line that shouldn’t be there

  1. I think for most people they don’t follow/unfollow to anything like that degree, though. I mean if you’re following and interacting with people for a length of time they might become good acquaintances, maybe not friends but people who assume a reciprocal ‘bond’ of some sort.
    If Twitter is a conversation (even if you’re quiet in it), then if someone then decides to unfollow that is surely like saying “I’m not interested in what you have to say any more”, or by shunting them to a list, “I only want to listen to you from the next room”. I think that can be a very personal thing to be doing and can very much see why someone would be disappointed or even offended. I don’t watch my follower list at all but if I do find someone unfollows me then that is obviously disappointing because clearly I’m no longer worthy of their main feed, by extension meaning I’m doing something wrong.
    Just thinking out loud 🙂

  2. Totally down with Amy’s advice. I know several people have unfollowed me on twitter and facebook, for whatever reason, and that’s cool.

    As a technical aside, twitter has made (or will make) “unfollow” events available through their API (so clients can notify users if someone unfollows them), so maybe that’s what happened, and the person wasn’t watching their follow list religiously?

  3. I’m in agreement with the whole following business. People seem to ask me sometimes ‘Can you follow me back?’ when they follow me but I don’t have any obligation to, it’s not anyone elses choice. Then you get the argument of manners or whatever but come on, it’s not even related to manners. You choose who you follow and when I unfollow people it’s either a) because their tweets have become unbearable or b) because I’m just cutting down on how many different tweets are in my feed and I can’t keep up. It’s often nothing personal whatsoever though with the person but it’s surprising how personal people truly do take it. Amy’s advice is spot on!

  4. I do watch my follower list, but mainly to check that thecouple of RL people I have blocked haven’t circumvented my restrictions somehow….

  5. Since it was me caused the comotion I feel it’s only right to reply.

    Pat has clearly hit the nail on the head and his thoughts echo my own. I’m not in a habit of routinely checking who has followed or unfollowed me, indeed I don’t really care, I’m not one of those into excessive self promotion to get more twitter followers. I’m happy as I am. I don’t even tweet that often in the great scheme of things.

    It was a bit of insomnia coupled with a twitter link to “whounfollowedme” that drew my attention yesterday. I must admit that I was surprised (and saddened) that I had been dropped. I’m not at all concerned from a numbers perspective but because I naively assumed that I had somewhat of an online friendship with you Christine. It seems the feeling isn’t mutual.

    So there you go, you might think I am being silly and that’s your perogative. It’s very easy to be wrong-footed in online conversations when the other person gets no visible clues to the way a person says something so sometimes, things said innocently can be taken the wrong way… perhaps its so with twitter.

  6. Firstly, I apologise if you were offended Jackie. That would never have been my intention.

    I have never said it was silly. I’ve said that this is not how I use Twitter, and I don’t understand it, but that doesn’t make it silly or wrong. It makes it different.

    I am quite surprised, though, that a simple Twitter unfollow can suddenly spell the end of an online friendship. Never mind the meetups, the podcasts, the mutual blog projects, the hours spent online chatting, it is the simple act of clicking a button, and looking at a different list that means the end. I honestly had no idea that Twitter heralded such power.

    It also occurs to me that if Twitter is such a personal thing, why wasn’t the reaction personal too? Would it have been more appropriate to ask the question: how come you’re not following me anymore? Rather than broadcasting the unfounded fact that I was upset with you both on your own stream, and more importantly on Sidepodcast, where who I follow on Twitter has absolutely no relevance at all. That doesn’t seem very personal to me, but perhaps this is just another part which I do not understand.

    I am finding there are a lot of those.

  7. if someone then decides to unfollow that is surely like saying “I’m not interested in what you have to say any more”, or by shunting them to a list, “I only want to listen to you from the next room”

    i couldn’t disagree more. if anything, the number of people you follow affects the way you use twitter. i follow tens of thousands of people and because i use the site as a tool for obtaining knowledge, separation of subjects is vital.

    pat, i have jackie and yourself in a list, because during the day i need to know about tech stuff and yours and other motorsport tweets would get in the way (tis a fact, don’t take it personally). during the evening i can chill out a bit and catch up on f1 news, so i close the tech stream and read the f1 list.

    lists for me provide a means of using twitter with a single login, thus not needing two accounts or more. it has NO bearing on who i like or who i’m interested in hearing from.

    as christine said, different people use it in different ways.

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