Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is Twitter for Tw*ts?

Twitter is a form of social media which some people in the political and media world really do seem to have an issue with. Rachel Sylvester in this morning's Times launches a tirade against people who use Twitter, relying on clapped out psychologist Oliver James to make her point for her...
“Twittering stems from a lack of identity. It's a constant update of who you are, what you are, where you are. Nobody would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity.”

Gee thanks for that insight. What a load of old cobblers. Bit it fits Sylvester's narrative that everyone who twitters must have something missing in their lives. She may be right about some, but it's also what MSM journalists used to say about blogging, which many of them have now either chosen to or been forced to take up. Rachel also says that "Twitter is reality TV without the pictures". I think there is a small amount of truth in that, especially when you look at those who twitter obsessively, every minute of the day. I am thinking of some of the celebrity twitterers like Stephen Fry or Philip Schofield whose every movement seems to be catalogued in too much detail. It was for that reason that I was a comparatively late developer on Twitter.

But having decided how I wanted to use it, and that I wouldn't do it too often (So far this month it has ranged between twice and seven times a day) I have grown to rather enjoy it. For me, it complements the blog brand and strengthens the feeling of community I have tried to engender within the blog. I have not gone out to tart myself around Twitter (more of this in a moment) but I seem to be getting 40 or 50 new followers each day. I now have more than 2,500, which is around a fifth of the number of people who read the blog each day. I have around 150 people whose feeds I follow on Twitter, but that number has grown too far and I am about to cut it back. Stan Collymore is about to be dumped into the Twatterbox, for instance. And not before time! He, like Jonathan Ross, suffers from Twittahhorrea.

Guido has written a very thoughtful post on the benefits of Twitter today too. He uses Twitter purely as a broadcast mechanism in order to drive more readers to his blog. His only ever tweets to advertise a new blogpost. He says...
Iain Dale positively relishes keeping us up to date with his movements - why anyone besides Mrs Fawkes would be interested in knowing that Guido was stuffing porridge into a recalcitrant 2 year old at 7.30 a.m. or Guinness into himself at 7.30 p.m. is bewildering.

I think that is to fundamentally misunderstand the medium. I don't recall ever using Twitter in such a manner (unless, as Esther Rantzen might say, you know different). Some people do use it to describe their everyday lives, as if we should be interested in what time they go to bed, or put out the cat. I try to stick to twittering about things I think - and I emphasise, the word, think - might be of interest either to my followers or blog readers. It's mainly about events I am going to, media programmes I may be appearing on (it saves a blogpost) or saying something which I think might be vaguely funny. It's as simple as that. Guido & Rachel Sylvester can dub that 'narcissistic' all they want, but is it any more narcissistic than writing a blog or a newspaper column in the belief that people might be interested in what you say? I don't think so.

But it is Guido's final point which is of most interest to me, where he cites the example of Derek Draper's use of twitter as proof of a need for self validation. Here's how he justifies the accusation...
That people care to know what the Twitterer is doing enhances their own sense of self worth. Draper feels validated and boasts (on Twitter of course) that he has more "followers" than his rivals. He has spent a lot of time canvassing thousands of Twitterers of other political commentators to build his following. Desperate. The desperation is shown by a key ratio, your followers to following ratio - your Twitter F2F ratio.

Exhibit C: Twitter F2F ratios

John Prescott 1,410 Followers, 29 Following - 48.62

Iain Dale 2,499 Followers, 152 Following - 16.44

Tom Watson 2,518 Followers, 909 Following - 2.77

Alastair Campbell 2,567 Followers, 2,088 Following - 1.23

Derek Draper 2,918 Followers, 2,836 Following - 1.02

Look at those ratios, Prescott and Dale have healthy ratios, with a genuinely won following. Even so, following 152 other Twitterers is toppy for even always-connected Dale. Does Tom Watson really engage with 909 followers? Alastair Campbell and Derek Draper are obviously totally inauthentic spinners, they have merely followed thousands of people by deliberately Twitter-spamming Dale and Guido's Twitter followers. Automatic reciprocation grew their following completely synthetically - the incredibly low ratio is the giveaway. Prescott hasn't used artifice, his followers are genuinely interested because he is the real deal.
And there you have the reasons why Prescott get's the internet and Draper doesn't. Even Tom Watson and Alastair Campbell seem to have adopted the Draper approach of Twitter-stalking. As Guido says, it's pretty desperate. We all know New Labour's record of massaging figures but it's almost as if they feel in need a group hug. Perish the thought. They should stop behaving like Twitter tw*ts and abide by the same Twitter conventions as everyone else.

And purely as a point of information, if you'd like to follow my Twitter feed, click HERE.

UPDATE: Lynne Featherstone blogs HERE on why Rachel Sylvester is wrong.

UPDATE: Derek Draper's Twitter feed has been removed due to "strange activity". No further comment necessary.

36 comments:

Sue said...

I'm afraid I think so :) It's a bit sad!

NameHere said...

The argument about F2F depends largely on the unknown quantity: who followed whom.

I would agree it is desperate if Draper & Campbell go around following random people in the hopes they can get their own numbers up, either the number they are followed by or follow; but if it is nothing more than reciprocation, them following somebody who sought them out, as political celebrities, then why the big deal? A lot of people on Twitter do that, if somebody follows them then they follow them back. Even if you're not particularly interested in their day-to-day dealings, you might occasionally see an interesting tweet from one of them. It's hardly about artificially increasing one's numbers as, in the view of the egotist, only the 'followers' number would matter and that's already increased because of the follower, whether you reciprocate or not.

Iain Dale said...

What Draper has done is follow everyone on my own followers list in the hope that they will then follow him. As soon as any of them do he then de-follows them himself and moves on to another victim. Facile.

Paul Halsall said...

Andrew Sullivan is going after Twitter today as well - http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/03/tweeting-all-th.html

Paul Halsall said...

Iain,

You wrote: "What Draper has done is follow everyone on my own followers list in the hope that they will then follow him. As soon as any of them do he then de-follows them himself and moves on to another victim. Facile."

I hate to say it, but all this sounds a bit mean girls-ish.

Dilog said...

Now is Twitter social media or social networking? Social media is technology meets communication but the whole point of social networking is that it should be a two way process - a conversation.

There are lots of possible problems with Twitter but essentially it is instant, you can Twitter from almost anywhere and can be very useful and interesting - providing you Twitter something interesting to your followers and you follow not too many people whose Tweets are interesting to you.

My current favourite is Boris as he talks about what he is doing as Mayor but the way he does it is just so charming. I am not impressed by the dated social networking notion of 'whoring' for friends or in this case followers - it is advertising you are there but it does not feel quite right although I guess it depends who it is!

Another good use is asking a question but I am yet to be convinced it is really effective as a conversation tool as followers only see one side of the conversation which is not interesting in the slightest!

Old Holborn said...

It's rubbish

52 people follow me. God alone knows why.

Paul said...

not often I agree with guido but twitter is a waste of time

Rab C. Nesbitt said...

I just don't get it. Who the hell has the time for it? Those who live in the real world I mean.

Dick the Prick said...

My toaster isn't really big enough.

scott redding said...

Twitter is just another tool that politicians and journalists can use to make their work more transparent. You seem to be conflating hoovering up followers ... with a ratio of 1.2 being bad/unhealthy. I'm following 530 people and having 440 follow me. I've added people as followers that I want to read (I look at their last 15 tweets and see if look like they can scratch a few thoughts together). Some follow me, and some don't. Others follow me, and I don't follow them. It works. Sure, if I find someone with a bunch of interesting followers, I might add 3 or 4, but not the entire bunch. I don't approve of Dr. Draper's shenanigans (he's followed me, defollowed me, followed me, defollowed me, then followed me, at which point I murmured "christ on a crutch" and I blocked him). It seems like it's all about him and LabourList.

trevorsden said...

Prescott does not 'get it' - he just cannot be arsed to fiddle the figures, probably does not know how.

look at whose the top two self proclsaimed twitterers if you want an answer to your question.

I cannot think of anything more pointless. Aren't Google and whoever else is behind all this generating enough advertising revenue without all you lot pumping up more.

And thats another thing - does anybody really take ANY notice of all these adverts on websites? Is this not a huge con on the gullible who put adverts up around the blogosphere? Just how long can the Google bubble go without bursting?

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

Amongst the Twitterati its correct to follow all that follow you. Unless they are despicable and vile you should keep following them. Its a shame that politicos in the UK still don't get Twitter. Its not like there aren't enough guides around.

TCOT might be a good place to start.

Shirking From Home said...

Yes.

Old Holborn said...

Trevorsden

Another reason the Old Holborn site doesn't carry adverts.

We get our money through blackmail and intimidation.

Oldrightie said...

I can't be bothered to twitter.

Ben said...

When people who have not engaged with a social networking medium dismiss it they're just advertising their waning relevance.

As others have said: simply following people back is fine (polite, even) so the ratio is totally besides the point. Draper's antics are another issue entirely.

The Grim Reaper said...

Iain's just jealous he doesn't have as many followers as Jonathan Ross. ;-)

Anoneumouse said...

velico ergo sum

Dual Citizen said...

Looks like Draper's twitter account has been "suspended due to strange activity".

www.twitter.com/derekdraper

Matthew said...

What I don't 'get' is why anyone who doesn't lead an extraordinary life should twitter? So I don't twitter.

I understand why a 'celebrity' finds Twitter useful; but most people don't have a use for a 1:many medium.

andtherewasmethinking said...

Apparently not. Dolly has just been suspended
http://www.order-order.com/2009/03/twitter-suspends-draper-for-abuse-of.html
Come on Iain, you know this made you smile.
Mummy x

Unsworth said...

Draper's banned.

The Grim Reaper said...

Unsworth said "Draper's banned."

There's a Downfall movie in this, I reckon. At the start, Dolly finds out that his account has been suspended and spends the rest of the film working out telling anyone who'll listen that they're really just a bunch of racists.

It all culminates with John Prescott laughing at him.

Simon said...

On a recent "tweet" you said: "Sitting in one of my favourite places watching the world go by - Central Lobby in the House of Commons, waiting for Chris Mullin." ... Central Lobby is in the Palace of Westminster/Houses of Parliament, not the Commons. A small but important fact.

Alexander said...

It's weird. I find the notion that people are interested in the mundane day to day events of another totally unrelated person bizarre. I find the notion that people would actually think others would be interested bizarre. All in all, it's just another form of our ever increasing narcissistic society. But hey ho, live and let live.

Justin said...

What Draper has done is follow everyone on my own followers list in the hope that they will then follow him. As soon as any of them do he then de-follows them himself and moves on to another victim. Facile.

Yes, it's a bit like emailing people begging for reciprocal links and then moving your links off the front page of your blog.

Iain Dale said...

Clearly you are blind as well as stupid.

Tim said...

So all of the links you negotiated as blogroll link exchanges are still on the blogroll on the front page of your blog?

(And anyone who can't see them is blind and stupid. You want to tell me about your new clothes, too?)

Justin said...

Clearly you are blind as well as stupid.

Clearly you are slippery as well as a hypocritical.

Tim said...

Do you plan on returning to this, Iain, or are you just going to leave it at your not-at-all abusive "blind as well as stupid" remark?

Simon Gardner said...

“Is Twitter for Tw*ts?”

Well - yes.

Thatsnews said...

Time for Rachel to sharpen her quills, mix her ink and trim her candles. She has an article to write about who she sees as the up and coming politicians in Georgian London.

Tim said...

So that's it, is it, Iain? You're going to quietly stand by your position where you lash out at someone (in violation of your own comment rules) calling them blind and stupid for not being able to see something that isn't there?

That's a bit off, isn't it?

Unsworth said...

@ Tim

Dunno about you being blind - but you're certainly a big girl's blouse.

There are no 'rules' in this game. If you were not so stupid you'd understand that.

Tim said...

No rules, you say?