December 29th, 2009


Trials and Twitterlations

This was posted originally at my WordPress blog, here.

Anyone who’s been on the Tubertubes over the last year and a half or so has heard of Twitter. It’s either the greatest thing since WordPress or the stupidest thing since the handheld egg cracker. Honestly, I can think of some good uses for Twitter:

  • Sending out build failure messages to developers’ cell phones
  • When I’m using a continuous integration testing environment, what do I need to know? I need to know that the build broke, I need to know when it happened, I need to know who made the commit, and I need a link with more information. I can get that in 140 characters or less.

  • Arranging spontaneous meetings
  • Most people have phones. If I want to get my friends together, I can either text them all by selecting them all on my phone or send a single text message to Twitter. The latter is easier.

  • Announcing blog posts
  • Twitter was made for attention whoring.

  • Announcing sales at online stores
  • I admit that I follow a few businesses on Twitter. They occasionally have sales or deals they will announce through Twitter.

  • Posting random surreal humor
  • Maureen Johnson provides all the demonstration anyone could need.

  • Updating your Facebook profile
  • This is the primary reason I use Twitter.

However, a number of companies think that by randomly friending me, they can build a positive relationship with potential customers. Sometimes, they make these friend requests seemingly at random: a real estate agent somewhere friended me once. Other times, I think some users use the search function to determine whether a person has mentioned something in a twit, then friend everyone who used that word. For example, I was once friended by someone promoting events in the Charlotte area because I mentioned being there briefly back in October. We’ll not mention what happened when I went to New York City for lunch.

There are multiple ways to determine whether a person is indeed using Twitter genuinely and is interested in your bowel movements, or whether they’re just trying to spam you. Here’s my test:

  1. How many people are they following?
  2. People can’t handle the amount of information generated by 1000 users. I struggle to follow 80. If they’re following more than about 300 people, they’re probably not even reading their feed, but instead are reading their at-replies, if that. They’re likely spamming.

  3. What does their user information say?
  4. Does it sound like something you’d see in spam? It probably is!

  5. How many of their tweets have links?
  6. If most tweets are linked to something, it’s either a blog announcement feed, a legitimate storefront or spam. Only one of those things actually follows many people.

If it dings any of these, I mark it as spam. It’s that simple.

Now to be honest, I feel that the only solution is for Twitter to put a CAPTCHA on friend requests. Yes, this means that you can’t friend people over text message anymore. Honestly, the problem is that Twitter is too readily abused. The fact that people are out there advertising themselves as Twitter experts is frankly disturbing. You’re not going to build a positive relationship with me by sending me a friend request on Twitter. Every commercial operation I follow on Twitter is one that I found out about through other means: I visited their storefront and found that they had a Twitter account to keep me up on their latest deals or other information. I sought them out, not the other way around.