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June 22, 2009

Why Twitter Bots Are Effective

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 6:24 pm

Scoble and I started a discussion this morning about how a majority of twitter followers are useless (and about how Robert has a big ego.) Scoble’s ego, the echo chamber, and how people in the valley live in their own world is a topic I’d love to discuss, but for now I’d like to concentrate on Twitter, useless followers, bots, and twitter engagement.

Sa'dah The Background
Scoble’s initial comments were relating to how despite having a metric shit-ton of followers, only a small percentage of those followers actually engage in conversations on friendfeed (and I’m guessing even less than that reply to his tweets. Scoble, got any statistics for us?) It’s a common phenomenon happening all over twitter. A majority of people following any given account really don’t react, interact, converse, or otherwise get involved in the conversation.

So Why is that?
There’s a few different scenarios I’d like to discuss. Sure there’s the people who created Twitter accounts, Tweeted their obligatory “I don’t see what the hype is about” and then quickly left the service. For a majority of people, this is the case. With the most common non-article words on twitter being things like “Watching”, “trying”, “listening”, “reading” and “eating”, it’s easy to see how boring most tweets are. It’s hard to even pretend to care what somebody is eating or listening to. If that’s all my tweeple were tweeting about I’d leave too.

Some of these people simply may not know about twitter tools like tweetdeck which make it easy to stay up to date on Twitter without having to constantly reload the website.

It would be really neat if Twitter could show me some sort of “active followers” instead of total followers. I’d be willing to bet that it’s somewhere around 30%

There’s bigger issues here
There’s much bigger issues than people who’ve lost interest in Twitter. Many of the issues revolve around follower count. I’ve always believe that any service that counts “friends”, “subscribers”, or “followers” is nothing but an online popularity contest. As I mentioned in 2005 the problem is that people will “Friend”, “subscribe to” or “follow” almost anybody because they know that the other person will “friend”, “subscribe”, or “follow” back.

For some reason it’s become common courtesy to re-follow everybody who follows us. Why? I’ve got many followers who I don’t follow back because I simply don’t find them interesting. Scoble takes a different approach – he follows everybody then selectively unfollows those who aren’t interesting. Until Twitter implements commands so I can type “unfollow XXX” that approach just seems like it will take way too much time.

By automatically re-following everybody that follows us we’re simply stroking their ego and increasing their e-penis size. Just like on MySpace and Facebook, Twitter has become a competition to gather the most followers.

Whey does epenis follower size matter?
Follower size matters because Twitter users will click anything. Earlier today I posted a tweet that said “Testing to see how many people will blindly click this: ” and put in a shortened URL. Within 30 seconds I had 16 clicks on that link – and it grew steadily throughout the day. Now I only have around 150 followers, so that’s a pretty good percentage. It’s a much higher ratio than an email campaign or adwords ad and it costs infinitely less.

Are URL shorteners the problem?
Part of the problem has to do with how we’ve come to use URL shortening services. In an e-mail, or on a website users are presented with an actual URL that tells them something about where it leads. The URL is important – if only at a subliminal level. Why do you think Google includes it in all of their ads? It’s helpful to the user (@google, a study on clicking ads with/without URLs would be cool.)

On Twitter, users simply see something like http://su.pr/AOco7l (you probably don’t want to click that.) Where I’d normally make a decision based on where the link leads on a website, I can’t do that on Twitter – so I click just to see where it takes me.

And that’s where bots come in
And that’s why bots are profitable and won’t go away. As long as people automatically re-follow each other and blindly click on links, it will make sense for people to use twitter bots to gather as many followers as possible. Leaning how to buy 1000 youtube subscribers will also give you more followers. You can even buy real instagram followers. The bots aren’t going away, if anything they’re just going to become more prevalent until we change our ways. The best way to fix this? Simply stop automatically re following everybody that follows us. It’s about time we start creating an #unfollowsaturday to “follow” #followfriday.


  1. Great article, HG. You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head – Twitter is just pretty much a one-way ego leak and it’s very hard to actually interact with anyone. If you reply to someone’s tweet, they have no way of knowing which of theirs you’re replying to, and with only 140 chars, it’s hard to get context across to remedy this.

    I just think that the site has a very limited feature set, and one that isn’t creative, informative, or particularly worthwhile in any real sense – but I’ve ranted about that before.

    Your following comments are bang on, as well – but one thing you didn’t mention which perturbs me about Twitter is the way my tweets are scraped and used on ecommerce sites (as “reviews” for products I’ve mentioned) and scanned by companies looking for testimonials and me slagging them off. I was contacted by the VP of a company who’s software I publicly denounced on Twitter. Companies are now more concerned about what people think about *other people’s* view of their products, than they are with their customer’s experience itself. Not good.

    Comment by Alexander — June 23, 2009 @ 2:44 am

  2. You’ve got a good point Alex. One of my replies is currently your “oh you’d be surprised” but I have no idea what you were replying to because due to our UK / US time difference, I posted maybe 50 other tweets since the one you replied to.

    It’s not a good method of having a conversation – it’s more for broadcasting stuff that people may or may not care about.

    I think Friendfeed has the advantage here for comments. Their auto updating interface is pretty slick. If only I could get it to show newest at the top (there’s probably a setting I’m missing)

    Comment by Ryan — June 23, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  3. Twiiter, for me, is about broadcasting information that I know my followers will find interesting and receiving information that I think is useful. I don’t want a Twitter conversation.

    Cumulatively, my tweets inform my followers what I think is important in our field — providing them with a sense of who I am. Sprinkled in there are some (rare) personal tweets that provide a behind the scenes view of my life and personal interests. Those personal tweets also do double duty as a release for when something’s just got to be said.

    Autofollow is dumb because unfocused chatter is valueless.and silly. I’ve learned much, however, from the select folks that I follow.

    Comment by dnball — June 23, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

  4. Thanks for writing this up Ryan, lots of good points!

    The thing about Twitter is that “following” doesn’t necessarily mean “reading what these people say” – there seem to be three types of users, those who post to their followers, those who read what the people they’re following tweet, and then those who engage in two-way discussions. I think they’re room for all of these people, but new users especially need to realize that there are a lot of reasons why someone might choose to follow you, and respond accordingly.

    Comment by Jason Doucette — June 24, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  5. I agree that twitter isn’t really a conversation. I think friendfeed is doing a good job of allowing impromptu conversations.

    Here’s an update to my link experiment. Out of 163 followers, 79 clicked the link that said “testing to see how many will blindly click this: ”

    That’s pretty good – and it makes a case to how having thousands of followers can translate into money if I’m sending them to a page with ads on it.

    Comment by Ryan — June 24, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  6. “it makes a case to how having thousands of followers can translate into money if I’m sending them to a page with ads on it. ”

    Do you realise how sinister that sounds?

    Comment by Alexander — June 24, 2009 @ 11:38 am

  7. When have you not known me to engage in my fair share of black-hat and sinister activity?

    Comment by Ryan — June 24, 2009 @ 1:12 pm

  8. Insanely tempting to click on that link. I’ve resisted… so far.

    Comment by Peter — June 30, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

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