Matt McHugh

Matt - Blog - August 2009


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Follow You, Follow Me... to the end of Twitter


August 3, 2009

I've finally figured out what will kill Twitter: pointless following.

I should have figured that out a few months back with the whole Ashton Kutcher v. CNN race to one million followers (Ashton won, in case you forgot), but I was distracted by the popularity of the two contestants. It is entirely feasible that there are a million people interested in what Ashton and CNN have to say. No snide comments on taste or intelligence here -- easy though that may be. It's just a fact given how well-known each is within different circles. So as they inched toward that magic number, I figured it was legit in its own way, obvious publicity stunt though it was.

Since then, I've noticed the logical end of that phenomenon in the rabid drive for followers. Take, for example, a particular Twitter I know of professionally on the highly specialized topic of advanced laboratory experimentation. It has @15,000 followers. It follows @15,000 people. Is that a realistic measure of mutual interest? Of course not. That's the new self-perpetuating law of Twitter: follow others in hope they'll follow you. How do I know this for sure? Well, the owner of the aforementioned feed confessed precisely that, with a detailed explication of how he exploits the chinks in big T's armor ("If you follow more than 10% of the number you currently follow, Twitter may flag and suspend your account for follow-spamming, so I stay within that limit, adding followers daily, unfollowing anyone who doesn't follow me, and I'm on track to be at 50,000 in a few months.") He, like most "professional" tweeters, doesn't care who reads them, only who follows them. It's a numbers game for bragging rights. It has nothing to do with content relevance. This is easily testable by tracking clicks on the shortened URLs. Sure enough, with a tweet to thousands of followers, he gets, maybe, a dozen clicks.

Anyone who's active in Twitter knows this. The following game is at a fever pitch right now, and it does work, after a fashion. As a test, I followed 50 people, and suddenly I had 50 new followers. I stopped following a few dozen, and they likewise dropped me. Nobody in that exchange ever cared what anybody on either side had to say. Aside from that, I think I now actively follow maybe a dozen people, all individuals I know personally. If half that dozen posts a daily personal tidbit or two, or some link to a news story of interest, that's about the limit of attention I'm willing to give to the enterprise. If you think about it, I bet you're pretty much the same.

Like most people over 30, I regarded Twitter as inconsequential at first, annoying later, then grudgingly accepted the possibility that it could be useful. I was right at the outset: it's inconsequential. Everybody tweeting, nobody reading. A thing once heralded as revolutionary in cutting through information clutter has become just more background noise. Again, not to say it's not an interesting and potentially useful technology. But it's far from the transformative medium you were led to believe it was by legions of reptilian consultants happy to help you plan your "Twitter Strategy." All you marketing yahoos (you know who you are) falling over yourselves for followers will find out soon enough that Twitter is simply a fad that exploded on the way to finding its niche.

-- mm


The Appearance of Greeness


August 23, 2009

I'm officially sick of the whole "We're Going Green!" movement. When I walk into the bank and somebody unbidden hands me a brochure extolling said bank's commitment to the environment, that's just beyond ridiculous. At a chain restaurant, my kids' sodas were delivered to them in lidded plastic cups silk-screened 'round with cartoons of happy forest animals putting cans and bottles into a big tri-arrowed blue recycling bin. When my kids asked for refills, they were brought brand-new, recycling-themed plastic cups. A utility company asked me to sign up for their new paperless "eco-friendly" bill. I did. Now they e-mail me my monthly bill, and continue to send a print copy as well, just for good measure.

This is out of control, folks. I can just imagine marketing yahoos everywhere sitting around conference tables coming up with ways to pitch the message that X company cares about the environment. And -- as is the inevitable wont of marketing yahoos -- they typically come up with paper or plastic promo ideas. Occasionally, as is the new predilection of said yahoos, they hit upon an electronic notion ("Let's start a Twitter or a Facebook to announce all our new green initiatives!"), but you can bet your tinyurls they produce a mountain of laminated paper in the design process. I friggin' hate marketing yahoos.

All hypocrisy aside, I'm all for the whole green thing. The idea of reducing the ungodly volume of waste humans -- and Americans, in particular -- routinely produce is a beautiful thing. However, like most people, I find I'm less keen on the idea when it involves personal sacrifice. I like my air conditioner and being able to drive to the convenience store. I like being able to turn on my lights and computers at a whim, or buy a single-serving something in a polystyrene bowl when I'm hungry in a hurry. Sure, I say I care about the environment while I'm fertilizing my lawn and throwing out non-recyclable toys the kids have outgrown. I'm a hypocrite, just like you, when it comes to such things.

You really want people to go "green"? Double the price of energy -- oil, gas, electric, what have you -- and you'll suddenly see folks working real, real hard to do more with less. Put simply, the only way any "green" movement will actually take hold is to make it economically feasible (you know, what "green" used to mean... remember?). If you had to pay a $1.00 surtax on every plastic water bottle you bought, you'd find yourself buying many, many fewer plastic bottles, wouldn't you? Of course you would, bunky.

So, you really care about the environment and want to go green? Impose that kind of financial penalization on yourself. Take your monthly energy bills and double them. Pay the bill as normal, then earmark the latter half to a green charity of your choice. Or, hell, deposit it into a trust fund for your kids. The point is to take a monetary hit that will force you out of pure necessity to curb your wasteful habits now, and invest the remainder in the future. Go ahead. Try it for a few months, just to see the effect.

Of course, you could just wear a "Kiss Me, I'm Green!" button, you friggin' yahoo.

-- mm

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