Posts Tagged ‘twitter follow limits’

Twitter's follow limits: 100% poppycock and delusions

In this post:

  1. I started using Twitter more.
  2. I came to understand the Ugly Truths of Twitter.
  3. I now quote from, analyze, and mock the Twitter Support follow limits page.
  4. I sum up the problem and suggest how to fix it.

I started using Twitter more.

I had been using Twitter mildly for a month or two, and last week I decided to make better use of the site. I used the tried-and-true method of following a bunch of people and reciprocating all follows. Joyously, I saw my following grow, but I soon butted my head against Twitter’s 2,000 follow limit. Perturbed, I researched the situation and…

I came to understand the Ugly Truths of Twitter:

  1. Most people who build big followings do so by reciprocating all follows.
  2. Most people who reciprocate all follows do so automatically by means of software. They also use bots to automatically follow people based on a variety of criteria; these bots later unfollow those who do not in turn reciprocate (“deadwood”). The result is that the bots are able to get around Twitter’s follow limits by ensuring that the number of followers is roughly equal to the number of followed.
  3. Most people who build big followings via such automated tools are, according to their bios, social media experts, MLM marketing gurus, Twitter fanatics, wealth coaches, life coaches, law of attraction preachers, etc. I even saw a Beanie Baby broker. I didn’t think such a thing existed anymore.
  4. Many, but not by any means all or perhaps even most, of people with such big, fake, automated followings automatically send out junk content to their followers: repeating sales messages, an automated stream of links, etc.

Bots following bots. What a mess. What a joke. All of which makes Twitter’s follow limits an apt object of ridicule.

I now quote from, analyze, and mock the Twitter Support follow limits page.

One would think that no one knows Twitter better than the 30-human-strong organization known as Twitter, yet the follow limits page comes across as crushingly naive:

We do not limit the number of people who can follow you, but we have put limits in place to stop people from aggressively following others. Everyone is allowed to follow 2000 people. After that, follow limits are based on the number of people who are following you. Follow limits cannot be lifted by Twitter, and everyone is subject to follow limits, even high profile and API accounts.

Yes, we would hate for you manually to follow thousands of people–that would be unnatural. But if you use a bot to up your total (tick.tick.tick), we’ll reward you by raising that 2,000 limit–in fact, the sky’s the limit! Because that’s not aggressive (Guy Kawasaki *cough*).

Though follow limits do help with spam control, the limit itself improves site performance by ensuring that when we send a person’s message to all of their followers, the sending of that message is meaningful.

Perversely, the limit formula punishes manual users and rewards automated users–who, one would suppose, are much more likely to spam.

We believe that following 2000 people is a reasonable limit for the number of people an average person can follow. [Later on page] If you follow too many people, there is no way you can keep up with everyone’s updates in your home page. If you’re following more than 2000 people, you’re missing quite a few updates from many people you follow. You can view a profile page to catch up with someone’s latest updates.

Don’t they sound like a preachy parent here? “There are starving children who would beg for the updates you’re wasting.”

They are right, however: I think it would be difficult to monitor with any kind of care more than a few hundred people’s tweets. On the other hand, it is by no means too high a number if one were to filter a large number of tweets based on keywords. For example, one could monitor a very large number of users in one’s city with the keyword “real estate” and extract a good, digestible amount of information from that, since the number of tweets with that keyword in it would not be very high.

In any case, if that’s the belief, then why not impose an absolute limit on follows? Am I to understand that because Guy Kawasaki has more than 100,000 followers he is thereby made able to follow 100,000 himself? Whereas the “average person” can only manage 2,000?

Avoid hitting Twitter limits by not following aggressively– if others see that you’ve tried to follow 500 people but only 12 are following you, they may not follow you back, and worse, they might block you.

Twitter is an opt-in community– that is, you can follow who ever you want, but no one has to follow you back. If you use aggressive following tactics, no one will want to.

In fairness to Twitter, this page went up November 24, 2008, which, in Twitter time, was a century ago. Also in fairness to Twitter, however, this ridiculous policy explained thus ridiculously is still the law of the land on the site. Clearly the company’s notions about the sociology of their own site are hopelessly obsolete.

If you have a public account, I can follow you but you don’t have to follow me. Unlike most social networks, you follow me on Twitter NOT for the sake of a mutual connection, but because you want to get my updates, regardless of whether or not I get yours. If I want to read your updates too, I can– and unlike social networks, if you change your mind and un-follow me, it doesn’t stop me from continuing to follow you.

Again we have mommy wagging her finger and telling us how to use the site.

Verily, this quote represents severe ignorance of human nature, sociology, and game theory. People reciprocate not just for the aforementioned scammy reasons; they do so also to please and placate friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances. If we are in the same circle, and you follow me but I don’t follow you back, that’s a dis.

More importantly, however, Twitter users soon understand, game-theory-wise, that the “payment” for a follow by a stranger (automated or not) is reciprocation. They want followers and don’t have the time or inclination to vet all their follows, so they follow back. Or their bots follow back.

I sum up the problem and suggest how to fix it.

First, I don’t know what the actual cost to Twitter is in server space, etc., but the inescapable conclusion is that a high percentage, perhaps even a majority, of tweets are junk: spam, or at least slick, insincere content. Savvy users can choose to cordon off the crap, but it will affect inexperienced users and turn a percentage of them off the site.

Second, the astronomical following/followers numbers are meaningless once one understands whence they come, but they are still likely to influence some inexperienced users. For example, Cheesy McWealthcoach follows 34,282 with 33,540 followers thanks to effective automation, but a new user quite possibly could think “Wow!” and be influenced. If the technique didn’t give these jackanapeses some benefit, one may assume they wouldn’t use it.

In contrast, I have come across vanishingly few users with a real following a la Oprah, Ashton, Stephen, et al. I have seen a very small number of users with a few thousand differential in the favorable direction–but I have yet to see anyone with, say, 500 following and 5,000 followers. I think this fact tells us something: it is very hard to become ultrapopular on Twitter without preexisting fame and prestige.

My suggested solution is simple: impose an across-the-board “social follow” limit of 140 x 14 =1,960 (or 2,000, whatever): that is, this would be the number of people listed in one’s profile under “following.” If Twitter believes this to be the right number, then Twitter should stick to it. This would make moot the bots, as their follow announcements and thus reciprocations would end once they hit the limit.

As I suggested earlier, there could be very legitimate reasons why someone would want to follow a much larger number of users and mine the tweetstream. I thus think it would be appropriate to have an unlimited “non-social follow,” but Twitter would also need to ban off-the-grid follow announcements and reciprocations.

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