LearnI've got too many followers on Twitter


Ryan Carson
writes on May 28, 2008

I’ve got almost 3,000 followers on my Twitter account … and it’s starting to become a problem.

You might be wondering why it would be bad to have so many followers. Isn’t it perfect for building the Carsonified community and communicating with them?

Here’s the trouble – a lot of my followers ‘@ reply’ to me in a conversational, chat style. For instance:

“@ryancarson good luck with FoWA this year, wish I could make it”

I’d love to reply to this in-kind with a response like:

“@lazzurs – Thanks! Hope you can make it to the show.”

However, the problem is that replies like that are no fun for my other followers to read. It’s a bit like butting into someone’s private conversation and having no idea what they’re talking about.

I receive roughly four @ replies every time I tweet, so responding to each one would make my entire Twitter feed a series of @ replies – thus making it impossible to understand, follow or enjoy. I could ‘direct message’ everyone who @ replies to me, but that would mean I’d need to follow a ton of people, which goes against what Twitter is all about – keeping up with your friends.

So here’s my theory: Microblogging services like Twitter break down if you have more than 100 followers. People like Jason Calacanis might disagree, but I’d argue that by him following 26,672 people he’s obviously not actually interested in what those people are doing (nor would it be possible to actually interact meaningfully with them).



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0 Responses to “I've got too many followers on Twitter”

  1. Exactly. That’s why I only follow around 200 people and never really expect replies to my @replies. And I think that’s manageable because a lot of those people don’t even update anymore. It’s probably closer to 100 active people.

    It’s nice if someone has time to @reply my @reply, but for me that’s not the point. It’s just a way of sending a thought someone’s way, especially when I know they don’t follow me.

    I’d argue that by following 20,000+ people you’re not *really* following anyone. You catch glimpses of what a lot of people are up to but you have to be missing a lot too — probably more than what you’re actually seeing, unless you’re spending your whole day reading Twitter updates.

  2. ian vogler on June 16, 2008 at 3:56 pm said:

    how good is the customer service at drop send ?

  3. It’s just an idiotic framework, plain and simple. The best thing about blogging is the comments section on every post. Where is the comment section for every tweet? If people want to read the replies, they can. If they don’t care about the replies, they can skip them. Is this not expected in a service entitled microblogging? Not only is Twitter designed poorly, it’s reputably incapable of achieving/maintaining a respectable system uptime percentage. That’s why I quit using it, and you should too.

  4. Totally agree. I commented on this same thing before. Services like Twitter (and the upstart Plurk.com) are broadcast mediums, not conversation.

  5. SOLUTION: Direct Messages, all you need is to follow the person send a message, and then if you don’t want to continue following them just remove them after. It would only add a couple of seconds to your reply time. Might be worth looking into.

  6. Intersting point Ryan.

    I’ve stopped following some people (Scoble et al) on Twitter because my Twitter stream ended up like reading their IM session!

    However, sometimes @replies to unknown or unfollowed users reveals new and interesting people to follow.

  7. Thanks Darragh – awesome idea.

  8. Saw post about a list of cool yahoo pipes on RWW today. One of them creates a feed of all your twitter posts minus any of your replies – RWW suggests using it to feed into your friendfeed account.

    Here’s a feed of ryan’s tweets that aren’t replies – pretty neat!

  9. have you tried twitter groups. breaking up your “fan base” may help.??? http://www.jazzychad.net/twgroups/

  10. Ryan,

    Don’t stress over replying to everyone who @s you. With that example you gave, while it’s nice of you to reply, and it probably builds good will, it’s mostly unnecessary and will probably just continue the @s flying back and forth.

    Another example, I think I sent you an @ with a product recommendation for a homeopathic teething medication for @jacksoncarson some time ago. No need to reply to that, unless you need further details. I’m not offended, twitter isn’t like IM — it isn’t always a two-way conversation.

  11. Ryan,

    You’re not that far off! Although it’s not just about your followers. It’s about the size of the social group in which the followers and those you follow are the same set of people. Have you read Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping point? In it he talks about what has been popularly known as Dunbar’s number. Dunbar is an anthropologist who posited that the maximum size of social group in which everyone involved could maintain a mental record of all of the interpersonal relationships was 150.

    So you can up your number to 150 and you’ll still be fine 😉

  12. @ryancarson Awesome post man!

    Seriously, have you tried FriendFeed? You and others can reply directly from there and it can be viewed more like blog comments.

  13. What are you going to post about next? “My Corners are Too Rounded?”

  14. But I feel a little less dumb because of this section in that post:

    “This is the main thing that people are confused about, I’ve found. There are good reasons for this. For one, it didn’t use to work like this. (Since @replies were just normal tweets at one point, all your followers would see all of your, no matter who you were replying to.) Secondly, we don’t explain it very well (thus, the need for this post). And third, some people do have their setting at “all @ replies”—so they see all the replies people they’re following make, even if they’re not following the person being replied to. Many people I’ve talked to have this setting on and don’t realize what it actually does. (Usually, they just want to see @replies directed to them).”

  15. Wow, thanks Tom. I didn’t realize. I feel dumb now 🙂

  16. Ryan: read this, get a clue.

  17. Two things: a) I don’t think sending @ replies is a big deal — I send them and see them from others and have no idea who the person is talking to, but I don’t think it really matters that much. And b) Twitter is over, my friend — FriendFeed is where it’s at!

  18. I agree with the idea that past a couple hundred people, it’s unmanageable. Cut some people. Curate your twitter friends list. Make it a set of people you’re really interested in hearing from/about and speaking back to occasionally. Consider going to “protected,” so that you can shape your list more effectively the same way you shape the group of people you keep in touch with through other means. “Protecting” your tweets is underrated.

  19. You can choose in your Twitter settings to either.. see all @whatever messages, see only those between two people you know, or not to see any at all.

    I choose the latter option. It makes Twitter such a joy to use. I then have the “Replies” tab I can check each day to see if anyone sent me a message. Seems the perfect solution. If people get sick of seeing @messages, they can do the same.

  20. Ryan, I follow more than 3,000 people as well. No, I don’t see every little tweet that every person posts. Nor do I have to. My issue is with your arbitrary cap at 100. Twitter doesn’t break down when you follow more than 100 people – it breaks down when you decide you can’t handle the number that you’re following. And I’ve decided I haven’t reached that point yet. Just like everything else, you mileage may vary.

  21. Yes, as a couple people mentioned already the only people that would see the example tweet above are those that follow both you AND lazzurs. So, to me, this is fine. Not sure about others, but I find it interesting to watch two people I follow communicating. @reply away! 🙂

  22. I have about 1,000 followers, and often feel poorly about not replying to people who respond to my tweets, but came to the same conclusion – this would not be interesting for anyone else following me. So I typically abstain, unless I have a particularly wry or savvy response I’d like to share. (This is rare).

    I’m not sure this means you shouldn’t follow those who follow you, however. It’s relatively simple using most Twitter clients to keep up attentively with those individuals whose tweets interest you while just leaving the rest to stream by as you work elsewhere. I definitely enjoy Twitter more now that I’m following around 1,000 people – it’s like having a chat room full of interesting strangers open all the time, whenever I want to look in. Well, provided Twitter’s actually operational that day…

  23. Actually, doesn’t Twitter by default only show @ replies from one user to another if both are in your contacts? So

    Nope. It shows all tweets, regardless of who they’re @directed at.

  24. I guess that if you’re feeling that your responses would be no fun for a reader, theres no point in leaving them – especially if doing so causes you more hassle.

    If twitter is all about keeping up with friends and you aren’t on first name terms with your entire audience, then you can’t be expected to jump at every reply, even if etiquette might say otherwise.

  25. It does get annoying or pretty useless the more people are on either side: following you or you following others. Once it hits a certain threshhold there’s too much to keep up with.

  26. I’ve been noticing more and more that Twitter is on the fritz, and I completely agree with your theory that it’s because people are automatically following too many twits. How relevant and in-depth is your conversation or your interaction with people when you have that many followers? How engaged are your followers in your feeds if you never engage with them? It’s a two-way street and many other people have blogged about the follower:followed ratio. That having been said, nobody expects Jason Calacanis to @reply to specific posts, he and Scoble combined must get millions, even though they sometimes say it’s about conversation.

    I totally agree with your lack of @replies. It doesn’t keep the conversation meaningful for the 2999 other people who followed you because you bring expert insight and perspective to their Twitter streams, nor does it advance at least a part of what Twitter is about; expanding your horizons and learning new things… not just @reply thanks four times an hour.

  27. Agreed. I think I need to start deleting people. I really want to just know what my friends are up to.

  28. Actually, doesn’t Twitter by default only show @ replies from one user to another if both are in your contacts? So theoretically, it would only affect a certain subset of users and even then, since they are following both of you, they would understand the context of the @ reply.

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