The Faces of Twitter

When I mention to most people that I’m a big fan of Twitter, the reaction I usually get is along the lines of “what is it good for?”. And I think anyone who uses Twitter knows that the answer is “it depends”.

To me, Twitter is where I go to listen to people who matter to me. As my friend @publicfarley repeated just yesterday:

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(And yes, I deleted my Facebook account a couple weeks ago. What does that tell you?)

But my use of Twitter is different from others’ use. To illustrate the differences, let me show you the profiles of three users:

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The important bits here are the Follower and Following counts. As you can see, these are three very different Twitter users, and they will clearly use and think about Twitter differently.

As your average nobody on the Internets, I have a fairly even ratio of Followers and people that I follow. Then you could step up to the level of @danielpunkass, Daniel Jalkut. He’s a software developer who’s made a name for himself out there, and has a follower count that’s nothing to sneeze at. And then you have folks like @om, Om Malik, who are real big names, cracking a million followers.

I bring these examples up because there’s a fundamental change in the way you should use Twitter if you have anything over a certain number of followers. You go from someone who interacts with your co-Twitterers, to someone who’s broadcasting. I’m not sure exactly where that line is, but I think it’s safe to say that @om has crossed it.

For these broadcasters, I imagine Twitter must be a very challenging medium. Every tweet must bring hundreds of @replies. Every minute, people are probably mentioning your name, and these are pouring into you timeline. It would probably be enough to make me hire someone to take care of it!

But that wasn’t the case yesterday.

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MarsEdit 3.0 is Daniel Jalkut’s software for writing for, and interacting with, blog systems on the Internet. (Full disclosure: I’m writing this blog post in MarsEdit 3 right now). He just came out with the new version last week, and most people seem to be happy with it. So I’m not going to spend my time here defending MarsEdit, or Dan Jalkut.

Twitter is full of profound remarks like this one. Most of the time I am more than happy to shrug, think “well, that’s your opinion…” and move on. But not this time.

Remember @om’s follower count? 1.2 million. One million, two hundred and fifty-four thousand, three hundred and forty-nine. It may just look like a big number, but trust me friends, that is a big fucking number. So big that I need to use the “f” word to describe it.

So that tweet went from an off-hand comment to a pronouncement to over a million people. And suddenly there are a million people who have now heard of MarsEdit (that’s good), but who simultaneously have been told it’s “a piece of crap” (that’s bad).

Let’s put this in perspective. Daniel Jalkut is a good guy. I’ve met him in person; hell, I had the pleasure of having dinner with him at Chicago Midway airport while a group of nerds awaited their planes after last September’s C4 conference. So while I hold him in pretty high esteem, the fact remains that he’s just a small business owner. He’s no millionaire (far as I know), and he’s not breaking the world like Om Malik is. To my mind, I can’t imagine a more clear-cut case of an asymmetrical relationship. And what does the giant do? He stomps all over the little guy.

Someone like Om Malik should understand the power he wields. As a human, he is going to throw out off-hand comments. But when that off-hand comment completely slams something without further explanation, then you’ve done a disservice, both to the target of your criticism (such as it is), and the followers who are listening.

So Mr Malik, you owe it to your followers to not just say something sucks, even if you do believe it, and even if you’re right. Your duty to your followers is to say some words about why you feel that way.

And to remember most of all, that there are real people attached to those products.