November 30, 2008

Qwitters Never Win?

I'm fascinated by social networks. I don't consider myself the social type, but the dynamics of networks are fascinating.

I define "social network" as any system of connection between people, and "social network software" as software that supports or constitutes a system by which people manage their relationships with other people. In the loose definition, this blog and its comments system are social network software, because my friends use it to manage this small part of our social network.

"Twitter" (for those of you who do not use it) is a popular way for people to strengthen and grow their social networks. By following people (and by being followed) connections are made, relationships grow. The mutually beneficial nature of networking happens via Twitter, as people put valuable information into the hands of their friends and contacts, or just connect in emotional ways. When someone follows your feed on Twitter, whenever your social network grows, you get an email notification -- reinforcement.

On the heels of the success of Twitter, a new application has arrived. "Qwitter" allows you to know when a person has un-followed you. Twitter will already notify you when a person adds you to their network, but you don't get a notification that they have dropped you unless you use Qwitter. Qwitter also reports the last thing you tweeted before they left.

Is Qwitter is a bad thing? Does it erode social networks?

Here's a good blog post on Qwitter, articulating an argument against needing it: "The Fallacy of Qwitter."

The author, Amber, makes a good point. I agree that just because someone dropped you after a particular tweet does not mean that the specific tweet had anything to do with it. That is, indeed, a fallacy reinforced by Qwitter. But this post is interesting because there is so much going on with Twitter that is outside of my network. Now I understand why some people saw Qwitter as a bad thing -- dropping people out of spite is erosive.

But I have a confession to make. I follow a lot more people on Twitter than I can really "follow." I have followed some of those folks simply because they followed me and their feed looked decent. But my connection to them varies. Sometimes I'm interested in their tweets, but sometimes it's just too much and I'd rather see the core of my network which consists of my close personal friends and a few local Twitterers who are recent network additions that I feel a connection with.

So, when one of those people on the fringe drops me, I sometimes see it as a relief, and I drop them back. That's not out of spite, but out of recognition that the connection wasn't there. I appreciate Qwitter for letting me know it was mutual.

I guess I need to get over my reluctance to drop other people if I don't like their feed: if I don't see value in it. Then I will only have valuable follows, and I will miss them when certain of them leave. When I drop someone, I don't care if they drop me back. It's not the numbers that concern me, I just feel guilty that I am not reciprocating. Weird, eh?

So I'll continue to use Qwitter because it's of value to me. But I see why it means something different to other people.

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Posted by James at November 30, 2008 4:52 PM
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I've twice signed up for Qwitter, but I've never heard that anyone's dropped me. Either NO ONE has ever dropped me (HA!) or there's a glitch.

I briefly used TweetDeck, until I realized it was a disgraceful memory hog. What I liked about it was its "group" feature -- you can create a group of the tweeters you care most about and just keep an eye on those.

Posted by: Karen at November 30, 2008 6:00 PM

I see Twitter as fun, but I don't rely on it for anything. If I have anything important to say, there are more reliable ways to get the word out (tweets still get lost sometimes).

As for personal relationships: If we have a friendship outside of Twitter, then it's really not a big deal whether we follow each others' tweets or not. But if Twitter is all we have, then we probably don't have much, and it's no great loss to me if I get dumped. I'll feel only a tiny pang if I decide to drop someone else first. :)

Thus, I have no use for Qwitter myself, but I do see the value of it and I don't think its existence is the sign of the apocalypse. Different people use Twitter for different reasons, some of them only slightly social. For many of these users, Qwitter is a valuable tool.

For others, it's probably fun in some way.

On the other hand, I know there are people whose egos seem to depend on the number of followers they have, and take every un-follow very personally, puzzling over the reasons that some stranger no longer wants to hear from them. Oh, the drama!

Someone I know was quite perplexed that "lots" (I don't know how many) of followers would drop him when he made political comments before the election. He took these unfollows to mean that he was intimidating people with his profound, witty, subversive insights. I don't think it ever crossed his mind that people saw them as really naive, dumb jokes.

Posted by: Julie at November 30, 2008 7:38 PM

I don't even have Twitter running right now, and I hardly ever tweet. It's a strange little beastie. Sometimes it's nice to plug in and see that my friends do indeed still exist, since I don't really have much time for blogs or blogging during the semester.

Posted by: Maggie at December 1, 2008 11:03 AM

This reminds me of those notification lists at Epinions - "Who's getting notifications of when I write a review? Why's my list shorter today - who dropped me?"

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at December 1, 2008 11:11 AM

Originally, the reason I joined Epinions was to observe the social networking. I was still teaching an online interpersonal communications class back then.

Yes, there are a lot of similarities. Especially in the drama-factor.

Posted by: James at December 1, 2008 11:20 AM

JP - there are very big similarities between Epinions, their Web of Trust and various lists and Twitter. As you undoubtedly recall many of the early Epinions posts "responded" to others. I like the microbloggin aspect and get multiple useful pieces of information daily from Twitter.

I tend to use it as my "take a break" tool running on another monitor. If I finish a brain-draining task, I'll surf through Twitter. Picking up social memes before they hit mainstream is fascinating.

But things like Qwitter (which I use) or Grader (which I also use) automate the old Epinions process. As people stayed in that commumity, tracking became cumbersome for many. Not so with Twitter or other social apps. It fascinates me to see how Twitter or a blog can be used to cascade the same information throughout multiple online distribution points.

Posted by: George at December 1, 2008 1:02 PM

Twitter is ok, but I wouldn't get so wrapped up in it that I would need Quitter or some such.

I use it rarely--I only signed up to find out where Prop 8 protests were going to be.

Twitter reminds me of IRC minus the pinging.

Posted by: Patti M. at December 1, 2008 3:57 PM

Twitter is part of my bread and butter but is not for everyone. At least it is benign, and very a la carte. Qwitter is horrible, as is Twitterless. Breeding neurosis.

Posted by: Leslie Poston at December 2, 2008 1:41 AM

I think the actual source of those neuroses lies elsewhere.

I do get why it's a contributing factor, but for me it is sometimes a relief to know someone has unfollowed me. I know, I know I should have just unfollowed them first, but sometimes it seems rude.

This begs for a further discussion on the neutrality of tools.

Posted by: James at December 2, 2008 9:17 AM

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