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?
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.