Twitter echo chambers

Lately, I’ve seen an increase in “Twitter porn.”

That’s my term. I just invented it.

I’m not referring to web-cam girls, accounts with handles like lusty[insert name]2755. I’m referring instead to twittering about Twitter. Twitter porn is meta-twittering. It’s being social about being social. Like sexual porn, it can be good, but usually it’s teh suck.

Hey baby. You got girlfriend?

I was a CB radio user in the 80’s, when I lived in Massachusetts. I got into Single Side Band transmission, joined a local CB radio club, and briefly planned to buy a high-power (cough illegal cough) transmitter. I eventually lost interest because I discovered that most CB conversations were about … CB radio. People bought CB radios to talk to other CB radio owners about CB, and this was a lot of navel-lint gazing.

Most CB chatter was “CB porn.” What’s your location, how do I sound, you sound good, thanks well you do too, I have a new microphone, that’s nice, how does it sound, good, do I still sound good, yes you do, where are you, oh you’re far away but you signal is strong, good thanks do I still sound good? Epic Yawn. Nobody stopped to ask, “We’re talking about ourselves. Is this the best we can do?” I had expected to use CB radio as a tool to communicate with people who shared my other hobbies.

It was intensely boring, although it was occasionally useful for road conditions and emergency assistance. It was an analog chat room, and although I haven’t checked in on that subculture in years, I’ll bet that 3G, 4G, cell phones, and GPS have blown it out of the water.

Anyway, back to my point about Twitter. Twitter porn is twittering about Twitter, and measuring your Twitter usage. Well, it’s more than just measuring — it’s obsessing about measuring. It’s a preoccupation with reach, influence, affections, “friend” counts, rankings, characterizations, etc.

I thought the point of social networks was discovering new information, making new (if casual and distant) friends, and ambient awareness. You read what was interesting, followed those who were interesting, and said interesting things. (About your career, job, life, family, whatever. Some tweet personal things, others tweet job things. That’s fine.) You choose to whom you listen, and the whole thing is self-adjusting. But for some, the point of Twitter seems to be … increasing their Twitter popularity. Gah!

I don’t understand this. It’s a waste of time.

As with any deviancy, there’s a demand and supply side. The demand comes from curiosity, insecurity, geek appeal, marketeers despairing for a following, or whatever. In most cases, it’s a natural inclination that wouldn’t ripen into anything weird if left alone. The supply comes from sites eager to supply ranking, categorizing, or cool looking numbers. If, like drug addiction, the need for measuring one’s Twitter reach can be said to be a combination of nature and nurture, then these sites are handing out free crack at the corner.

Three examples

Marcello Calbucci announced a “Seattle 2.0 Twitter Directory.” It’s “for the executives, entrepreneurs, investors and all the people around the high-tech startups in Seattle.” If it was just a list, that would be OK by me. But being just a list of people who use Twitter isn’t sufficient; each entry also has a score. In fact, each entry has a ranking, score, and four more numbers related to the user’s popularity.

How are the scores calculated? That’s a secret. “Scores are computed based on the number of people from the startup community following that person, between other metrics.” Mmmm, informative. Some of highly-ranked entries I wouldn’t listen to in a million years, and two of the top 20 entries are certified goofballs. Companies are mixed in with individuals, which is awfully odd. And wouldn’t you know it, Seattle 2.0 tops its own list. Breathtaking.

I know someone who fretted about his ranking, and asked for help in increasing his score on this list. I’m sure he’s not the only one. Rather than just saying what he wants to say on Twitter, he’s concerned about his ranking in this new (arbitrary) list (with secret algorithms).

We’re all friendly mature consenting adults here.  If John Doe assigns importance to this directory, or anything else on the Seattle 2.0 site, that’s his decision. But I think this list is odd, and I question the sanity of giving it more than two seconds of time.

If you’re a self-identified entrepreneur and you’re on Twitter, then you think you have interesting things to tweet about, or you want to read someone else’s tweets. Don’t let a list dictate your actions. If you want to know what entrepreneurs are saying, you should follow entrepreneurs who sound competent. Better, follow those whom you know are competent. (Maybe you actually, you know, talked to them once or twice.) A ranking doesn’t indicate competency. If you don’t know who someone is, maybe you shouldn’t follow them.

Klout “tracks influence across the social web.” You sign up, give it access to your Twitter account, and it produces a profile of your influence. Here’s mine.

You get a graph. You get a bunch of cool-looking numbers. You get a map of the world with your “influence.” Let me say right now that if someone out there lets me influence them in any substantial way, they should see a shrink. I can’t influence my wife, and I can only sometimes influence my dog, even when they’re in the same room as me.

Best of all, you get a “K-Score!” A K-Score is based on “25+ variables,” which are intensely masturbated to produce a cool-looking number.

Is someone with a K-Score of 50 twice as correct or credible as someone with a score of 25? If I’m looking for someone to recommend my product, is that person worth twice the kickback bribe incentive to make it happen? Gaaaaa!

Klout puts me in the “Casual” corner of their 2×2 quadrant graph, which is where all the losers hang out. Casual users are worthless and weak. Maybe we should hope to become a Connector, Climber, or, the best of all Klout categories, a Persona? Eh, fuck no, let’s go rob a grocery store instead.

Here’s an old engineering joke: A calculator is a device that takes a seat-of-the-pants estimate and a wild-ass guess, multiplies them, and produces an answer accurate to 12 decimal places.

Twanalyst is less serious and therefore more fun than the first two. You give it your Twitter handle, and it spits back a characterization of your Twitter usage. You again get lots of cool looking unexplained numbers, a couple words about your personality, and hints for how to be “better,” in Twanalyst’s opinion. (E.g., use fewer hashtags.)

One big reason why it’s better than the first two is the lack of a ranking of your account against other accounts.

Social networking works only if good things go into it.

It’s GIGO on a massive scale. Be yourself, and you’ll get the following you deserve and make the connections you need to make. Don’t act differently to make a silly number increase from 17.5 to 23.1. Ignore the numbers, and use the tool to be more productive and effective in your life.

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