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Twitter – too much talking, not enough listening?

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
11 May 2010

twitter-fail-whaleLast night saw a strange ‘glitch’ happen on Twitter, which in turn served as a bit of a revelation to me in how the attitudes of people using Twitter seems to have matured. I should point out at this point that this observation is purely based on the people I follow, so may not be indicative of Twitter as a whole – but it does seem to be something that is happening more and more. Anyway, back to the glitch…

At about 6pm last night (UK time), anybody logged in to Twitter would have found themselves presented with a shock – the number of people following them had dropped to Zero, as had the number of people they were following. I won’t go in to how this happened (Mashable explain it very well, if you’re interested) but the other curve-ball it threw up was that the glitch was apparently caused by Twitter fixing a problem which was allowing users to FORCE Tweeters to follow them, simply by typing “Accept [user]” in their message box.

News of the bug seemed to spread pretty slowly at first – a few tech blogs picked it up, and a search in Twitter search for “Accept [pick a famous user]” reveals that quite a few people had cottoned on, but it was only when Twitter started trying to fix the issue that it really blew up. Not only did more and more people start trying to use the bug before it was fixed, but the Twitter stream (and trending topics) quickly filled up with people talking about the Zero-follower glitch and what was happening.

Here’s the odd part though – by about 6.15, my Twitter stream was FULL of people talking about the issue – but only a tiny percentage were actually asking about the problem, with the majority of people trumpeting their knowledge of why it was happening and telling their followers to ‘Keep calm and carry on’. The focus was massively in favour of people sharing knowledge, but with very few people actually seeming to REQUEST the knowledge.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that this is an analogy for Twitter overall. I regularly find Twitter to be a very reliable source for information sharing and question-solving. But when big events happen, people seem to switch from conversing and discussing to a sudden desire to prove how knowledgeable they are about the latest news. A similar thing happened while the recent UK leadership debates were going on – whilst being very entertaining, my Twitter feed was FULL of people pushing out their informative/controversial/witty opinions about the debates, with very few actually stopping to LISTEN to what other people were saying.

It seems to me that flash-point moments like these are when Twitter becomes a little bit less useful than it normally is. Maybe it will all even out as the site gains more and more active users – I guess only time will tell.

Have you experienced this yourself? If so, tell us about it in the comments!



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