Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Discussion of Authority in Twitter

Firstly, I wanted to say Happy New Year to all my readers, and to apologise for being somewhat absent over the past two weeks. I hope that you all had as enjoyable and relaxing a Christmas time as I did, and I look forward to seeing you all back here in 2009.

have no doubt that you have by now all become aware of the ongoing debate concerning the measurement of authority on Twitter. On the one hand, the likes of Loic le Meur and Jesse Stay argue that the number of followers may be used as representative of Twitter authority in search, others including Robert Scoble suggest that this number is merely a trivial statistic, providing little indication of actual influence. As the prevalence of 'auto follow' software continues to increase, the meaning of these statistics diminish still further. Whilst there invariably exists an opportunity for an optional search feature which aggregates tweets according to the author's follower numbers, I remain dubious of the argument that such figures can accurately represent the authority of a given tweet.

Whilst I do not always agree with the comments made by Scoble, having read much of the content produced over the past few days in regards to the subject, it seems to me that there is little disputing the insignificance of follower numbers. I have argued time and time again that the value of Twitter stems from those that we choose to follow; not from those that choose to follow us. Whilst I truly hope that I offer value to each of those that follow me, the number thereof offers little value to me unless I were to attempt to profit from these numbers somehow; for example, whilst there have been suggestions that followers can provide an electronic testing ground for new ideas, the value generated offers little external benefit to the community. In fact, the value that would be created in such a situation would rest solely with the user in question.
I see little to indicate that such value translates directly into authority. Although the potential for functionality such as that described is undeniable, I am lead to the assumption that offering value to follows becomes very much secondary. I find this to be a bit of a shame. If it is eventually decided that followers do represent authority, then the result will invariably be users employing increasingly dubious tactics to increase their follower count. The transparency of the conversation will drop, and the value of the platform in general will be lost.

this conversation concerning Twitter authority seems trivial to me; yet another attempt to attach quantitative measures to something which is inherently qualitative. What are your thoughts on authority on Twitter?

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  1. I think if you read my article on again, you'll find that I'm actually more in agreement with Scoble. I was simply trying to take the middle ground. You can't build relationships without followers, plain and simple. At the same time, it's important you follow those followers, and build relationships with them to make the most of the people that do follow you. Thanks for the mention!

  2. I've always been of the opinion that it's not quantity, it's quality (and you can pretty much take that into any facet of life, online and off).

    As you mention, with auto-follow tools and many marketers using the same tactics on Twitter as they do elsewhere (numbers, numbers, numbers) it offers no real guide to a user's authority.

    A Twitter user with less than 10 followers can offer just as much (if not more) authority than someone with 10,000. For instance, do 1,000 "auto" re-Tweets on behalf of a superstar carry any more credence than 10 re-Tweets from a low-count Twitter user? I'm not sure - many people re-Tweet something simply because it came from one of the Twitter power users.

    But a re-Tweet on behalf of someone with low follower count? That says to me they're saying something equally powerful.

    I'll stick with the community over the impunity every time, thanks.

  3. Hey, Jesse. Apologies for misinterpreting your comments. I was following the situation develop on the iPhone FriendFeed interface last week when you and Robert Scoble where discussing the Le Meur's comments, and I found the conversation fascinating. For those that didn't actually see Jesse's post on Louise Gray's blog, I have enclosed a link here

    I am still hugely sceptical about your suggestion to follow those that follow you; which incidently is something that you and I have discussed on Gray's blog. Whilst I can understand your comment that simply following a follower establishes a connection, the noisier Twitter becomes through spam, blatant marketing and pointless content, the more important it becomes to apply filter and selection techniques. If someone truly focuses on making their potential value to others obvious, then the likelihood of their being 'followed' skyrockets. I would personally far rather focus on clearly demonstrating my value to others than simply fall into a mindset where I expect others to follow me. Unfortunately, I think that this is one of the areas where I will not be easily convinced!

    Once again, Jesse, apologies for any misinformation I may have included in the post, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  4. Absolutely, Danny; couldn't agree more. Surely a retweet from someone with only a handful of followers counts for significantly more than an individual with tens of thousands of followers?