Coping with a mainstream Twitter

January was the month that Twitter lurched towards the British mainstream. Stats show an astronomical rise in site and search traffic, and the rich and famous are now falling over themselves to connect with their fawning public.

One may ask why this tipping point has happened first in the UK, rather than the States or elsewhere. One possible explanation is that a small number of influential celebrity types have hastened this outcome, and it’d be easy to fall into a daft sociocultural analysis of Britain the country and Britain the network. Stephen Fry as the powerful Gladwellian connector, uniting the geeks and the unwashed, previously so suspicious of each other!

My money’s on random chance. The initial conditions were set, after which chaos theory is the dominant force (yes, perhaps I have been listening to Jeremy too much).

The practical upshot is plenty of new users, including several of my real-life friends. They’re perhaps still on the early adopter side of mainstream but they’re not the type to, for instance, write blog posts about why people are joining Twitter. While it’s great to have them on Twitter, I have my own selfish concern: will I be able to cope?

I’ve previously mentioned that I have an approximate following threshold of 250. My workload and lifestyle enforce that personal limit, and I can’t realistically keep up to date with more people. So if my less geeky friends continue to join, whom do I drop? The model’s different from Facebook, where I can simply accumulate “friends” (a virtual notch on the bedpost) and then largely ignore them. So do I drop existing Twitterers, many whom I’ve never met but still give me a wealth of inspiration and knowledge, or friends whom I miss and am always eager to hear from? Ambient intimacy or friendship?

It’s a quandary. I’ve been trying to convince friends to join Twitter for a long time and it would be an irony if, once they join, I admit I don’t want to follow them. Yet I’m already operating a one-in-one-out policy, and something will have to give. My likely approach will be to take a much more relaxed and liberal approach to unfollowing people. Just as I’ll go and talk to various people at a party, so my attention will shift around a bit online. It’s either that or I face a cacophony in which I can hear no one.

However, I’m aware that people have very different attitudes to being unfollowed, so I’ll treat this post as a prophylactic excuse. Seriously, it’s not you, it’s me.

Cennydd Bowles