Twitter kills bulk and automated unfollows…and we’re disappointed why?

yesterday, SocialToo announced they were discontinuing the auto-unfollow feature associated with the services they offered.  this more or less confirms my own suspicions when i went to clean out the people @ArcanePalette was following a few days ago and get rid of the spammers, marketers, and others that, from a reading and using Twitter standpoint, weren’t really adding value to our day.  Twitter Karma seemed to be having some issues and the only other mass unfollow service I could think of was Tweepular, and they were, by all accounts AWOL.

while the bulk and auto-unfollowing services provided me with a headache in having to manually go through and unfollow people, i take full responsibility for having been dumb enough to follow people i wasn’t really planning on listening, engaging, or interacting with in the first place.  in general, an automated service to unfollow someone solely because they stopped following you is the online equivalent of what my kids do in the back seat of our car when they’re arguing for the sake of arguing with no real point.  “YES!” “NO!” “YES!’ “NO!!” “YEEEESSSSS!!!” “NOOOOOOO!!! etc.  it’s like saying “well, i never liked you anyway” to someone’s back as they walk away.

the fact is that just because someone isn’t following you anymore, doesn’t mean they might not still provide value or interesting links that you’d like.  i follow @slashdot, but i don’t expect them to care about what i have to tweet about.  similarly, i don’t really expect @wilw@feliciaday, or @neilhimself to care what i’m doing at any given moment either.  there are certain people for whom it’s been accepted that we won’t receive a reciprocal follow, like say, @britneyspears and yet we somehow hold the rest of the twitterverse to a higher standard?

as i read SocialToo’s announcement, i was struck by the stubbornness of it — they obviously were removing the feature reluctantly at the direct request of twitter.  in particular:

We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause – we are as disappointed as you are. We are still firmly set on our original goals of automating your streams while enabling you to clean them up at the same time and focus on real relationships.

why are we disappointed?  people who auto-unfollow, or use any other kind of automation, most frequently aren’t using twitter.  if you’re an automaton, and not actually tweeting for yourself, then what use is twitter to you aside from pushing your message into the face of as many people as possible?

i say this as a bit of a hypocrite; it’s true that my secondary twitter account, @teh_s3quence — which i’ve left active even when i shut all my other former genesis rocket-powered accounts down — is totally automated.  in my defense, i keep that around because i actually find some interesting links being tweeted by the robot version of myself, so i’ve just stopped pretending that it is anything other than what it is: a robot pumping links from a bunch of different places that i like.  if twitter decides someday to kill the account, i’ll be sad for like 5 minutes and then go back to my rss feeds.  so yes, there are some uses for automation, but the only reason why  you’d need to auto- or bulk unfollow anyone is because you’ve hit your following max for the number of followers you have and you need to dump people so you can get more followers.  and the only reason you would do this is because you’re trying to spam your message across twitter.

the truth is that it’s not possible to both “automate your streams” and “focus on real relationships.”  if part of automating your streams involves unfollowing people just because they unfollowed you, you obviously don’t care about relationships anyway.  you’re just writing that person off without context.  when you turn off the radio, is it because you never want to listen to the radio again?

it seems to me like twitter is going through its ranks again and pruning some of the stray branches that don’t really fit with the what the service is ideally intended to promote: microblogging, communication, interaction, and sharing.  for my part, i say: bravo.

a girl named jinx

I met a high school girl today when erin and I were going to pick gavin up from his first day of preschool.  Mostly she and erin talked, I just quietly carried lilah on my shoulders.  She introduced herself (her real name escapes me) and she said something that struck me instantly as a bit curious: “I also go by jinx.”

When I was in high school, I didn’t have a nickname like that.  At least, not one I would use to introduce myself.  It struck me that it had to be some kind of online handle.  And  as I started to think about it, I realized that high school for me was a totally different culture.  Back then, an online handle was just a handle – simply an identifier on a particular forum or BBS.  Most of the chris’s and jen’s and andrew’s were already taken, so it was necessary to use a unique identifier.  This gave the thrill of anonymity and possibly creating a unique online persona (or several).  Today, however, these kids have never grown up in a world where online didn’t exist, and this affects the ways in which they create their identities.  Bloggers, social media gurus, and marketers talk about building your unique brand, but this is something that today’s high school kids get inherently.  High school is a time when you start to figure out who you are – in today’s high school that happens…online.

Rather than having a separate identity that you reserve for your online travels, your online persona is merged with your offline persona, such that a nickname that was created for use online, follows you offline and into your daily life.

For me, the name I used online was one that I was playing around with in my offline world.  I was already playing around with alternate identities and characters for role playing, and one name I always liked was Raven.  I was looking in the dictionary at some point, and stumbled across Raven, with a capital R, defined as “a boy’s given name.”  after that, I always thought it was a pretty cool name, so later, I started to attach it to myself, but mostly in writing for ‘zines and letter-writing (yes, these were the days when pen pals actually used pens).  I was heavily interested in Egyptian mythology and particularly attracted to Horus, so I signed my name Raven with a Horus eye.  Online, that translated into RavenEye  (or Raven-I, or Raven with an Eye or RAVENEYE, or other variations).

At school, I was chris.  If I ever met anyone I knew from online, however, I became RavenEye.  In limited doses I was a bit of an alter-ego.  Later, when I went to college, I was just Raven.  That was what everyone knew me as, and by then I was used to introducing myself as that.

For me, a nickname I attached to myself started offline, was embedded into chatrooms and listservs online, and then followed me offline again.  That process has been shortformed – now, you have an identity you create online which follows into your offline interactions.  The subtle difference is that for me, there was always a distinction – these are my online friends – to whom I am RavenEye – and these are my offline friends, who know me as Chris.  Going to college, I was followed only by my ex- and she was the only one who still called me Chris.  And since leaving, I’ve abandoned the Raven pseudonym as being more just a part of my past.  Even the pseudonym I use currently – jazzsequence – is exclusively an online-only thing.  I don’t go around saying “hi, I’m jazzsequence” – that would be ridiculous.  It was a pairing of words based on another handle I had been using at the time (Fibonacci jazz), that I found to be more interesting than the original that a friend came up with on a forum we were on.  It was created online, and has always been exclusively an online thing to me.  much more impersonal than even calling myself Raven – much more…of a brand.

I think it’s interesting that more and more we are creating our own identities, but these alternate egos are not separate from ourselves, they are merely another side of ourselves, or even just one of the faces that we put on daily.  Facebook has forced us to take responsibility for who we really are by forcing us (well, sort of) to use our own name, so our alternate identities can’t be too far away from the actual truth.  And social media has taught us that for anyone to really care enough to pay attention to you, you need to at least seem like a real human being, so you can’t stray too far from the truth at any rate.  And everyone wants attention.  That’s the point of sharing stuff on Facebook, keeping a blog, and twittering your tweeting heart out.

It shouldn’t surprise me at all, being in the middle of emerging technology and having been plugged into the internet for almost 15 years now, that who you are online would bleed into the real world, I just don’t normally talk to (or, in this case, watch while erin talks to, or rather, is talked at by) high school kids, so it never really occurred to me that this is happening.  It poses the question, in another 5 years, will I be talking to someone who introduces themselves as “hi, I’m LonelyGirl15” or “my name’s chiXX0r”?

If so, I better start practicing the proper pronunciation of s3quence