February 19th, 2008
Jesus had followers. So does Twitter. They are not the same thing. Jesus’s followers built one of the world’s largest religions. Twitter followers clicked your name with a mouse.
I had an interesting discussion with Jeremy Pepper on this topic the other night on Twitter. Jeremy maintains that one of the attributes of social media is virality. He says that the number of followers you have is irrelevant and that what matters is that what you write is so interesting that it draws readers in large numbers by sheer force of its compelling content. I agree, but let me clarify in a moment.
If you watch the typical Twitter timeline, a popular tweet (post) right now goes something like this: “I have 397 followers. Who will be #400?” I find the Twitter follower (people who see your updates) and followed (people whose updates you see) dynamic fascinating. Robert Scoble pushed the limits of Facebook when he launched a campaign to get 5000 friends. Others are pushing the limits of Twitter.
Twitter is a social network. Terminology matters here, because in social media, and particularly in blogs, virality is key, and deep, analytical writing (or death threats and exposed breasts) will draw the most visitors to a blog. Though this has changed as well. A social network on the other hand is subject to all of the “laws” of computing that apply to any other network.
I am thinking in particular of Metcalfe’s Law, the second part of which says that “the community value of a network grows as the number of its users increases.” The way we used to explain this at Sun was to say something like: “Imagine you own the first fax machine. By itself it’s useless. Now, someone else buys a fax machine and the two of you can fax each other. That starts to be useful. But it isn’t really useful until there are a million fax machines.”
I won’t take the IT analogy to extremes, but the value of our social networks grows exponentially as we increase the number of people we are connected to, or in network computing, the number of nodes on the network. With each social networking friend we increase the likelihood that we will find both people who agree with us and those with opposing viewpoints, someone who just bought an iPhone and can tell us of their experiences, and so on.
I have a communications effectiveness theory I call the Fifth Ring, which basically states that when we reach past the limits of comfortable relationships, immediate circles of friends and family, and people in the same industry or at the same company, our potential to grow and gain great insight from our network grows profoundly. I have tested this on Facebook and have had encouraging results. (More on this theory in a later post.)
I believe very strongly then, that having an appropriate number of people in our network, followers and followed in the Twitter lexicon, improves our social networking experience and that of the people in our network.
On the other hand, those who measure their worth by the number of followers they have may be misguided. And those whose ratio of followers to followed is too large, may simply be arrogant or narcissistic. If I recall correctly, Jesus didn’t actually seek followers.