the always controversial sarah lacy, Twitter

Thank God Loic Doesn't Run Twitter

Another weekend, another blog post where I disagree with Loic LeMeur. I swear, I really do like Loic and think Seesmic is one of the last original Web 2.0 ideas of the Web 2.0 wave. But he's completely wrong in this idea that you should rank search on Twitters based on "authority," i.e. how many followers you have. So wrong that I'm guessing this is another stunt to gin up "controversy." No one could be this nakedly egotistical and self-serving. Ok, no one would admit to being this egotistical and self-serving. From Loic's post:

"We're not equal on Twitter, as we're not equal on blogs and on the web. I am not saying someone who has more followers than yourself matters more, but what he says has a tendency to spread much faster."

That's actually exactly what you are saying. "Not equal" pretty much by definition means "one matters more than the other." Others have already blogged about why this is inherently anti-Web. And Scoble had a nice piece on how it's not even helpful when it comes to functionality on Twitter, with the great ending line, "Since when did 'authority' have anything to do with 'popularity?' "

But my point is it's also bad for Twitter as a business. Why? It keeps the service wedded to the Silicon Valley echo chamber, which has always been one of the biggest knocks on Twitter. The people who have the most followers on Twitter now aren't by default the most interesting or influential people, because the service is simply too new. Frequently, top Twitterers are people who already had a big platform in the techworld or were just early adopters. Twitter is far too young of a service to lock in advantages and set up fiefdoms based on that, especially now that mainstream media, actors and non-Web celebrities are just starting to discover it. Guess what Valley hoi palloi? Not everyone in the world who is searching something on Twitter cares what we think or knows who we are. Yes, as someone with nearly 7,000 followers, I include myself in that. If someone wants to know what only the most followed people think, he or she can just follow those people. That's how the service works.

The beauty of Twitter is the same thing that created some of its famous technical problems: No one's Twitter stream is the same as anyone else's. We all pick and chose who we want to follow for a variety of inherently individualistic reasons. For some people it's news sources, for others it's just their close friends, for a PR person it may be all journalists. More than any other communication and information tool, on Twitter "authority" is completely in the eye of the beholder. As we've glimpsed already with disaster coverage, the Tweets of people on the ground-- who may have no followers -- are far more powerful, informative and moving than a newscaster who may have the traditional media imprint of "authority." This is why the acquisition of Summize was so transformative for Twitter. No longer are you tied to who you follow, you can just watch trending topics and get a real time stream of what everyday people are thinking about, well, anything.

And as Twitter seeks a way to make money, it's paramount that the voice of "real people" continues to be front and center. Why? Because Twitter is likely going to develop premium services based around how companies like Zappos and Comcast and JetBlue and Dell are using Twitter now. The entire point of "ComcastCares" isn't just saving Michael Arrington's cable, but making anyone with a cable outage feel "cared for" at the moment they are most angry.  My guess is Dell doesn't care how many followers you have; "authority" to them is whoever wants to buy a PC at that second. Loic's description of Sprint responding to him and not someone with fewer followers doesn't prove his point. It proves Sprint doesn't get how to use Twitter as a customer service tool. For Twitter to grow in importance as a tool companies want to pay for, it needs to become more mainstream and flat, not less.

I think we can all agree that there needs to be better filters on Twitter. Twitter CEO Evan Williams included. We're going to see that. And you know what? I'm not worried it'll go the direction that Loic suggests because Evan has shown time and time again he's more loyal to the democratic spirit of Twitter than what Valley early adopters say. He's already refused to add other features the likes of Scoble and Arrington suggested. And more to the point, he's just a better businessman than that.

Comments

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I don't always agree with you - but this time I most certainly do. Nice point of view.

It's been a while since I've been back on the blog, and now I realize what I've missed. Great commentary! If web 2.0 was all about democratizing "xyz", then Twitter epitomizes that by giving regular people a platform to voice their opinions and to listen to others. It's an enabler for real dialogue between real people, and implementing Loic's idea would be disastrous for the spirit of Twitter.

I would like to able to filter by number of followers. Maybe not by default, but it makes sense to have the option. You could also filter by the fewest and see what that gets you.

I would like to able to filter by number of followers. Maybe not by default, but it makes sense to have the option. You could also filter by the fewest and see what that gets you.

"No one could be this nakedly egotistical and self-serving" coming from someone like you whose ego is so low, I appreciate the criticism even more.

Thank you for the compliment on Seesmic and myself, I also like you very much, thank god you are so low profile.

"It keeps the service wedded to the Silicon Valley echo chamber, which has always been one of the biggest knocks on Twitter."

Bingo.

Highlight that in bold.

*Applause*

The beauty of twitter has always been that whether you are the most ultra-popular mega-tech-star Silicon Valley ever produced, or Bob that guy from Kansas with less than 100 followers - you still only have 140 characters at a time to say something worth listening to...

Authority? Yeah, okay. That's important. Who you are, not what you say... oh wait, isn't that the whole argument that "citizen journalists" have been fighting so hard against forever?

Great post Sarah - dead on from here outside the echo chamber.

@GeekMommy

Nice rebuttal.

I've never understood the obsession with number of followers given the individual nature of it. The get-rich-quick-scheme crowd (I believe "Multi-Level Marketers" is the PC term) have glommed onto this notion too--accumulating thousands of followers as quickly as possible-- as part of their "six figures in six weeks" scams, which makes it look all the more ridiculous as a way of measuring power and influence.

As you note, many people simply use Twitter as either an asynchronous IM device to chat with their (real life) friends or as a news feed, two uses I predict will grow as more and more "regular people" come aboard Twitter.

And speaking of "regular people" - as a side note, that's what "hoi polloi" actually means - the masses, not the elite. ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hoi%20polloi )

You are very right.I don't think there is any point in having a feature like that.Although I agree with Loic on one point that "We're not equal on Twitter" but that's the beauty of twittering isn't it?.Twitter is a collage of random thoughts of random people doing random activities.This collage looks beautiful if presented in an aggregated form(which twitter does in an awesome manner) but when segregated its the same as SMSing your closest friend or a Direct MEssage.It basically nullifies the purpose of twittering.

loic: that's the point if *i* am calling someone out as egotistical, it's bad! ;)

alan: yeah, i'm an idiot. i just like how hoi polloi sounds. perhaps it was freudian since i think we are just silicon valley masses, and not elite...

Wow, I rarely agree with you Sarah but on this one I totally 100% agree.

Sick of the echo chamber of Silicon Valley and its peripherals. They just sit around thinking of ways to generate arguments to keep themselves relevant. I haven't seen much of a really THOUGHTFUL, well argued, researched piece from any of them in so long that if one of them posted one I'd keel over.

All they care about is themselves and their own page views/ followers.

Great post, I completely agree. It's ridiculous to think that the number of followers on Twitter signifies authority.

That's why I've always questioned Technorati's method of calculating authority (number of incoming links in the last 6 mos). Many of the links could very well be negative references.

As Sarah pointed out, there are several ways Twitter is being used by people that the authority theory goes right out the window. And what about subject matter experts who have recently joined Twitter but haven't built a network of followers yet?? They don't count until a mass is following them??

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