Sheep throwing on Twitter, redux

April 17, 2009
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UPDATE: Edited to reflect the fact that Luca is not the developer of buytter.com

UPDATE 4/26/2009: Since posting this, it’s interesting to note that “how to block buytter” is among the top incoming Google searches sending users to Mr Blog – so apparently I’m not the only one considering these questions.

Yesterday, I spoke briefly about Tweefight, an App/Game that effects tweets that look a lot like the kind we often see on Facebook:

I just won a fight against @mrblog on Tweefight. I won! Do you want to fight? Try now …

Of course Tweefight was not the end, but the beginning. Today we find buytter.com where you can “purchase” your Twitter friends – sound familiar?

filos bought @mrblog for $ 200 http://buytter.com/filos

This led to a discussion about the implications of such applications. As I’ve noted before, Facebook, apps operate in the Facebook “walled garden” and, as a result, Facebook can offer users the option to “Block this application” (to opt-out) to avoid messages of the type above from appearing in their stream (what Facebook calls the “news feed”).

In the case of Twitter, because it is a mostly a “Stupid Network” (the good kind) Twitter doesn’t know which messages are bots or app-induced and which are genuine hand-crafted works of human imagination, so there is no “Block this Application” option.

I suggested that we should define a convention whereby app-generated messages like those above should be flagged with a hash tag (such as #fromapp or similar). Luca (developer of Tweefight) argues that Twitter should automatically handle such “app messages”:

“if a service opens the web twitter interface pre-filling it, twitter should add a tag”

As I said the other day, this might be a slippery slope. (To be fair, Luca is really proposing a Twitter UI (end applciation) change, not really a “network” change, so perhaps it’s not that risky.)

Anyway, these apps raise some serious questions for Twitter.  Let me explain why these app messages received so much attention from me.

At one time, I didn’t expect to do much with Twitter.  Now it has evolved into one of my high-attention-demanding data streams.  Let me explain.  What I mean is sort of a combination of “attention worthy” and “pain” (or scarcity). By that metric, Twitter is also a “high-cost” network. Email is lower cost – it doesn’t demand as much attention in terms of being an interruption – email can be done time-shifted. At the other end of the high-attention-demanding spectrum is a ringing telephone. Not only does it have to be dealt with in real-time, immediately, but it also is an interruption – I have to stop what I was doing to deal with it. This means an incoming phone call better be worth my time – my attention is the scare resource here, not the dollar-value cost of the call.

At first, Twitter was pretty low on this scale – and I didn’t expect it to move up. I was wrong (not the first time, and won’t be the last). Over time, I’ve tweaked and tuned my Twitter setup, trimmed who I follow, device settings, etc. such that Goldilocks would be proud – it’s “just right”. I even set things up so Twitter hooks into one of my more precious (high-attention-demanding) channels: SMS. I receive direct messages on my mobile.  I also have scripts in place so I receive @mrblog mentions via SMS too.  This has been “just right” – that is until yesterday, when I started receiving Facebook-App-like drivel messages like those above on my cell phone. It’s not fun being interrupted by an annoying SMS tone because someone threw a shoe at you.  Suddenly my “just right” Twitter data flow became “too hot”.

So just as Twitter was getting useful, and I could trust it with high-attention-demanding respect, blam! Now I have to rethink all that. This is why the Tweefight and buytter apps are important. Such apps have the potential to change Twitter in very fundamental ways. For me, this happened within a few SMS messages, but for others it will happen too, eventually, one way or another – and they may not even realize it – they will just never use Twitter in a more “attention-demanding” mode, thus changing the value, if not the very nature, of Twitter.

Today, Twitter holds something over on Facebook. Twitter has access to my SMS channel. There’s no way I’d let Facebook send me SMS text messages – they’ve already proven they’re not worthy (changing the value of the Facebook news feed). So Twitter’s stream today is higher value than Facebook’s.  But that can change, and apps like Tweefight and buytter provide an example of a possible shift in direction of the Twitter user profile. For some people, this maybe increases their value of the Twitter info stream – I’m not one of those people.

Where Twitter goes from here is really up to all of us.

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3 Responses to Sheep throwing on Twitter, redux

  1. April 18, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Thoughtful post David. Just one thing: we are not the developers of buytter. I was just trying that and bought you to let you know it behaved just like Tweefight.

  2. April 23, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks Luca for the clarification.

    I’ve updated the post to reflect this.

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