Easy way for spammers to follow more than 2,000 on Twitter (and get better results)

The 2,000 follower limit, it would seem, was put in place to prevent mass following and spam on Twitter. This was pretty frustrating for me since I fell in to their beyond-the-limit zone (I followed over 6,000 people because I loved the information, but couldn’t add any more).

I’m not complaining too much, as I’m enjoying the more traditional use of my Twitter account for now, but this is a ridiculously short-sighted fix.

I haven’t seen much attention drawn to the following facts (pun wasn’t intended):

  1. People are more likely to recipricate a follow request from someone with a low following/friend count.
  2. There isn’t a legitimate way to prevent someone from having multiple Twitter accounts (accounts are tied to email addresses).
  3. The Twitter API limits are based on account, not where the call is coming from (one server can make many requests on behalf of other accounts).

From the above simple observations, one can see the easy way to follow an unlimited number of people.

  1. Create a large number of accounts.
  2. Follow a smaller number of people with each account (you’ll have better reciprocation).
  3. Follow a lot of people (the API limitations will apply per account, so your follows-per-hour will actually be quite large).

The people running Twitter are great. They’re really trying to do the right thing. So maybe I’m completely wrong when I anticipate the above and say that this looks like a Facebook move. Facebook’s 5,000 friend limit works for Facebook. Facebook’s API is advanced and robust and complicated enough to not get terribly nailed by multi-account mass spam following.

Additionally, the information load on Facebook is different. You get a clear picture of who a person is that is friending you. You’re given enough information to make a decision. On Twitter, this isn’t the case.

So what’s going to happen?

  1. Spammers are already adapting to the limitation, as described above.
  2. Tweeple will stop trusting low follow-count users (do you trust an eBay user without feedback?)
  3. Twitter’s servers will still be inundated and over capacity.

I blame it on Scoble

Returning to “Traditional” use of Twitter

After using Twitter as my push-based latest-news system for five months, I’ve gone back to the “traditional” use of Twitter. Without IM and large follower functionality, Twitter offers no way to experience a flow of tweets.

“What have I done!?”

I’ve gone back to the traditional use of Twitter. The method more than 95% of the userbase uses it for. I now use it to stay in touch with the people I’ve met and know personally, rather than using Twitter as a medium for info aggregation. It’s not possible to use Twitter how I did in the past.

If you know my series on flow (it kicked off here), you know what I was doing and how cool it was. I got the idea partially from Robert Scoble’s entry, The Secret to Twitter. His use was brilliant and it worked amazingly well!

Back in March of ’08 I began following any interesting person I thought to be intelligent and putting out informative tweets. Primarily I found people in the software development, new media, aviation, library science, and management arenas. I ended up following 6,218 people at the high (last week). Everyone’s updates were viewed in IM and I would see an amazing flow of information.

Usually hundreds of tweets per minute, forcing me to read very quickly and get a quick read on the blogging, technology, and media areas in a short period of time. It allowed me to find articles and posts that would have filtered in slowly on RSS (arguably, if I had more than my 632 RSS feeds I’d find more information here, too).

It was great. Flip on iChat over breakfast and watch the flow while eating granola and yogurt. An ideal start to the day.

But in the last week I’ve culled over 4,000. The removed are people who don’t follow me and who I never met in real life. The chance of our interaction is very small, and if we meet I’ll follow.

I’m looking forward to having more intimate interaction with friends and followers. Focus will shift more towards FriendFeed and Google Reader (RSS).

How to build a really successful web 2.0 service on top of another service and screw it all up

Twicecream – a fake service to demonstrate a point about single sign-on…

In web 2.0 there is a determination to screw up potentially great services. It’s my number #1 pet peeve with software development these days. Here’s a fictitious example of a service you might create…

You’ve built a service that automatically Twitters your geo-position and the name of an ice cream parlor when you’re in front of it. Your phone buzzes when an ice cream parlor is detected and begins sending photos to SnapTweet and TwitPic, including Zagats ratings and commentary. Other patrons respond back and generate conversations. This is your social network: Twicecream – a social network for twittering ice cream enthusiasts.

In front of Ben & Jerry’s on the Wharf, Zagats 4-stars, pics: http://twicecream.com/abc123

Congratulations! You just failed.

You didn’t fail by creating a service few would use. You failed because you didn’t utilize the authentication mechanism your patrons preferred. You built an unnecessary barrier to your garden by requiring an unnecessary account creation. Don’t do this, it’s arrogant and inefficient.

Your patrons have Twitter accounts. Twitter has an API. Your service should have asked the patron to log in with their Twitter credentials.

This isn’t just for social networking. This goes for all web services. SaaS solutions that require secondary account creations are a bad idea. Single sign-on, whenever possible, should be used.

The whole idea is to simplify access to what the customer needs. If you’re requiring unnecessary account creations, you’re screwing it all up.

If you’re that important, they’ll find you again


On Twitter, the numbers for friends (people you follow) and followers (people who follow you) are being misreported. The most common tweet today is about one’s follower count dropping off. This is telling of your personality, and not in a good way.

If you’re complaining about your follower count dropping off without your realizing your friend count dropped too, you’ve probably only been paying attention to building numbers. You’re also describing to the world that you didn’t care about losing touch with your friends.

For the record, I first noticed my friend count dropped. Over the year or two on the service, I’ve built up a friend list of ~6200 extremely interesting people (~2100 follow me). When I saw my friend count dropped, I checked my followers to verify. My tweet was, “Wow – number of people I follow and who are following me just dropped by more than 1000 each. Not good!”

While they reboot the service and get your numbers back to normal, take a moment to consider what matters. If you’re that important, they’ll find you again.