Nearly a million users, and no spam or trolls


I was going to write some thoughts about Twitter last night, but got sidetracked by a Halo 3 session at Diego's house, only to wake up this morning and see that Howard just happened to put his thoughts about it out there today as well. Nice, but he and everyone else seem to be missing a core - and maybe the most important - feature of Twitter: No spam or trolls.

Think about any other online community system ever created - from Usenet to The WELL, IRC to Slashdot to Digg. All of them have had to deal with the core problem of idiots on the Internet. Slashdot's extended karma system, or IRCs multiple moderation commands, Digg's diggs, etc. are all about filtering out the assholes. It's a fact - anytime a virtual group gets to a certain size, the morons come and start doing their best to disrupt, defraud or degrade the audience.

Twitter, however, has almost a million members, a thriving community, lots of discussions and yet doesn't have spam or troll issues. If you step back for a second and think about it, that's pretty amazing.

Miker actually turned me on to this concept the other day while we were talking about community features for Mowser. The asymmetry of the friending process isn't just a convenience, it's core to Twitter's ability to keep conversations spam and troll free. Of course, right? You only follow the people you want to listen to, just like I subscribe only to those blogs I want to read. But the inverse of that is I only get to say stuff to the people who are following me - which means that if I am an idiot, I only get to bother those people who are stupid enough to follow me. The effect is sort of a decentralized moderation system.

You might think that means that everyone is sort of siloed off into their own echo chambers and that no one would ever seen anything new or follow anyone outside their little cliques. Well, if you never used Twitter (as really hadn't before a few weeks ago) you might think that was the case. But what really happens is that the @user replies (added in by users after Twitter launched, and then incorporated into the system) is not only a way to mark messages as meant for a specific person, but they also form the basis of a basic recommendation system. If someone I'm following responds to someone else I'm not following, I may go check out their tweets and decide to follow them. If I see their name from a few other people, then I know that person is probably someone I should definitely follow.

Slowly over time, as you are responded to by your contacts, others will follow you as well, and your "voice" becomes heard by wider group of people. It's a microcosm of how blogging works, actually (which makes perfect sense for a microblogging service). And if you think about it, it's actually more akin to how a group of people in a town hall might act in person as well... Some people might think, "Shhh! Russell is speaking!" and others might think, "Oh, god that asshole Russell is on his soapbox again..." but if enough other people are listening, you might still pay attention. Anyways, I've digressed off into the social structure of groups, to which I have little if any real understanding, but it's still interesting to see.

What's for sure is that I can follow and friend hundreds or even thousands of people chatting on Twitter, and I don't have to worry about getting any suggestions that my penis size is too small (I make a point not to follow ex-wives/girlfriends), get any anonymous stock tips, nor anyone telling me that now is the time to refinance my home. Nor do I have to suffer fools or jerks for more than the time it takes me to click the "Remove" button on their home page.

Again, I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty astounding.


Update 02/25:

It looks from the comments that there *is* a way to spam via Twitter's friend requests - with some trolls or bots adding and re-adding people over and over again. I have to admit I turned off new friend alerts pretty much on day one, because I hate getting automated emails for just about anything, so I didn't notice.

However, my main point remains: Unless you actually follow those malicious users, you won't get unwanted messages in your IM or on your phone, etc. (Those messages that might seem like spam from the A-listers promoting this or that, aren't spam - you gave them permission).

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