Not By The Numbers


As I begin to gingerly shake the dust of App.net off my sandals1, I’ve been thinking more about what I like about Twitter. I’ve been on a bunch of social networks, but Twitter is the only one that’s really stuck.

My departure from Facebook was just long enough ago that I had to reread my earlier post to find out why exactly I ditched it. I know why I left Google+ (duh) and of course I recently documented my farewell to App.net.

But why is Twitter still standing?

I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but I can see a turning point in the way I approached Twitter where it started getting a lot more fun. When I first got an account I used it pretty much the way most people do. I had a couple of people that I knew, and the rest of those I followed were, y’know, famous.

Which is, it turns out, a really, really boring way to use Twitter. You either tweet at them or you don’t, but either way you’re not having a lot of conversations.

Twitter without conversations is like a vegetarian steak sandwich. You’re left bellowing into the void in hope that someone will hear and kindly grant you some paltry recognition.

Eventually, gradually, that changed for me, and it all boiled down to a simple recognition:

The number of people that follow someone is a useless metric when determining how interesting, relevant or legitimate their opinion is.

This sounds pretty banal when you write it down, but it took me a long time to internalize it.

Understanding this made Twitter better for me in two ways.

Even normal people can be interesting

I stopped trying to interact with people with lots of followers. Instead, I began to see that almost everyone had interesting things to say about something. Of course, there are reasons why some people only have 12 followers. But there are a lot of smart people out there who don’t have thousands of followers, and a lot of dumb ones who have millions. So I began engaging with anyone, deliberately ignoring the vanity metrics. You might think Past Me sounds like a bit of a status-obsessed ass. I don’t think I was that unique though. Tell me ‘number of followers’ isn’t a default building block in the opinion you form of someone new on Twitter. We can’t help it!

Strong, independent woman

More importantly, the way I felt about the stuff I posted changed. The corollary to considering follower count as a metric of value was, for me, that I actually didn’t consider my own opinion as very important. A kind of online inferiority complex.

I stopped holding back from contributing to conversations so much. I stopped thinking quite so carefully about each tweet. I started enjoying it. I started making friends.

If you’re someone with a paltry amount of Twitter followers who’s reading this, I want to encourage you to embrace this mindset. Your opinion is valid. Stop kissing famous butts and start looking for real people to talk to. You won’t regret it.


  1. I have to be honest and say that I still sneak back a couple of times a day. There are some people on there I’d be sad to see the back of.