I want to share my experience of having a Twitter account with over 75,000 followers and how it changes the Twitter experience for the better. I am always amazed by the fascinatingly brilliant people that I meet each day on the system because my account reaches so many people and they respond back. I am grateful in many ways to all to the people I have met and those that have shared their tips and brilliance with me over the past 18 months.
Breaking 1,000 Bad
I believe I began using Twitter in April, 2010 when a friend of mine mentioned it to me and like everyone else I started with zero followers. For the first 6 months, I fumbled around the Twitterverse trying to discover what there was to do and learn. Most of what I was doing was just tweeting my own updates, learning Twitter tool operation, and posting thoughts with little regard to engaging in conversations. When my account was under 1,000 people, it was fairly simple to keep track of people through the time line, but the time line was slow due of the low number of people who were on the system at any given time. When I was logging in, many other people had already logged out so there was little interaction. Most communications were not long dialogs, probably because of the 140 character limit, and would complete in under a dozen exchanges. After all, we are all busy doing things and that constrains the amount of time we can devote to Twitter exchanges. I think one of the biggest misconceptions I see at this level is understanding what it means to be or have a Twitter follower. Fundamentally, I think the name 'follower' invokes the wrong impression of what Twitter has become and what it is for the vast majority of the 199 million users.
I understand that initially Twitter was built as a 2 level content publisher and content receivers model. The perception was that publishers, like celebrities and politicians, would create a tweet that would be seen by their many receivers or 'followers'. This model is a one-way communications system like watching a TV, a concert, or a sport event, where the followers who subscribe to the information are just consuming it. This is a different than communications model than where there's a 50/50 split in communication exchanges like on the telephone. Today, although users do follow content publishers, they also interact with many other individuals and produce their own version of content. The type of communications is a conversation rather than a strict publisher/reviver model. Thus whereas the term 'followers' implies a sort of sub-servant relationship, its now really about the people one interacts with on the system. As the number of users increase, usage of the Twitter system is naturally evolving into a social network. I have seen it tweeted many times that "FaceBook is the system for people you know and Twitter is the system for people you want to know (and no one uses MySpace)".
There is no requirement for a 50/50 level of communication on Twitter, To me, Twitter is simply a way to express myself and if people enjoy a tweet they have multiple response options. They can do nothing, favorite or 'star' a tweet, retweet it, or communicate with me about it and we can share a common laugh or shrug. Even if nothing happens, I still had enjoyment in creating the tweet so Twitter has served its purpose to me and even better if it brings a smile to another. Although I have seen times where 90% of an audience is just browsing and consuming timeline information, it also means there is interaction amongst the other 10 percent who may not be a celebrity or a politician. Thus as accounts grow larger, you begin to have more interactions. I saw my Twitter account becoming much more interactive once the number of followers got past 5,000. This was a level of critical mass for me for being able to hold more conversations and exchanges. It also allows you to meet more people when you are communicating with more people.
Breaking 5,000 Bad
As the account grew past 5,000 , though it became much more difficult to manage getting information from the time line due to the large number of messages in the stream. Many times, I would need to go to look at the timeline of an individual to see what they were tweeting about. I used DMs for short messaging as it became primarily a source of SPAM. Today, using lists simplifies reading tweets of groups of users.
I began grouping people into a collection of lists that would represent some form of commonality. With a list I can easily check what is going on and scroll through it. A list also provides a way to get user names that I want to send a message.
In those days, I used to use the favorite feature as a bookmark of tweets I wanted to keep for later.
Breaking 75,000 Bad
Today my timeline is completely over run with a new message each second. I still periodically look at it from time to time to see what I spot, and I do respond, but in general I primarily communicate through the Mention stream ( messages starting with or containing @TwiterHero) and through my lists with people. As lists are limited to 500 users, not all of my lists are active all the time and I can scroll to see past tweets. Communicating with the Mentions stream, though, can sometimes be challenging.
During very active sessions I can get over 12 messages a minute on the Mentions stream on my timeline. I can usually keep up at this rate, but the system limits me in seeing only the last few hours of messages on a daily basis. Normally, though, its only a few sporadic messages every 10 seconds which keeps things popping. Also, as reliable as I would like the service to be, I have seen where messages do not always arrive. Thus, if you wish to send someone a message you want a response on, send it again if you do not hear from them after a period of time. The lack of response may be due to not having gotten the tweet.
My DM stream also still has plenty of SPAM messages, so although I periodically check it for familiar names, I do not actively use it.
Sending out messages is also a concern at this level to avoid Twitter jail. It is very easy to send out too many individual messages which can result in a Twitter jail timeout. If I disappear it is likely due to being stuck in Twitter jail.
I would say the number of meaningful communications increases as an account grows, Having a larger account means that you have more opportunities to meet and communicate with others. Its all a game of numbers.
Breaking Bigger Bad
So I hope you can see that expanding your account gives you more opportunities to meet and communicate with interesting people from all over the World. As my account has grown I have found more enjoyment in its use. I do not expect too much to change as my account grows as there is a corresponding loss of active people over time on Twitter that will offset the growth. . The addition and loss of active tweeters, along with the 10% active user ratio I have seen should keep the account at a manageable level for some time to come.
In many ways I view Twitter as the epic win over other legacy systems such as AOL IM, Yahoo, and MSN since Twitter offers an open interface that does not require a custom client or have as many system limitations as legacy systems. As legacy providers were fighting over interoperability of custom programs and protocols, the Twitter launch provided an open web based interface accessible to all. People enjoy Twitter for various reasons, and to me what matters most is determining how you can best enjoy your own usage of the system.