January 2, 2009

Daniel Tunkelang idealizes Twitter

Daniel Tunkelang has a couple of recent posts decrying what amounts to, at least in his eyes, the abuse of Twitter. (My word, not his.)   For example, he writes in criticism of Loic LeMeur:

Twitter is a communication platform, not a marketing platform, and there’s a subtle difference.

But I’d disagree that there’s a bright line separating the two.  In particular, I think most business blogs serve or should serve as both, in no small part because the areas of marketing and communication overlap heavily. And in my opinion Twitter (microblogging) and ordinary blogging aren’t that far apart.

Earlier this evening I posted praise of the BI expert Twitter community — of which Daniel is indeed a member — even while admitting that unlike other members, I “follow” too many Twitterers to actually keep up with their posts.  Daniel refers to following patterns like mine as an attention Ponzi scheme, on the theory that people are following so many others in the pretense of paying attention to them, hoping to get real attention in return.

The first problem with that clever phrase is that Daniel is misusing the term “Ponzi scheme” to refer to an unrelated type of fraud. More seriously, it seems to assume that the only legitimate use of Twitter — or more precisely of following people on Twitter — is for full community engagement.  I dispute that assumption.  While I don’t follow tweetstreams in real time very often, I do occasionally dip in when I’m in the mood. And when I do, I prune my followee list for my own purposes.

I really wish the Twitter experience could be better filtered, into more manageable groups of people, topics, etc. But I’m not aware of any adequate software that does the job.  (Tweetdeck is horrific, or at least was when I regrettably tried to use it, in that you can’t temporarily close a group without losing all the entries in it forever.) In the mean time, there is a multitude of worthwhile ways to use Twitter.


12 Responses to “Daniel Tunkelang idealizes Twitter”

  1. Daniel Tunkelang on January 3rd, 2009 12:02 am

    Curt, I concede that Ponzi scheme is overstating it. There’s certainly nothing illegal about following people and then ignoring their posts. In fact, some people think it’s even the polite thing to do when someone uninteresting follows you.

    But I do think that, if we accept a social norm that “following” / “connecting” / “friending” someone doesn’t imply any actual investment of attention, then it’s no surprise that people don’t take social networks seriously.

    And there’s something absurd about people placing value on having more followers that they solicit by following in the hopes of reciprocity. Not everyone does this, but it does seem to be a widespread behavior. And a quick search suggest that I’m not the first to characterize this as a Ponzi scheme. For example, see Alan Wolk: http://tangerinetoad.blogspot.com/2008/12/great-twitter-ponzi-scheme.html

    You’re right that I’m an idealist, though I do want to clarify my ideals. I don’t object to people using Twitter for marketing, nor do I see problems with communication on Twitter being asymmetric. I just want a social network to be composed of links that have some kind of meaning. That way we can build useful applications on top of it.

  2. Roy Scribner on January 3rd, 2009 1:06 pm

    From a business standpoint, using social media tools such as Twitter or WordPress in the old broadcast-only method of MARCOM, where the “communication” element is greatly stunted or ignored altogether, completely defeats their purpose. The promise of social media is that it brings customers into the feedback loop, adding value to both the customer (service and better products) and the business (better products and loyal customers).

    There is irony in the way that some Web 2.0 experts are using Twitter like a 1970’s newspaper, or TV commercial. I am already starting to see the affects of their internalized feedback loop in the commonality of their “ideas”:

    Chris Brogan: http://tinyurl.com/7p927e
    Copyblogger: http://tinyurl.com/8mfzsl

    I’m sure if I looked hard enough, I could find another expert purporting “37 ways to…” 🙂

    Social media is still in its infancy and there will be many winners and losers. I believe the winners, though, will be the ones who use it as a communication tool, not a broadcast tool.

  3. Curt Monash on January 3rd, 2009 9:48 pm


    I freely agree with a number of your points. If one “follows” somebody on Twitter it’s usually automatic that one gets their attention once (when they check out your profile after the follow notice). So it’s very tempting to follow people who one thinks or hopes will be interested in what they see of one’s tweetstream, just to get that attention. And of course this can be done in ways that are:


    and any combination or variant of the above.

  4. Curt Monash on January 3rd, 2009 9:49 pm


    When you say that certain uses of social networking technologies completely defeat “their” purpose, what you (should) really mean is that they defeat certain purposes, or the best possible purposes, or some other modified characterization like that.

    A great frustration in my consulting to vendors is that they’ve been intimidated into thinking that if they don’t follow all the rules and customs, they shouldn’t bother with blogs and other social media at all. And that’s just wrong.


  5. William Strunk on January 4th, 2009 10:43 am


    I am not surprised you disagree there should be a bright line. Your entire blog rests on the premise that most people won’t take the time to figure out that most of what you write about relates to the specific vendors that pay you. If you placed asterisks on your web site next to the vendors that pay you or you included an explicit re-statement at the end of each article that mentions a paying vendor then I would think your blog is legitimate. As it is now…I see a paid shill — and it is a shame that blogging has degenerated into that so quickly.

  6. Curt Monash on January 5th, 2009 2:21 am


    And if you didn’t use a pseudonym — even a cleverly chosen one — to attack my integrity, I might think your comment was legitimate.

    Or maybe not. I post customer lists, after all. While not perfectly comprehensive, they put me way ahead in disclosure versus just about any other participant in the industry.

  7. Gareth Horton on January 5th, 2009 2:25 pm

    I am perplexed by the desire by many to define a right way and wrong way of doing things.

    It is down to the individual to extract the benefit of products and services in the way that they deem fit.

    Even though at first glance, I operate a more selective following behavior than Curt does, when one drills down, the explanation is less obvious than at first glance.

    Curt is correct to say that the approach I use is more selective and I try to read as much of everyones stream as I can. However, I have a different issue with Tweetdeck, in that it does not retain tweets for a long enough period to read everything, when I get a decent block of time.

    I have used Twitter for a shorter time and have invested less time in trying to find people who may have interesting things to say about the industry, interesting things to say, or are just interesting.

    I do operate the politeness policy that if someone follows me, I will usually follow them back. This give them the ability to DM me if they so wish.

    Over time, this will likely lead to following a large number of folks, but I will deal with that via filtering, or sporadic purges. Although for some reason I would find it difficult to unfollow people, unless they were truly annoying. Maybe it’s an artifact of British politeness.

    It is great to be able to connect with people with whom I share something, even if that’s not what we’re discussing. I have no BI folks as neighbours, no BI coffee mornings in the area, in fact, most of them are in a different continent.

    Even if there is absolutely no business benefit in interacting with your peers (which there often is, in some form or another) then the social interaction that is lacking in the physical world is bolstered here. With many BI folk working from home, there’s not much opportunity for corridor chat with colleagues and Twitter allows you to vector quickly to those who have their door open, metaphorically – even if it’s not talking shop.

    Some might say that very few people would use twitter for this purpose, or I’m doing it wrong, but does it really matter?

    The mention of winners and losers in the comments above is at odds with my way of thinking. I have already won, since I’ve had some amusing and enlightening exchanges with people. In order to lose, that simply means a cessation – everyone ignores me or people I like to interact with stop using twitter. The only winners and losers I can see are those that somehow rely on attention for a paycheck. I don’t have to worry about that and I contend that very few really do.

  8. Daniel Tunkelang on January 7th, 2009 9:41 am

    Curt hardly needs me to defend his integrity, but I can assure you that my employer, a vendor in the space he covers, didn’t pay him to drop my name. Nor do I think any of my employer’s competitors paid him to criticize me. His coverage may favor his clients, but he’s right that disclosing who they are does put him way ahead of the curve. That’s why I feel comfortable citing his analysis on my own blog even though he doesn’t include my employer in it:


    It would be great if analysts were strictly beholden to the consumers of their analysis didn’t depend on vendors to “pay the mortgage”, as Nick Naylor said in “Thank You for Smoking”. Lynda Moulton from the Gilbane Group recently wrote an interesting post on the subject:


    In any case, while I am pretty cynical about the analyst space as a whole, Curt is one of the good guys. And I agree with him that “William Strunk” would be a more credible critic if he didn’t hide behind a mask of anonymity.

  9. Daniel Tunkelang on January 7th, 2009 9:43 am

    Curt, you’re right about the one-time shot at attention by following someone, and I’ll confess I did that myself in my early days on Twitter. I’ve since learned a much better way to achieve the same goal: simply write a message to that person. Anyone who doesn’t bother reading their @replies is unlikely to actually pay attention to you.

  10. Curt Monash on January 7th, 2009 10:47 am

    Thanks, Daniel. 🙂

    To be even clearer — Endeca is not and never has been a client of mine. And while I would welcome them as clients in the future, I feel a bit jerked around by past discussions on the subject and am taking no active steps to try to win them over.

  11. MMX on February 5th, 2009 3:32 pm

    I recently had an argument with a friend who works in “traditional” media. He suggested that most of Twitter posts simply repeat stories from traditional media, hence, it is redundant, as a medium. I would like to hear people’s opinion on Twitter as an alternative to mainstream “traditional” media. Please take my poll http://tinyurl.com/amyznq

    So that you know: I myself believe that Twitter is a new medium because it comprises both mainstream and personal stories…

  12. Go TunkRank! on April 7th, 2010 8:49 pm

    […] excited that an idea I came up with on a whim (or perhaps out of excessive idealism) has taken such a life of its own. And hey, I do work for a company that is into real-time search […]

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