FollowFriday is a wonderful way to get introduced to new people. Unfortunately, its benefits are being undermined. If you’ve experienced problems on FollowFridays, read on…
Follow Friday (#followfriday) was started by Micah Baldwin (@micah) in January 2009 as a way for Twitter users to recommend people who they enjoy following to their own followers. As is typical of good Social Media memes, FollowFriday immediately went “viral” and became a global phenomenon.
I personally love the idea of FollowFriday. It is a testament to the true spirit of Social Media; people using its various tools to connect with (or in this case, to recommend) other people. Unfortunately, through naiveté, simple ignorance and/or intentional abuse, FollowFriday may be on the verge of becoming more of a nuisance then a benefit.
“The best-laid Tweets of mice and men often go awry”*
From humble beginnings in a single tweet by Micah, FollowFriday has become a surprising phenomenon. “All I did was send the first tweet,” said Micah in an interview with this author, “It was from there that things took on a life of their own.”
Today, FollowFriday is the longest lived hash tag on Twitter to date; and it shows no signs of abating. On Friday, April 17 (the last Friday before I wrote this post), approximately 140,000 tweets carried the FollowFriday hash tag.
But, as the FollowFriday meme continues to spread, there have been some unintended side effects. This should come as no surprise. Both the Internet and Twitter are young and in a constant state of change as people find new things to do and new ways to do them. Unfortunately, not all of these changes are positive and FollowFriday is no exception.
“Aye! It was that accursed white whale that razed me”*
To be sure, the luster of FollowFriday is showing some tarnish along the edges, and in some ways it’s being outright abused. Complaints and frustration with the meme have risen significantly in recent weeks. While many of the complaints are due to people being placed in an awkward position for not recommending followers, others consider it a growing nuisance (a TwitterSearch for the phrase “hate followfriday” is informative). Meanwhile, others such as Grant McDonald (@chichiri) and Kay Ballard (@KayBallard) have been more reflective and have published The Follow Friday Manifesto.
Regardless of cause, the unifying theme for a growing number of people is that FollowFriday no longer works as intended. While the causes are varied, I have identified the following characteristics of FollowFriday that are symptomatic of the growing problem.
- Blind Recommendations
Tweets with recommendations, but with no other information provided to help users decide whether or not to follow. Blind Recommendations are actually a disservice to both those being recommended and those to whom the recommendation are intended because no effort is made to explain why this person is worth following. The merit of the recommendation is based solely on the reputation of the tweeter.
- Packed Recommendations
Tweets filled with strings of usernames and little or no accompanying information. Packed recommendations are a disservice because they are usually “Blind” and are often randomly grouped with other followers with whom there is no mutual affiliation.
- Clustered Recommendations
Large groups of recommendation tweets sent in very close proximity to each other. They are a disservice for two reasons:
- The recommendations are usually both “Blind” and “Packed” and are randomly thrown together with little or no thought or pattern, thus a recommended user can get lost among the flood of other names.
- These tweets can fill and overwhelm a user’s tweet-stream to the point that other, often more important tweets, are quickly bumped from the user’s screen, thus essentially eliminating them.
- Pretender Recommendations
A combination of the preceding tweet forms, but one where a user tries to gain new followers by making as many “recommendations” as possible. How it works:
- The Pretender builds or obtains a list of often random users whom they are not following (hence “pretending” to follow) or who is not following them back.
- The Pretender then tweet the names of those users in the hope that those people will see their names, assume that the Pretender is following them, then reciprocate and follow back.
It works because the Pretender takes advantage of the fact that there is no easy mechanism for users to check to see if those who recommend them are actually following. It’s a disservice not only for all of the above reasons, but because the Pretenders are dishonest, interested only in inflating their own follower numbers by “gaming” the system and not about making legitimate recommendations or building relationships.
- Automated Recommendations
I have heard rumors (unconfirmed) that that there are scripts available that will automate the Pretender process. These scripts determine who you are following but who is not following you back and automatically sends tweets packed with those user names. Within a few days, the scripts may also unfollow to keep their user’s following numbers down (if you know of this practice, please @ me. I’d be interested in getting confirmation).
- Recommendation Rings
Micah has reported seeing “Rings,” groups of people who all recommend each other to their respective follower-base in an attempt to share the combined base among the entire group, thus building up the group member’s follower numbers.
- Tweet Spam & Tweet Phishing
As we all (should) know, Spammers have entered the Twitterverse and are testing the waters trying to figure out ways to attract users. Their goal is obvious; to get money by either selling you their products, driving you to websites to drive ad revenue, steal your identity or to infect your computer with malware. While Twitter is doing a better job these days of combating these parasites, it’s an uphill battle. If you suspect a spammer or want to report suspicious behavior, send a DM to @spam.
“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of peeps suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced”*
At this point, the genie’s out of the bottle and FollowFriday may be so engrained into the fabric of Twitter that it has effectively become Twitter’s first true tradition. In fact, the only thing that could probably put a stop to it would most likely destroy Twitter itself.
That’s not to say that as permanent a feature as FollowFriday may seem to be, that it still cannot self destruct. At the current rate, abuses such as the recent Wily worm outbreak suggest that something might just be ready to break anyway. But until then, we at least have a chance to get some solutions in place that will help users gain a little more control over how FollowFriday affects their tweeting.
While there are several sites that analyze various FollowFriday statistics, such as Micah’s own followfridays.com, topfollowfriday.com and boxuk.com’s FollowFriday tool, I’ve only found one site dedicated solution that that can actually help users manage their FollowFriday tweets. That site, The Twitter Tag Project, offers a tool that will scan your last 200 tweets and list your most active friends for you to recommend. Unfortunately, this tool publishes tweets using the “Packed” format which, as previously mentioned, is the source of at least some of FollowFriday’s problems.
“We could channel lightning into the flux capacitor and send you Back To The Future!”*
So where does this leave us? Twitter could, and should, add a few new tools to their arsenal to help us manage these and other problems. However, it will most likely fall to one of the third party developers, maybe even The Twitter Task Project. Whoever does take on this task can start with the following features:
- A mechanism not unlike Favorites to select candidates for recommendation.
- A tool to rank, organize and select candidates for recommendation and to build useful tweets.
- Tracking and other metrics to evaluate both the success of a recommendation you make and for recommendations made by others.
- An easy to use interface that allows you to manage all of the above.
However, until such tools become available, there are still a few things you can do to make your Fridays more pleasurable for everyone. Remember, this is a community-wide effort (if you have an idea on how to manage FollowFriday, please let me know in Comments):
- Ignore FollowFriday altogether (yeah, didn’t think so).
- Unfollow those who abuse FollowFridays.
- Limit your recommendations to only the absolute best people.
- Explain why you recommend someone.
- Spread your tweets throughout the day using a scheduling service like Tweetlater, Futuretweet or Hootsuite.
- If making multiple recommendations, groups them into logical categories.
- If making multiple tweets, only send them in small groups.
“Let’s play Global Thermonuclear War”*
If you absolutely cannot deal with the sheer numbers of FollowFriday recommendations, then short of not tweeting on Friday, I can only suggest the Nuclear Option. This will remove all FollowFriday recommendations from your tweet-stream while allowing you to still see people recommending you. Just follow these easy steps:
- Install Tweetdeck (I have not tried this on other clients, but it will work on Tweetdeck).
- Every Friday, set a filter in your primary tweet column to exclude the “#followfriday” hash tag (be sure to use the full hash tag phrase as shown or all mentions of FollowFriday, such as this post, which do not use hash tag will also be filtered from your stream).
- Set up another Search column to search for your twitter name. This way if someone does recommend you, you will see it.
As Micah told me, “I think it’s important to note that a vast majority of people still use it correctly,” and this is a good thing.
Clearly Micah, and most people who participate in FollowFriday, have good intensions. I myself enjoy making recommendations and have met many amazing people through the process. While I may not be the most active recommender, I do feel more than a little guilty when a Friday passes and I have not recommended anyone. But regardless of my own participation, I believe that we are all better off for Micah’s contribution and owe him our gratitude. Hopefully, the tools to make the most of all our FollowFridays will soon become available.
*Source of Quotes (in order)
- Apologies to Robert Burns
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick
- Apologies to Obi-wan Kenobi
- Dr. Brown, Back to the Future, Universal Pictures (1985)