Rexplanation: How I decide who to follow on Twitter

[Note: This post is a Rexplanation.]

Recently, I followed someone on Twitter who, upon being notified of my follow, responded to me with a tweeted reply: I’m curious: Why did you decide to follow me?

As the 12 regular readers of this blog know, I have written way too much about Twitter over the years. However, an upside to that way-to-much writing is the ability to dig out and send people who ask me such questions a link to an old post like this one from 2009. It was written to explain why I unfollowed about 1,300 people I had followed (primarily, because they followed me) and began a new method for deciding who to follow.

Re-reading that post, I think the reasons are still sound for my explanation then of why I follow, and unfollow, people on Twitter. However, as Twitter has added more “people curation” features and more people tweet, I’ve decided to write this post to update the topic.

In another post, I might explain some of those features (like how it’s not necessary to actually follow someone to track what they are saying on Twitter), but to keep this post from going way too long, I’m going to limit it to the topic of describing the kind of people I overtly follow on Twitter — the ones who appear if you click on the  Following link on my Twitter account page at

I follow:

  • People who tweet regularly and insightfully about a topic in which I’m interested. Typically, these topics will include: media (especially magazines and new media), technology or humor (especially ad-libbed commentary regarding breaking news).
  • People who have links in at least 33% of their public tweets. (I am using the term public tweets to describe those that aren’t a reply to someone.)
  • People from Nashville. I follow many people from Nashville who I don’t actually know. I do so because they serve as an “emergency radar system” and they tend to support the same sports teams I follow. I follow them overtly so they can direct-message (DM) me. I have DMs set up to come to me via text-message.
  • People I know — maybe not personally, but I know who they are. (However, I’m continuously amazed to discover someone I know tweets regularly, but somehow I’ve missed following them. If you are someone I know, but I don’t follow you, email me — I have all the Twitter notifications turned off, so I have no idea who actually follows me.)
  • People I’m intrigued with for reasons I can’t quite explain — as in, they’re a train wreck waiting to happen. (I find these are the people I unfollow most quickly, also.)
  • People who have re-tweeted or favorited a tweet of mine, causing me to glance at their profile where I typically discover we share a common interest — thus, they re-tweeted something I may have said.
  • People who have an avatar on their account and not the egg default avatar. Unless, say, they are my brother.
  • People who have written enough of the “bio” field to make me know they are who I think they are.
  • People who have blogged for a long time, or who used to blog but don’t anymore.
  • Funny people. But not a lot of funny people, because I like to tweet funny things and I don’t want to read something funny someone else wrote that I was thinking about tweeting.

I feel certain that this list is not complete, so, like other Rexplanations, I reserve the right to tweak it (and tweet it) later.

And then, as I’ll explain later, there is this irony: The more people you follow, the less likely you are to be able to keep up with what any one person you follow has to say. This is both a technical and human bandwidth issue. You can address the challenge with becoming a power-user of Twitter Lists. But that requires another Rexplanation, so I’ll stop here.

PS. If you want to follow me on Twitter, you have several flavors:

@R – My personal Twitter account
@HammockInc – Several people tweet here, but I sometimes add something
@SmallBusiness – Where I curate a few links a day of news about small business
@TitansRex – Where you’ll find me during an away-game of my favorite team
@RexSpammock – Where I try to understand what retailers are attempting to do to get people to tweet about them in exchange for incentives

Rexplanation: The internet isn’t just technology. It’s a place and people.

Partial map of the Internet based on 1/15/2005 data.

[Note: This post is a Rexplanation.]

In my opinion, there are two ways people understand the internet.

The first way is to understand the internet as something to use.

The second way is to think of the internet as something you not only use, but something people are and a place people live and work.

Those who use the internet understand it with metaphors related to legacy media and channels of communication or different types of utility and tools. To them, the internet is about reading, viewing, listening, looking-up, sharing, calling, sending, buying. Even those who use the internet’s tools of social media still think of it in terms of legacy metaphors: friends, following, hanging out, chatting.

Those who’ve reached the understanding that they are the internet are similar to those who have reached an understanding that any organization or institution is both a structure and a collection of people. It’s the same dynamic that enables the Supreme Court to rule that corporations are people. Special interests describe their special interest as people (I’m the NRA– well, not actually me, but those guys holding the gun are). Cities are streets and buildings, but cities are also people (after the May, 2010, flood, in my hometown we used the slogan, “We are Nashville” to declare our can-do spirit). In the New Testament, the greek word ekklesia that we translate into the word church refers to an assemblage of people who are “called together” — in other words, a church is people, like the internet is people.

So, viewing the internet as more than something to use, but as people and place is not a radical concept — indeed, it should be a rather simple concept to grasp.

Yet some very smart people just don’t seem to get it.

One of my favorite very smart people to use as a punchline for not getting it is Malcom Gladwell who plays school marm whenever he explains the internet as only a user could.

The recent SOPA/PIPA battle demonstrated the divide between those who understand the internet as people and those who perceive it as technology. Earlier this month, I wrote about visiting my congressman regarding SOPA and suggested then (before the legislation cracked under the pressure) that the internet had not yet demonstrated what could happen if it brought its power to the debate. It was clear to me that those who backed SOPA understood the internet as being “technology” used by people — and not as a place that people inhabit. That was their downfall.

A few days later, in a comment thread on Dave Winer’s blog, I wrote, “The tech blogosphere is filled with people who have broken through some barrier of comprehension one needs to experience the internet as a place, as well as a platform for all sorts of media and utility. So much of politics — at least at the traditional activist level and the way the US representative system is set up — is tied to an understanding of place in exclusively geographic terms. While traditional media and the political blogosphere is focused on what’s happening in some county in northern New Hampshire, the tech-blogosphere is wondering how lawmakers can be so clueless in understanding the ramifications of the entertainment industry’s power grab through SOPA — a global issue. I remember Tip O’Neill’s line, “All politics are local.” But for those of us who live on the internet, I’m not sure I know what local is anymore.”

Today, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about a similar disconnect in the understanding politicians have of place, compared to how businesses view it — and I would argue, the way that people who understand the internet as a collection of people view it:

“Politicians see the world as blocs of voters living in specific geographies — and they see their job as maximizing the economic benefits for the voters in their geography. Many C.E.O.’s, though, increasingly see the world as a place where their products can be made anywhere through global supply chains (often assembled with nonunion-protected labor) and sold everywhere. These C.E.O.’s rarely talk about “outsourcing” these days. Their world is now so integrated that there is no “out” and no “in” anymore. In their businesses, every product and many services now are imagined, designed, marketed and built through global supply chains that seek to access the best quality talent at the lowest cost, wherever it exists. They see more and more of their products today as “Made in the World” not “Made in America.” Therein lies the tension. So many of “our” companies actually see themselves now as citizens of the world. But Obama is president of the United States.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ready declare some New World Order exists because Al Gore invented the internet because the Trilateral Commission put him up to it.

However, it seems clear to me that it is time to start seeing the internet for what it is — and that’s lots more than a platform and technology.

Introducing a new type of RexBlog post: Rexplanations

For a long time, as a service to the 12 readers of this blog, I’ve wanted to start using the label “Explanation” on certain types of expository RexBlog posts. That way, I can refer back to them whenever that topic recurs. So I created what WordPress calls a “category” and thought to myself, “hey, you’re a branding kind of guy,” so I changed the category name to “Rexplanation” and slapped together the accompanying graphic. This is my first officially labeled Rexplanation as I needed a post to explain what they are. By the way, I have an even better idea for organizing such contextual content (note to self: do a Rexplanation for the term “contextual content”) but it’s called “a wiki” and I’ve got too many projects happening now to tackle that one. If you’d like to see a list of Rexplanations, you can find one at the URL, (Note to people who read this when I first post it: There won’t be a list at that category link, as this is the first and only post I will have written using that category tag.)

The History of Media: Brands have been Publishers Since the 19th Century

furrow magazine[Note: This post is a Rexplanation.]

Feel free to read-along, but this post was written especially for my blog and Twitter friend, Mathew Ingram, who posted an article on Gigaom this afternoon with the subject line, “The Future of Media: Brands are Publishers Now Too.”

First, let me share something I heard a long time ago from Doc Searls. He was talking about blogs when he said it, but I say it often about the kinds of magazines your post suggests you think are something new. “There are magazines that are a business model, and there are magazines that support a business model.” For some reason, people who work for companies that have a media business model can’t seem to grasp that notion, even though it’s been true for, well, at least since 1895.

Companies have published such “non-media-business-model” magazines — real magazines with real editors and real journalists and designers, packed with great stories and art and not, as you describe them, “filled with canned marketing messages” since the 19th century. As this blog has about ten years worth of posts linking to articles where reporters declare such publishing “new” and I’ve been been helping companies publish magazines “not filled with canned marketing messages” for over two decades, I’ve got some old links to share with you, Matt.

But first off, let me declare from observing two decades of successful and unsuccessful media created for and by corporate brands: I can assure you that any publishing that is filled with canned marketing messages won’t last for one year, much less 115+ years, as John Deere’s “The Furrow” has. It started in 1895 and now is published worldwide for over a million farmers in 12 languages and in 40 countries.

At the other extreme, content-wise, I can also assure you that Colors Magazine has gone so far out of its way not to be filled with canned marketing messages, I doubt it’s ever mentioned who its publisher is (so I won’t either, as if I need to.)

And come to think of it, this blog has led to lots of business for my company, but posts like this are the closest it ever comes to being filled with canned marketing messages.

Here’s a link to a post on this blog that is nearly nine years old. It provides links to examples of magazines that were published in July of 1942 — that display that Brands were Publishers then too.

Here are a few brands mentioned in that post: John Deere’s The Furrow, DuPont, U.S. Steel, GM, New York Life Insurance, Merck and Harley-Davidson, Dutch Boy.

But if that’s not enough for you Matt, follow this link to the Custom Content Council, a trade group of North American companies (agencies) that help brands publish magazines — and all sorts of media. Today that trade group has nearly 100 company-agency members. When it started back in the late 1990s, it had less than ten. There are six founding companies, including the 20-year old Hammock Inc. that remain members. They represent small companies like ours, up to some of the largest media companies on earth.

The magazines — but today, we’re as likely to create and manage online properties or produce video — for corporate Brands by members of the Custom Content Council today are just a part of the $42 billion spent each year by companies that don’t have a media business model but who continue a century-plus tradition of producing media to support their business model.