Monday, May 10, 2010

Twitter: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A mystery has been solved.

For our last poetry jam on Twitter, something odd happened – when I used the hashtag (#tsptry) with posts, my tweets didn’t show up in the hashtag stream.

At first I suspected that something had happened when the new Twitter app developed for TweetSpeak poetry has been installed and launched. Matt Priour, the developer in Texas who did the app with Marcus Goodyear, couldn’t find a problem.

Marcus discovered that my #tsptry tweets were also not showing up in Google searches. And that was the first clue.

Matt contacted Twitter and learned that, according to the current version of the Twitter algorithm, my Twitter account is considered “spammy.” Not exactly spam, but more “spam-like,” because my tweets include a lot of links and a lot of retweets. So I haven’t been kicked off for spam; my followers can still see my tweets; but forget it when it comes to using hashtags or having your tweets available to search engines.

It’s true that my tweets include a lot of links and retweets – by design. I find a lot of good things online – articles, posts, commentaries, poems – that I like to call attention to. And according to the Twitter rules: you’re spamming “if your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates.” (The “if” in that statement is significant – it doesn’t mean it will happen, only that it’s possible.)

The Twitter algorithm has decided that doing that is “spammy.” Actually, the people who design the algorithm have decided that. And no one actually examined by tweet stream and applied rational human judgment. Or even human understanding.

I have to keep reminding myself that Twitter’s algorithm is designed by IT people, that it’s constantly being tweaked, that they try to protect Twitter users from spam.

(And I also have to remind myself that it was the most visionary IT I knew who told me (in 1995) that the worldwide web was a flash in the technological pan, that it would soon go the way of eight-track tapes, because the future was Lotus Notes.)

Matt asked Twitter to fix it, but he said it may require me contacting them directly.

Have you ever tried to contact Twitter?

If you’re a developer or a reporter or a policeman, there are special contact email boxes. If you’re a customer, you click on customer support on the contact page, and you get an array of boxes that relate to commonly asked questions.

But no email box. That’s a hint that Twitter thinks it has answered every question possible and so you won’t need to contact them.

But they do provide a mailing address. That’s right, the king (or co-king) of social media provides one way for customers to contact them – and that’s via the post office.

Very retro. But not very cool. Unintended or not, there’s an important message there – that reporters and developers matter more to Twitter than customers.

So I will have to create a new Twitter account for the TweetSpeak poetry jams to be able to use the #tsptry hashtag and have it show up. Which I will do.

I’m also going to be radically reducing the links I use in tweets and the number of retweets – because I could get blocked completely. (One caution – this happened about the time of my first anniversary on Twitter, so be aware if something similar happens to you.)

But my days on Twitter are likely numbered – by my choice. I’m beginning to understand why people are migrating to Facebook exclusively. I beginning to see what several of the people I followed – people who have run afoul of Twitter rules because of how the algorithm was programmed at the time (and was later changed) – rarely post any tweets now. And these were people with vastly larger numbers of followers than I have.

But a social media algorithm is only as good as the human understanding that goes into it.


Louise Gallagher said...

"But a social media algorithm is only as good as the human understanding that goes into it."

and this human understanding doesn't even begin to make sense of some of the algorithm's nonsense!

see -- you informed, educated and entertained all in one post with nary an algorithm to contend with!

Kathleen Overby said...

Daddy, what's an algorithm?

L.L. Barkat said...

Naughty Twitter. (Seriously.)

But Facebook holds no appeal for me.

I wonder about the Contact stuff. It almost sounds like they can't handle the volume (for the funding they have). I say this as someone who used to work for an online place where the staff was too small to meet the growing needs.

Our choice was either to fund or close. (We got funded, as you know :)

So, with Twitter. Maybe it's time to get funded.

Jennifer @ said...

That's incredibly annoying.

Glynn, Thanks for your generosity in linking. I repeatedly click on your links and enjoy the variety -- from poetry to trending stories about news and ag. Keep up the good work. It's not the least bit spammy!

Duane Scott said...

I love your tweets! That is just rude of them to shut them down. Often times, the things you recommend on twitter, I read.

Dumb Twitter. Dumb dumb dumb.

Billy Coffey said...

Please re-think your almost decision to leave Twitter all together, Glynn. I'll admit there are a few faces I'll skip over from time to time, but I always pay attention to what you have to say.

Robin Arnold said...

Firstly, you and a couple other poet types ARE rather prolific. I wouldn't call you spammy. I have limited time, so I need to use the filters available. I have your blog in my Reader and I catch your tweets in a list I've created. I also follow a few others that RT your stuff.

You are so plugged in, you are like a master resource, a secret weapon, a treasure and I'd hate to stop my need to have access to the marvelous stuff that just flows out of you and a few others. You have led me on some wonderful rabbit trails. You help me learn something new everyday.

So maybe you need to adjust your technique? I'd come look for links in your blog. Why not collect links and just post them on your blog? Or there might be another solution?

For me, FB and Twitter are two different things, different groups of people, they aren't interchangable. I made that mistake at first. It doesn't take any more time to maintain them than having them connected. One is like talking to my mother, the other is like talking to smart folks like you.

Too long, I know. Sorry. Don't post if you don't want to. I'm from Wisconsin so my feelings are not easily hurt.

S. Etole said...

I look forward to the links you share on a daily basis ... leads me to some incredible treasure.

Marcus Goodyear said...

Very interesting post, Glynn. I've had a love hate relationship with Twitter and Facebook both. In the end, I've decided to take sabbaticals when I get too irked.

Somehow, though, I always find a way to come back. I'd urge you not to make any rash decisions.

In the meantime, I haven't told you how amazing your last batch of poems from the TSPoetry party were! 19 poems? Incredible just for sheer quantity, but they were interesting too.

See you tonight?

Maureen said...

As someone who's been called "ReTweet Queen", I imagine my days are numbered, too, and I doubt I'll mind giving it up. After being offline this past week, I find a desire to return full speed has lessened. So, will see how I feel as the week goes on.

I found out today, after being away for 5 days, that there is also something about having too many status updates, so your tweets go nowhere and you have to wait a couple of hours.