October 18, 2008

Qwitter: Bringing Neurosis To Your Twitter Stream

By Leslie Poston of Uptown Uncorked (Twitter/FriendFeed)

Twitter has been confounding traditional marketers with its wild success since it first appeared on the scene. Defying traditional measurement methods, and even defying basic web practices for a successful web site like consistent up time and scalability, Twitter has found its way into daily use for a growing number of people and businesses, including traditional news media like CNN and CSPAN. I would argue that its ease of use, lack of rules and "Wild West" atmosphere along with its a la carte usage practices have been its secret weapons.

Arriving on the scene to change all of that this week is Qwitter. Qwitter sounds innocuous enough on the surface - a web site that offers to send you an email showing who has unfollowed you and including the last tweet you sent before they did as a possible "reason" for the unfollowing. Up until now, the best feature of Twitter has been a level of anonymity for blocking people and unfollowing them. It kept people from getting their feelings hurt, from obsessing over metrics and popularity, and above all from harassing people over why they make decisions about managing their own Twitter stream.

What Qwitter has done with this unnecessary "service" (and I use that term loosely) is turn a very mundane, passive act that usually reflects more on a person's available time than a follower's actions into an act of aggression with some seemingly dubious "reason" behind it. I can see this turning ugly, as friends who discover that friends sometimes unfollow them take it personally. This means instead of realizing that on Twitter you can go back and forth with a kind of ebb and flow as needed, those with hurt feelings from being unfollowed proceed to email demanding logic, reasons, and possibly even threatening retaliation or repercussions. Qwitter feeds insecurity and neuroses by making something simple into some kind of seeming failure or insult.

If you don't understand what I mean by Twitter being a la carte or having a follower ebb and flow, look at my follower count during a debate or a hockey game - droves of people unfollow me until I shut up again. In general unfollow decisions really are that simple, and usually the person comes back after the Tweeter in question stops being so noisy. If they don't, it's still ok. It isn't personal. I know I personally don't tend to unfollow people at all unless they start to pitch me ads instead of being real on Twitter, but that's just how I use Twitter. The beauty of Twitter is that each user, up until now, has been able to make it fully their own.

The thing about the internet is that it has a tendency to turn aggressive in a hurry. Twitter has, until now, avoided that Internet Troll atmosphere and been a relatively happy place to connect with people online in a very low-key and self-directed way. There are a few Twitter Trolls, but not that many, thanks largely to the anonymous unfollow and anonymous block features. Qwitter changes that, and for what? Judging by their own footer, it seems they want to force a Twitter buy out by messing with the atmosphere on the Twitter site.

Qwitter is not affiliated with Twitter, but wouldn't it be cool if it was?

I am not the only one who has noticed the impact Qwitter could have on our beloved Twitter. Laura Fitton noted the effects the loss of anonymity would have on Twitter in several Tweets yesterday, as did fellow Tweeters Andrew Feinberg and others. In discussing with me the possibility that Qwitter made this service solely to create a disturbance in the Twitter Force and create a need for a buy out, Twitter user Joan Marie had this to say: "Buy us to stop the dysfunction we've introduced." Is Qwitter the latest in a long line of companies trying to monetize their product through being bought out? If so, I have to give them credit for being the first to try putting a disruptive, negative spin on a good thing - monetization through destruction is at least new, if a bit evil.

Read more by Leslie Poston at Uptown Uncorked.