Way back in 2009, after apparently failing to persuade myself that I had better things to do with my time, I came up with enough lame justifications to sign up for the Twitter service. At the time, I figured I could deploy one-liners, not necessarily with the best of them, but certainly a hair or two above average, and maybe I could sneak in something from the blog.

Nearly seven years and over 70,000 tweets later, I believe I've done well enough for myself. I anticipated a follower count in the high two digits, possibly the low threes; in fact, it's now in the low fours, and none of them were "bought" in any sense. There are those who tag me purely to support their own agendas, but most of them don't hang around too long: a week or so and they're gone. (There are, of course, services to track this sort of thing, and I do subscribe to one of them. There are, of course, bots of every description, some of them with real-sounding names and sketchily plausible profiles, which fact dictates my current follow-back procedure: unless I know you from elsewhere, I'm not following you back unless I find something I might value in the last week or so of your timeline. This explains why the number of people I follow remains below a thousand — so far.

Still, even people who come loaded with agenda sometimes will get chatty on subjects other than said agenda, and I'm pretty good, I think, at finding them and getting them to talk. And sometimes they appreciate being off-topic. One of my favorites is an English woman of Indian extraction who has served as an organizer for the London segment of the World Naked Bike Ride. A hefty proportion of the people who tweet in her general direction seem to want to know what she's wearing. (Shades of 1990s AOL!) And she's occasionally expressed frustration at this phenomenon. So perhaps she was reassured when I told her that I followed her to hear what she had to say, not to hear what she just took off. I figure if I'm hard up to look at figures, there is no shortage of exhibitionists out there; but I can talk with her about languages and cooking and policing and all manner of topics without once having to refer back to the dozen or so pictures of her in circulation in which she's wearing a bicycle helmet and sneakers and nothing in between.

I think I've helped my image on Twitter by being comparatively nonpartisan: I do toss out the occasional political tweet, but those tweets tend to be more along the lines of "This system leaves a great deal to be desired" rather than "My candidate is great, while yours sucks." The only candidate I generally describe positively is Carly Fiorina, not so much because I think she has wonderful ideas, but because I think of her as a virtual slap in the face to the Clintonistas who argue that it's important to put a woman in the White House because abortion, because it's so unfair that men can screw indiscriminately and they can't. (This premise, jaundiced as it is, seems to represent somewhere around 80 percent of Hillary's support; much of the rest comes from Wall Street's payday-seekers.) As a result, I have friends on both sides of the aisle, which may be politically or stylistically impure, but which serves me well in my effort to stay out of ill-tuned echo chambers.

Which is not to say that everything in the Twitterverse is coming up roses for me. When last week Buzzfeed tossed up a story about Twitter's plans to change from a strictly chronological timeline to one informed, or possibly misinformed, by a weighting algorithm, I was among the decryers of same; I contend that no computer program can possibly know what I want better than I know what I want, and that a similar routine already in place at Facebook makes Facebook a lot less useful to me. Twitter HQ doesn't see that, of course; they see Facebook with five times as many users, and they want a piece of that, though Twitter CEO @jack [Dorsey] felt he had to come on and calm fears. But the bottom line is still, well, the bottom line:

An algorithmic feed could help Twitter from a business standpoint, said Jason Stein, CEO of social media agency Laundry Service. "It would make the company even more appealing to advertisers and, in turn, much more valuable," Stein said. Most ad buying agencies are not set up to buy ads on the fly, Stein said, meaning they miss out on the most valuable part of Twitter, its real time nature, and can't make campaigns that fit in. (Try running an ad for Intel on Twitter in the middle of the NBA playoffs.)

Because God knows a new, faster, more agile ad-buying agency that is capable of buying ads on the fly would set a bad precedent for the rest of the industry, or something.

So I endorsed Phil Darnowsky's proposal: "How about this: we each pay you $10 a year and in return you quit fucking with the site."

In terms of value received, it's worth way more than ten bucks a year — to me, anyway.

The Vent

  8 February 2016

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 Copyright © 2016 by Charles G. Hill