Are We the Sum of Who We Follow?

I was surprised to find that @ross (Ross Mayfield) only follows 315 people, yet is followed by 7,718. I know I have purposely kept my following list contained because I try to limit my following to folks in the enterprise 2.0 space. (See my dorky video from my Twitter bio.) To be frank, I was relieved to see I made in onto Ross’s follow list, but– there it is again, that weird Twitter vanity/status thing throwing its ugly wrench into what is supposed to be an emergent, egalitarian social web.There are two ways to look at this. The first is literal. We are the sum of who we follow in that all the knowledge we absorb comes to us via Twitter and our followers. With the exception of other “news” feeds (alerts, blog readers, traditional MSM), for most of us, we get our news from Twitter. Even @timoreilly, the father of web 2.0, admits to consuming news this way. What’s more important is the influence factor. If a majority of people I follow on Twitter think a certain way, chances are I’ll think that way too. Okay, there are obvious exceptions, but you know what I mean. In this way, Twitter is, sadly yes… a lot like high school. If the popular kids think clogs (fast foward 2009, netbooks) are cool, so will I. What does that say about me? I’m I just a grand follower, a mindless conformer, persuaded by popular opinion? Is the sum of what I think a product of those thinking around me? How is this very different from traditional advertising and its power to mold perception? Okay, the difference is it’s not a controlled, scripted message from a single producer, but the result is the same.The second way to look at this is more crass and the antithesis of what the social web is supposed to be about. You’d interpret the statement to mean: I value the insights of (ONLY) these people I follow. They are somehow “more worthy” of my attention. So, my social badge/status becomes the herd of smart people I’m following. (Hello… this mostly means you know who they are, not that you have a personal relationship with them.)I don’t mean to pick on @ross at all. My ratio is lopsided too. But, frankly, as I scanned Ross’s follow list, I felt a little like Eve in the Garden of Eden. The devil whispered in my ear: “If you follow everyone Ross follows, you’ll know everything he does…” Okay, that was weird. (But I did think,”What a great Twitter app: Snap up Followees of the gods.”)Whatev… what say you about all this? Is @ITSinsider simply spending too much time on Twitter?

One thought on “Are We the Sum of Who We Follow?

  1. I have to be careful with that guild master analogy, because I never played WoW. I learned about the roles/responsibilities of guild masters from my son, who does play. Relative to this post, it’s an interesting analogy about how the roles of leaders are changing. Leaders on the social web must lead by example, not by powerpoint. My son told me when he first "scaled" his guild up to over 100 members, he literally had to help nearly every one get through their levels. What a beautiful lesson for him to learn (then– at the age of 10) about motivation, loyalty, trust, and performance.My hope would be that all the Twitter web-celebs will gently guide their followers by showing/teaching new behaviors with a fair dose of humility and a large dose of patience. But, we’re all human, so we’ll see. Thanks for following. 🙂


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