I was rather inspired by this article on why Twitter is failing to add new accounts. And it makes great sense to me. The idea that Twitter seems to have - inspired by the cheap journalism of papers quoting celebs' views on life, the universe and the Iraq crisis - is that we really want to follow the accounts of famous people. And people do follow famous people, there is no doubt. Compare Justin Bieber with Weird Larry from over the park. Bieber has more believers. Several more.
But, turning it round, just because somebody is famous, that's no reason to follow them. You think about it. These people have press officers, PAs, people to do their tweeting for them. It's a little-known fact, for example, that Tony Blair's Twitter account is ghost-written by his PA, a dead-eyed fantasist has-been who, in his deluded imagination, thinks he's a force for good in the world*.
And if it's the real person behind a celebrity Twitter account, they're too busy making albums, running denominations and invading countries to do much interacting back. Obviously you can try trolling them to get a response, but really? Just trying to provoke Richard Dawkins into being all cold, donnish and aloof as he brushes you off like an experimental geneticist dealing with an escape of nine-legged Drosophila?
No, here's my guide to following on Twitter - and, by extension, my recommendation for the way Twitter should be running its recommendations:
The most important thing - above all else - is to follow people who will talk to you. Obvious, in real life, isn't it? I mean, if you spent all day every day with Oscar Wilde, but he never spoke to you - his famous wit and charm would be totally wasted, wouldn't it? That's what Twitter is missing - the people who make Twitter Twitter, are those who talk to other people. Politely, maybe challengingly, but never rudely.
Novelty accounts can be fun, or annoying. There are chickens, bears, koalas, cats, bogeymen, archdruids out there in Twitterland. A clue - most of them aren't real, or at least they're not the ones doing the typing. The real reason that the Sad Cat is sad is because he's a hopeless touch typist, and it's his owner who types the tweets and makes the money out of the books.
People who share your interests and views - try to limit these. Would life not be really boring if we were all the same? Isn't it a kind of trinitarian imperative to relate to people in their diversity, not just their sameness? If you're an IT professional, don't just follow other IT professionals. How boring would that be? Likewise for golfers, accountants, vicars, sky-divers and cheese makers. Follow people who like different stuff, believe different things, follow different traditions, live in other countries, tweet - if you can cope with it - in other languages. Learn something. But obviously make sure you follow people who have your own interests - people who can sympathise with you in your situations. Of course, there are people who hold certain interests which you probably don't want to hear about them. And, in many cases, you probably won't want to mention these interests if you have them. In fact, sometimes you might be better off not on Social Media at all. I'll move on.
Celebs - why bother? I mean, seriously? They rarely talk to you. As I said above, they're busy people. If you really do have a driving interest in Ricky Gervaise or the Pope - and I guess it might happen, it's a strange world, after all - then fair enough. But a word of warning. If you spend a lot of time retweeting their inane drivel in the hope they'll like you, or dragging them into arguments in the hope they'll be on your side, you're a sad beggar and have little hope in this life or the next.
Trolls. Block / report spam. In the Beaker Folk we have a "Response Unit for Neutralising Trolls". This spells "RUNT" because that's what most trolls are. Using some high-tech monitoring unit Young Keith would really rather not talk about, they can locate approx 75% of troll locations. And then we send Weird Larry round.
Famous dead people - strictly, an overlap between famous people and novelty accounts. But how many dimensions do you think I've got to work with here? Range from accounts that just tweet quotes from your favourite author, to people who actually pretend they are the dead people. If you want Queen Victoria's views on the Iraq situation, you can just follow her and find out. Clue - she only takes advice from Palmerston and Kitchener, and you might as well just follow Tony Blair in that case.
So there you go. That's my advice. No celebs, a few news channels, no trolls, a few dead people, a few animals, some people you agree with, some you don't, and - above all - people who will talk to you and be interesting. People who aren't famous, but have from around 100 to a couple of thousand followers - i.e. they're interesting enough in their own right to build up a following, but won't be too busy to talk to you.
Just like life, really. Where the best friends and workmates are interesting in their own right. Which ain't that surprising. When Soc Med works well, it is just like life. If your life consists of following celebrity news and not much else, then you're missing out on a lot. As, apparently, is Twitter.
* Stop press. Apparently TB writes his own tweets.