When technology tells us we have no friends

by David Spark on November 24, 2008

Online social networking can be one of the most gratifying and ego boosting activities. We often get daily reminders of what a great person we are (e.g. “John Doe is now your friend,” “JaneDoe67 is now following you on Twitter”). It’s all done to make you feel good about yourself with their technology. And it causes you to build a stronger personal association with the social networking brand.

Social networking tools don’t traditionally alert you when you start losing friends. Click “Remove a friend” on Facebook and your former friend won’t get an email that announces “John Doe is no longer your friend.” How much longer would you want to use Facebook if they told you that?

I didn’t think anyone would do this until I heard about Qwitter. This is a Twitter utility, which like many of the Twitter utilities was written using the open Twitter API by someone other than the folks at Twitter. Sign up for Qwitter with just your Twitter ID and email address and every time someone stops following you on Twitter, you’ll get an email announcing that the person stopped following you, along with a copy of the Tweet you sent that caused them to make the decision.

I just signed up for Qwitter and Friday night I posted this Tweet:

Just saw the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” again. Great film. Looking forward to “Milk.”

(NOTE: Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician in San Francisco. He was a San Francisco supervisor and he was assassinated.)

It’s Monday, and I haven’t posted anything to Twitter since. But, I lost five followers already because of that Tweet. Now this causes me to start thinking, “Are some of my followers homophobic? Or are they just not interested about what movies I went to see? Should I stop talking about anything that has gay issues in it? Or should I stop tweeting about such banal topics?”

Qwitter has given me knowledge that I don’t know if I want. On one hand it’s great that I’m informed that certain posts are causing people to leave. I could start thinking, “Well, now I shouldn’t post those kinds of Tweets.” But then, those Tweets might be why the majority of them are staying. Also, should I let 5 people out of 1,000 (a half a percent) have any influence on what I’m publishing?

Also, Qwitter really doesn’t tell me what their motivation was. Yes, they could be homophobic. Or, they could not be interested in what movies I like. Or, they could be cleaning up their Twitter follower list. Or, they could have seen something else of mine they didn’t like and this Tweet just reminded them to stop following me. Or, maybe they decided to stop following everyone who was Tweeting on a Friday night. Who knows.

Do you want social networks to give you this kind of information? Do you find it valuable? Can your ego withstand the pain of de-friending? Easy to say now, but sign up for Qwitter and then tell me what you think.

For more, read my post, “The awkwardness of de-friending” plus my article on Mashable, “12 Great Tales of De-friending.”

  1. Facebook: The dialogue of my friends' and colleagues' lives
  2. PS3 on sale. MPAA losing more friends.
  3. Mashable post: Sixteen Great Moments on Twitter
  4. Twitter Updates for David Spark (dspark) 2008-08-15
  5. Twitter saved me $150
  • http://tinyurl.com/anitahampl Anita Hampl

    Agreed, Qwitter is not for the faint of heart. But once you’ve been through a decluttering (de-following) session of your own, you become a little less sensitive.

    Tip: sign on to Qwitter and then do a “practice” de-following with a trusted friend, before you go live!

  • http://twitter.com/joeschmitt Joe Schmitt

    Qwitter is not as good as you think it is. It is often hours, if not days behind. And when Twitter gets slow, it gets even further behind. Qwitter isn’t telling you when someone unfollowed so much as who did and when Qwitter noticed. Unless you tweet less than once per day, the chance that one tweet it identifies has anything to do with them leaving is pretty remote.

    Twitterless is more up-to-date, but only if you manually go run Update Stats yourself after you notice your follower number go down.

  • http://twitter.com/nullvariable Doug Cone aka Nullvariable

    Qwitter is great but you have to remember not to take things personal. There are also cool services that let you snooze people who are at a conference and tweeting a lot. I do like to keep an eye on who is leaving and when so I can be sure that I’m not driving away my followers but I don’t usually worry about it if I did I’d never get anything done or everyone else would unfollow me!

  • Courtretort

    Advice I gave my daughter who had voiced concerns re. Facebook friending/defriending and the invasion of one's space.

    “Frankly your privacy and life would be easier just not to have Facebook and no one would be invading your space or knowing you unless you want a real friendship. Stay in touch with your real friends via email with photo attachments and have an agreement with those friends that

    they are not to forward any of your emails and/or photos without your permission to anyone and are not also to publish anything you send or photos with you in them without your expressed permission.

    My standard response to everyone, is, “I don't do Facebook. I want to protect my family, and moreover, myself. Also I need professional distance from students, and my husband has a security clearance.” My statement is not one of moral superiority. It simply expresses why I don't put too much out there in cyberspace…potentially dangerous on many fronts…not to mention addictive. Who knows what goes on with the intimacy factor and the neural networks longterm? The jury is out on that one.

    No one's feelings get hurt this way either, and the issue of having to defriend a nuisance or their defriending me just doesn't come up. I also believe in something called BOUNDARIES. Parents can inadvertently commit emotional incest by being in the middle of all their children's generation's “stuff” and also are not really “releasing their children” and/or giving them permission (at some subliminal level) to be a separate and unique life.

    How can a newlywed “leave and cleave”, too, with Mom, Dad, and or grandma as his Facebook pal?

    Parents need to develop their own relationships in other ways.

    Virtual reality is not a substitute either for face-to-face community.

  • http://www.sparkminute.com/ David Spark

    Two years ago when I was researching for this story about defriending (http://mashable.com/2008/11/25/social-network-defriending/) I learned that everyone has their own clear definition as to what each and every social network should and shouldn't be used for, and how one should handle their privacy.

    And everyone's definition is so clear in their head that they're confused as to why other people don't think the same way that they do.

    Your rationalization of social media is right on target for you. Just understand that not everyone else will agree with you. Accept that fact, and appreciate it.

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