January 2010 – Stay N Alive

The Real Solution to Fix the "Twitter Game"

twitter-gameTwitter has been initiating a crackdown of sorts on sites that offer “automated unfollow” services such as my own SocialToo.com.  Since we announced we were removing it on SocialToo, at least 3 other services have also been asked to remove the functionality, which enables people to automatically unfollow others that unfollow them on Twitter.  I have also noticed Twitter is now cracking down on Twitter accounts that perform this practice.  When chatting with Twitter, their reasoning is that auto-unfollow “perpetuates the idea that Twitter is about follower counts”.  Assuming that this is the real reasoning behind the request, I’d like to suggest a more effective means of killing that idea: kill services that allow proactive follow in the first place and follower churn will go away.

Let me first explain what proactive follow is.  There are many services out there right now that enable you to find new followers based on keywords.  You specify search terms, perhaps based on your brand, and these services then go out and find people Tweeting with these keywords, and the service follows those people.  Some will even send a public @mention or DM if they meet your search criteria.  The entire hope is that those people will follow back (note that not everyone does this automatically), increasing your follower count and potential reach.

The problem with this method is that Twitter has limits in place.  As people unfollow you as you are increasing your numbers in this way, soon you will be following way more people than are following you back.  Twitter has a limit right now, in which if you’re following around 10% more of the people that are following you on Twitter, you will not be able to follow any more.  So what happens is these people using these “get more follower” services then use legit services like my SocialToo to unfollow all of the people that have stopped following them, bringing their ratio back in check.  It’s a direct rebellion against Twitter’s rules and regulations, and I don’t blame Twitter for being concerned about it.  In fact, I refuse to allow proactive follow on SocialToo just for this reason – we are not a “get more followers fast” site.  We’re a utility that enables you to manage your Twitter stream better and easier.

So Twitter has come up with the best solution they can come up with – “let’s kill the sites that are providing automatic unfollow and the follower churn will go away”.  The idea being if users can’t unfollow those users that have unfollowed them after they proactively went out and followed everyone, it’s a lot harder to game the system and break Twitter’s rules.  Based on my experience with what users are telling me on SocialToo, this breaks Twitter for many big brands using the service in a legit manner though.  Let me share a few use-cases people are telling me about after we removed it on SocialToo:

Legit Use-Cases for Auto-Unfollow

Some Brands Just Have Big Numbers — On SocialToo we service some really big brands.  Let’s face it: these brands have a lot of followers.  Following those followers back gives their followers a sense that the brand is listening to them.  It’s a PR move, as well as a customer service move because their followers can now DM them.  For instance, I followed @PCSki the other day, hoping to be able to get a spot in for my wife’s and my Ski Vacation to Park City Utah.  Because they followed me back, I was able to keep our conversation private.  This reciprocal follow is an important piece for Brands looking to communicate better with their followers and customers.  @PCSki got a sale (and future blog post) out of me because of that relationship.

Now, assuming we’re dealing with millions of followers, or hundreds of thousands of followers, or even thousands of followers it is absolutely impossible to continue following back the people that follow you based on Twitter’s 10% ratio limit.  If I want to follow everyone back, the fact is about 1/3 to 1/2 of those people I follow back will unfollow me at some point, and my ratio breaks.  I’m then stuck waiting until more people follow me before I can follow back more.  This is bad for brands, especially those with bigger numbers.  If you think numbers aren’t important for a brand, you’re flat out wrong.

Auto Unfollow Kills the Churners — The main reason I created automatic unfollow on SocialToo was because it’s another effective technique at combating spammers if you do auto follow (see above for some good reasons to auto follow as a brand ).  For a good auto follow service to occur, it’s the natural thing to do to offer auto unfollow services as well in order to keep out the spammers you might follow unintentionally.  This is also the reason we offer DM filters and other filtering services on SocialToo.  For those gaming the system, the minute they unfollow me to hope their numbers stay up, I immediately unfollow them as well, and their numbers don’t increase at all.

Auto Unfollow Enables Steady Growth, Despite Friends Unfollowing — if auto unfollow were not available, a typical brand or person wanting to enable auto follow on their account would go as follows: Number of friends increase. Number of friends stay stagnant until ratio is met.  Number of friends increase again.  Steady growth is not attainable with Twitter’s current ratio limit and the lack of auto unfollow.

The Solution

So what can Twitter do?  I understand they’re between a rock and a hard place here.  They could remove the ratio limits, but then the churners (or gamers) would take over again.  They could kill automated unfollow services, but other services will still take over – I can already think of  a good way to create a browser extension that does it on a user-by-user basis if we wanted to.  Also, killing automated unfollow removes the ability for users to defend themselves against the churners.  Twitter could just let the churning happen, but then jealousy happens and people complain (not sure that’s a bad thing as I think people can see through the fakes, but I understand their viewpoint).  Twitter could remove the numbers, only enabling them in private for each individual, but that would remove some of the fun and competition of Twitter.

The only decent solution is to kill the services that are enabling proactive follow.  Disable those enabling the ability to search by keyword and follow based on that keyword.  This is a pure API-based service that Twitter can shut off at the source pretty easily.  Once these are gone, churning, and the “Twitter Game” will be over for those abusing the system.

The Fact is Twitter is About Numbers

While I don’t think Twitter wants people gaming the system to create more numbers, I think Twitter knows that the only way to grow the service is to enable people to increase their number of followers and grow an audience.  If you don’t think that, you’re lying to yourself.  Everyone wants more followers, especially if you’re a brand or business.

Twitter prominently displays follower counts on each user’s page, along with a list of who’s following them, the number of lists they’re on, the number of lists they’ve created, and the list goes on.  Twitter has a Suggested User List  – the entire goal being to give people a larger number of people those people can follow and find interesting things from.  Users get higher prominence in Google if their numbers are higher on Twitter.  Numbers are everything to Twitter, let’s not kid ourselves.

Twitter Needs to Kill the Proactive Follow

The only way Twitter is going to fix the problem they see at hand is to kill services enabling users and brands to go out and proactively find new followers.  Killing the unfollow isn’t going to fix this.  Killing the proactive follow will.  My hope is that, assuming this is the real reason Twitter wants to kill it, Twitter will realize this and give freedom back to their users to continue maintaining their accounts.

As I said on the SocialToo blog – in the meantime, we’re in Twitter’s world and we’re subject to their rules, so until then I’ll do what they tell me.  Let’s hope they’re listening though.  SocialToo provides many more services than just this though, so I’m not worried – I am worried about our users however.

Are there use-cases I’m missing?  How were you using auto-unfollow?

Geek Travel – Circus Circus in Las Vegas, Nevada

ThickBox_circuscircusI’m starting a new series on this blog. I occasionally travel places that I really like, and others I don’t. As a Geek I’m a bit picky on the places I visit – whether that be they have sketchy internet, plugs in the wrong places, or just plain, normal annoyances a geek might have, I decided these things needed to be shared. This thought came to me last week as I stayed at Circus Circus during CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, so I thought I’d begin sharing these adventures as a travelling geek with you, hopefully either inspiring you to visit, or warning you in the event you are visiting and you need to know where to stay. Consider this my first post in the series. We’ll see how this goes.

Circus Circus, Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is filled with places to stay.  This time of year, many of those places are actually quite cheap.  But when staying during an event such as the Consumer Electronics Show, finding an affordable hotel, especially at the last minute, can be quite an adventure!

Circus Circus saved my day at CES.  Starting at a price tag of around $29 minimum per night, and $45 maximum per night, I was able to find an affordable place to stay on the strip within just a week from the start of CES.  Other hotels on the strip were selling for around $400/night!

The place I stayed was in their newly renovated West Tower building.  Previous visits to the hotel landed me and my family in an old, musty hotel room, leaving us wanting.  Not this time!  My hotel room was brand new almost everything, had a big screen, flat LCD TV, a great view of Las Vegas, comfortable, clean beds.  It was an entirely new experience for me at the hotel!


The atmosphere of the hotel you can tell is targeted towards families.  The interior is the same old interior you’re used to if you have been at the hotel before, and I admit could probably use a bit of renovation itself.  You see the Casino right near the entrance, but if you have kids you can mostly avoid the Casino, ride the roller coaster rides at the AdventureDome, go shopping, and more, all without exposing kids to too much gambling or alcohol or cigarette smoke.  If you opt to take them around the Casino, you can also take them up to the second floor where they can play Midway games and win stuffed animals or see the Circus acts and clowns.  Even going by myself without the family, this always ends up being much more rewarding than the Casino hall down below, and I get stuff to take home to the kids when I’m done!  There’s even a McDonalds on the second floor.


The best part about Circus Circus is its proximity to the Las Vegas Convention Center.  If you wanted, you could walk there.  As a geek, since often a lot of events happen at the Wynn, you can also walk over to the Wynn, and I found myself doing that a few times.  If walking is too much, the monorail also stops somewhere near the Circus Circus (I admit I have not been), so you can always take that as well.

Of course, Circus Circus is still at the end of the strip, meaning if you want to go to the Bellagio or Paris or any of the more traditional hotels further down the strip it’s probably going to be a Taxi or shuttle ride over, or maybe even a Monorail trip.  I was driving my own car though so it didn’t matter.  One thing to note if you do bring your own car – Valet parking at all the hotels is free, and the expected tip is usually between $1-2, unless you’re feeling generous.

The Internet

One important part of staying at any hotel for me, as a geek, is the internet, how fast it is, how easy it is to get set up, and how expensive it costs.  I plan to include this in each of my future Geek Travel reviews.  At Circus Circus, the internet is all wireless.  Therefore, if you want to set up more than one computer, it’s going to be around $10 per night, per computer (MAC Address).  Unless you have a router that can bridge pretty easily, you’re probably going to be paying if you’re sharing the room with another person.  Speed for the internet was acceptable, although not fast enough for my tastes.  I was however able to upload about 5 3-5 minute HD videos to Youtube overnight.

The Plug Test

One annoyance of mine at hotels is the proximity of the plugs to the bed, where I often do my work.  There were a couple of plugs on the desk, which is fine when I need to sit at the desk. (one on the lamp, and another on the wall)  To get a plug for the bed, I had to disconnect the alarm clock to have a place to plug in my laptop.  While it works, I think it’s a hack.  I don’t understand why hotels don’t just put more plugs on the nightstand!

The Website and Twitter Test

From what I can tell, Circus Circus has no Twitter account.  Communicating with them should you have an issue or question during an event will require a (gasp!) phone call or in-person visit.  They do have a website at http://www.circuscircus.com, but visiting the site without “www” returns an error.  It seems they don’t put much focus in their marketing on the web, which is a bit of a bummer.


Overall, due to the new room, I was quite impressed with Circus Circus!   It had all the amenities I needed (Circus Circus, unlike most hotels on the strip, even has vending machines on each floor! ($2 for a Coke)).  The rooms were clean.  Internet was pretty acceptable.  The low prices make it appealing.  The proximity to the Convention Center sealed the deal.

If you’re on a trip for a convention in Vegas this year, I highly recommend trying out Circus Circus – bring the wife and kids if you feel like it, but even as a geek on your own I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.  I’ll be considering it for my next stay.

This weekend I’m visiting the Wasatch Back in Utah with my wife, swimming in Geothermal craters, Cross Country skiing, visiting 2002 Winter Olympics sites, and more – the next few articles I write in this series I hope to share some of the wonders that are in Utah where I live should you consider visiting here in the future.

MovieClips: A Little "Spoon Full of Sugar" to Help Spice Up My Content

Screen shot 2010-01-16 at 1.24.18 AMWhen I write articles I often look for media – videos, audio, etc. to support the content I write.  The additional content provides some entertainment value, while still driving the point home for others to remember.  I’ve seen this similar technique used by other bloggers such as MG Siegler, Chris Messina, and others.  While at CES last week, I had the opportunity to meet with the founders of MovieClips, a company that makes it easy to share these little quotes in video form in a nice, legal, and searchable format.  Check out what they do in their Intro video below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRtR9yYQ-zU&hl=en_US&fs=1&hd=1]

MovieClips is such an easy service to find any clip you like and share it with friends.  The most significant use for me though is the ability to add a little “Pizazz” to my blog posts.  I can’t wait to start diving in as I write future blog posts to add a little “spice” with entertainment using their service.

Of note, the reason I was holding my iPhone was because I was recording the interview on CinchCast.com to upload immediately after the interview.  It turned out to be a great way to get an additional, high quality MP3 of the interview, as well as a close-to-live upload of the interview shortly after it occured.

Disclosure: I have consulted for MovieClips in the past

SocialToo is Proud to Launch With OneForty’s New App Store

Oneforty_logoIn an unprecedented move, Laura Fitton’s OneForty.com launched their own app store for Twitter today, enabling Twitter developers to finally have a platform to sell and promote their apps in a single location, to a large audience.  The company, with apps that you can purchase for Twitter, will become like iTunes or even Amazon, in enabling developers to sell, and Twitter app seekers to find and purchase, in a virtual Twitter marketplace.  My startup, SocialToo, is proud to be one of the companies launching with OneForty in this effort.

We know with the launch of the iTunes app store that bringing developers to a single location that others can search, find, and purchase apps, has proven to be a lucrative business for developers.  This launch will make Twitter itself a similar breeding ground for new entrepreneurial ideas and business opportunities that were previously not thought of.  The completion of an app store is the icing on the already baking Twitter ecosystem cake that should seal the deal for many entrepreneurs and developers in why they should write Twitter apps.

What can you purchase from SocialToo?

Until now you have already been able to purchase several features on the SocialToo website – those include the ability to unfollow everyone you’ve followed on Twitter at once, catching up those who followed you before joining SocialToo that you want to follow back, along with a powerful daily e-mail that includes stats as to who followed you and stopped following you the previous day on Twitter.  In fact, we just announced an affiliate program which enables anyone with a Twitter account to gain a cut of the revenues just by sharing with their friends on Twitter!

With today’s launch with OneForty, we are starting by allowing users to purchase our daily stats e-mail that sends you a digest of who followed you and who stopped following you the previous day on Twitter.  Because our current services are one-time for life, it gives us a unique opportunity to offer one-time purchases like this on 3rd party sites like OneForty.  The specific stats e-mail we’re offering on OneForty sells for just $20, and you get it for life.  In fact, because you’ve already given your e-mail address to OneForty, once you’ve purchased, you don’t even have to ever visit SocialToo.com (although we always appreciate the visit!) – you’ll start receiving stats e-mails the very next day.

I’m excited for this new development.  OneForty has already proven to be one of the best ways to find apps in the Twitter ecosystem.  It can only get better now as developers are able to now start monetizing their offerings through the directory.

So if you get a chance, go on over to OneForty and try out the SocialToo stats e-mail.  Be sure to leave us a review!  This is an incredible opportunity I’m proud to be a part of.

My Favorite Technology of CES 2010

CESOverall the Consumer Electronic Show of 2010, while amazing and overwhelming and definitely worth my time, has been a disappointment when it comes to innovation. The big things of the show have been 3D, new consumer video devices, and, well, that’s about it. So I’m at a bit of a conundrum as to who or what my favorite technology at the show is. If I were to pick one though, it would have to be the demo by TCL (The Creative Life) of their 3D TV Technology that doesn’t require glasses.

Passing by the booth you can’t miss it – they’ve surrounded 4 TVs by mirrors (no relation to the technology), and when you look at the TVs, you do a double-take. You’re seeing 3D, just as you would in traditional 3D glasses, but without the glasses! I never knew this was possible!

The technology revolves around basically mimicking the 3D glasses technology right on the TV screen itself. That, and an optical illusion of just the right flicker with the speed your eyes process information, and they’re tricking your brain to thinking there’s full 3D objects inside those monitors!

I saw a lot of 3D technology at CES. Some are special 3D TVs that you have to buy the TV to get the full 3D experience, but they require glasses. Others are adapters you hook up to your Sony PS3 and you can play games in 3D (due EOY 2010 Sony told me – I’m actually excited for that one and may buy a PS3 because of it). I talked to a guy in the elevator at my hotel that works with devices you put right up to your eyes like glasses to get the experience.

However, no one wants to buy a new TV right now. I just can’t see consumers buying a TV just so they can put on glasses and watch TV through those glasses. These new 3D TVs without the glasses enable you to do that, no glasses required, and I think they make much more sense.

While the TVs aren’t available for probably at least another year, there are still a few issues though. For one, you can only watch 3D on the TVs. They’ve either got to make a dual mode so you can watch either/or, or consumers will have to get used to watching nothing but 3D television, something not everyone in the industry is sure consumers will want. Also, the videos they were showing had to be custom-made for the TVs. They don’t yet work with traditional 3D movies and I think that will be required.

What I liked about this technology though is that they were showing what could be. They’re thinking to the future. That’s what I wanted to see at CES this year. Everyone else is looking to the present and past from what I’ve seen so far. Kudos to TCL for making me think forward this CES.

Here’s some video I shot – of course you can’t see the 3D in the video, but at least it gives you an idea. You can follow all my raw, unedited footage on my personal Youtube channel.



Guy Kawasaki presenting at the American Express Forum – CES 2010 (@guykawasaki)