followers – Stay N Alive

Nobody Has a Million Blog Subscribers

BlogSubscribers-main_FullA recent blog post by Anil Dash has everyone talking about what I thought was a long-assumed fact that just because someone is on the Twitter Suggested User List (or SUL) and has a million followers doesn’t necessarily mean they actually have all of those followers listening to them.  Dash, who recently had the opportunity to be on the Suggested User List himself, cited examples of various other Twitter accounts put on the list that saw absolutely no additional response after being added to the list.

I’d like to take this a bit further though and suggest something that, because of its open nature as compared to Twitter, just hasn’t been talked about much. That is the fact that, just like Twitter followers, a blog’s subscribers is also subject to this phenomena.  I’d like to suggest that despite that number in the upper-right-hand corner, it means absolutely nothing in the sense of how many people are actually reading that content.  It’s just a number.

Speaking From Experience

Let me start with this blog, since I vowed to be more transparent.  If you read the Feedburner number in the upper-right section of this blog it says I have over 7,500 subscribers.  Let’s start right off with the fact that 6,030 of those are because FriendFeed includes its subscription counts in with my Feedburner stats.  I have 6,030 subscribers on FriendFeed, and those are part of that 7,500 you see above.  If you subscribe to me on FriendFeed, that increases the number.  Still, that 6,030 still has potential of seeing my content.  It’s still just a number though.

Now, let’s assume those FriendFeed numbers don’t count.  That leaves about 1,500 subscribers  that assumedly subscribe to this blog through some sort of Feed Reader (Google Reader, Newsvine, etc).  I don’t believe that number at all.  I’d bet that at most, half of those actually read the articles I publish, as I usually average between 2 and 5 comments on each blog post I write.  As for traffic, any time I post I get around 200-500 additional visitors per post.  On a really good day that could be in the thousands.  The thing is that most of those come from Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed, as well as other blogs that provide commentary. Those numbers aren’t even reflected in my subscriber count!

The Big Guys

If that’s my experience, I can only imagine the accuracy of those with hundreds of thousands or even millions of subscribers.  I know their numbers can’t be accurate, not only based on my experience on this blog, but also after being linked numerous times by them.  I must admit that, directly, I usually average 100-300 visitors from the millions of subscribers on each of these blogs.  I’m very grateful for this traffic, and that they’re talking about me – the fact that they’re writing about me has much more impact and influence than just traffic (as I’ll show later).  However, the fact that only 100 out of over a million subscribers are clicking seems to imply a very similar truth to what Dash is implying with Twitter subscribers and what I’m seeing on my blog: while a few hundred thousand may be reading each and every article, the rest are simply casual bystanders skimming headlines if anything at all.

Let’s add to that how many of these blogs are on FriendFeed’s default list and other services, adding to their numbers there, along with how many are the default on the Kindle, or many RSS Readers out there.  Many users just get subscribed to these blogs by default.  Sure, some casually discover the blogs and start reading, but there is a strong possibility that many of those subscribed to these blogs never even read them, some perhaps not even aware that they’re subscribed!

Yet, Numbers Still Do Matter

As Dash implies with Twitter, the number still has an effect.  He mentioned the possibility of brand managers getting raises because their bosses see the number of new subscribers they were able to get for their brand.  From my own personal experience, I’ve seen this on both Twitter and my blog.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been introduced as “influential” because I’m one of “the most followed Twitter users in Utah”, or “he has over 7,000 subscribers to his blog!”  Like it or not, many opportunities have opened up because of this.  All that and I don’t even have a million subscribers!

Let’s add to that the fact that I can sell it for money too.  On my blog I can sell ads for more because of this.  People are more likely to subscribe and tell their friends because beyond just content, they see that number as “influential”.  I’ve been introduced to many consulting opportunities because of this.  Of course I insist on proving myself beyond the numbers (I sincerely hope no one would hire me or anyone else based on numbers alone!), but numbers do matter!  For instance, if you have more subscribers than anyone else you get to say you are the top blog on the internet – that’s a powerful statement!  You bet it works.

Numbers also lead to better content.  As I consult for others I can’t tell you the number of people that want to pitch to blog X or blog Y because they have more subscribers than the others.  Having more people pitch to you means you get the scoop on more and better content, and you’re given more control.  The articles written may not bring much traffic, but the fact that “a big blog wrote about you” also means you can feature this in Press Releases, on your company blog, or more, giving the entrepreneur more attention from VCs, big businesses deals, and potential acquisitions down the road.  But if you’re looking for traffic some times it’s better to pitch to numerous smaller blogs than one or two big blogs.  If you want influence pitch to the bigger blogs.

Organic vs. Inorganic

There are many bloggers like Scoble, Chris Brogan, Louis Gray, and others that have built their audiences by working to build relationships with their readers, one-by-one.  Yet, others that have built their entire business model around blogging do it by creating business relationships, signing contracts, and then interacting with their readers as they have time.  I think both types of bloggers have similar trust with their readers.  Producing lots and lots of good content vs. building relationships with content are both good strategies, and both can produce similar results in how they affect those that read their content, as well as individual opportunities for the bloggers.

I think in the end it comes down to which is most rewarding.  I’m not going to say which one that is as that’s a matter of opinion – can a pure focus on numbers and subscriber counts vs. building relationships and organically building your audience be more or just as rewarding?  In the end we know one thing – that little number up there doesn’t mean what you think it says.

Or does it?

The You, the Me, and the We – How I’m Changing How I Use Twitter

Sad PuppyI accidentally unfollowed all my followers.

I was testing out the unfollow all feature on my site,, and just happened to hit the “delete all friends” button by mistake without realizing it. For that, I apologize.  I learned something valuable from it though – out of the 23,000 people I unfollowed on accident, I was very surprised at the number of people that have auto-unfollow on by default.  About 6,000 to be exact.  So out of the 23,000 people following me 1/4th of those probably still have no clue I unfollowed them – 6,000 people following me had a meaningless relationship with me!

There’s more though – I post a lot of links to my profile.  A lot of those promote other people.  Some promote blog posts I write.  In general, for the blog posts I write, I generally only get about 20-50 of you on Twitter that actually click on the links!  That’s a depressing number coming from a follower base of 23,000 people.

This got me thinking about how I can build stronger relationships with the people I follow.  How do I get people to add me to their whitelist?  How can I get to know you better, and how can I get you to know me better at the same time? Twitter is very difficult to nurture this type of relationship – it was built as a broadcasting platform that happened to evolve to become a communications and is trying to be a relationships platform.  It also degraded to the point that most of the people that follow you now aren’t even real people! I would venture to say that a good portion (1/4th?) of Twitter’s populace are there with the sole intent to gain a larger follower base.

This isn’t why I use Twitter. I came here to share something.  I came here to learn something from others. The connections we gain from learning from each other are what matter to me. Some times we entertain each other.  Some times we teach each other.  I’m here to strengthen others’ knowledge and learn from others at the same time, not inflate a number for anyone, especially myself. IMO the whole “numbers thing” should happen naturally.  That’s how we engage.  That’s how we build real relationships – that’s what true marketing is, or should be about.

So starting today I’m starting something new with my Twitter account.  I want to strengthen my relationships with each and every one of you.  I want to build a community, and I’m starting with Twitter.

Starting today I’m now using 3 Twitter accounts.  The first one, which you are already familiar with, @Jesse, is about me.  The second one, which I’m starting today, @JessesLinks, is about YOU.  The third one, @JesseStay, is where the community happens – it’s about WE.  Here’s a little more explanation:


This account is about me.  It’s not your typical Twitter “me” account any more.  Starting today, I’m only posting content here.  Pure content – no links, no replies.  Just 140 character morsels of knowledge as I feel like sharing.  Its intent is to be informative, entertaining, and educational.  I may also share a link to a blog post or two of my own where I feel I need to elaborate.  I won’t be replying to anyone publicly on this account any more.  I won’t be auto following at the moment. The purpose of this account is pure content, for those that want to consume it.  This is a public account for all to see and follow.


This account is about YOU. This is where I share your stuff.  If you have something cool you want to share with me, let me know there.  I may retweet a few good Tweets here.  I’ll even auto follow on this account.  While I won’t be @replying to anyone publicly on this account, this is where I get to share your content. Maybe I’ll do a couple #followfridays to promote specific people as well.  You can DM me here.  This is a public account about you – those that follow this account will learn more about other people and the content they share.


This is actually my old account – I thought I’d put it to good use.  This account is all about US. Those that request access to this account will be followed rigorously by me.  Depending on how big it gets I may even follow your updates via SMS to ensure I get them.  This will become my “favorites list”.  I’ll actively interact with you through this account.  I’ll respond to your tweets.  I’ll import all the best posts from @Jesse and @JessesLinks here.  I’m going to manually (yes, manually) follow every person that is real and requests access to this account.  This is where I want to build true relationships.

I want to try a little experiment with this account though.  I’m going to make it private. This is so our conversation remains intimate.  This is also so you have to do a little something to join the community.  It makes each person in the community a little more real.  As I said earlier, I plan to follow every real person that requests access to this community.  There’s one caveat though – I’m going to ask each individual that joins this community to introduce themselves.  I want you and me to get to know each other better. I want all of us to get to know each other better through this community.

If you have to pick one account to follow I would recommend joining the @JesseStay community. This is where I want to empower relationships between us.  This is where I want our conversation to become one-on-one, and real.  Will you join me here?

This is all just an experiment for now.  I’m curious if I might be able to strengthen the relationships of those that follow me through this method.  I want to build real-life relationships with each of you – let’s work to do this together.  Maybe I’ll post a follow up later on how it all goes.

Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

Oops, Twitter Does it Again

Oops I did it again - Britney SpearsI don’t think Twitter is listening. In fact, I remember a few of them mentioning they don’t read the news or blogs so that it doesn’t affect their work. Perhaps it’s about time they start. Today I blogged over on LouisGray about a cool new change to the e-mail notifications on Twitter where they now show a user’s profile image and follower/friend data along with the new follower e-mails they send to you. (and dang it – MG beat me to the news. He’s good!)

What is scary though is what actually happened behind the scenes in this change. Today Twitter, again without notice to developers, completely changed the format of both their new follower and DM e-mails from plain text, to HTML multi-part format, completely breaking any app that was relying on those formats to parse and process new follows or direct messages.

What’s funny is that the very apps I was saying Twitter was venturing into competing ground with, Topify, and Twimailer, are the very types of apps that would have been broken by this change. In addition, apps like Greg Lavallee’s addNetflix app are now broken because they were relying on the plain-text format of the new DM e-mails. In my previous post about Twitter doing this, Greg commented, stating, “When I first read this post last month I thought, “well, if you code your application well, it should take into account potential changes from Twitter.” I also thought that Twitter would warn us about bigger changes. Wrong on both counts.” Many apps are relying on these e-mails, some of them probably completely unaware their apps are broken at the moment.

This issue was brought up on the Twitter developers list this afternoon by TwitReport developer, “TjL” (“Can Twitter Please Pick a From, and Stick With It?”). Evidently the new format also broke the new follower statistics for his app, and has happened multiple times causing him to have to re-educate his users to re-do their filters every time. Matt Sanford, Twitter API Team member responded explaining,

“We had changed the from address to try and improve bounce reporting and prevent being marked as spam by major ISPs. When we added the HTML formatting we found that we needed a consistent address for the ‘always display images’ option in many clients so we changed things around again. Hopefully this will be the last change as it causes us a bunch of work as well. I’ll keep an eye out for future changes and try and let people know.”

The conversation went on to discuss further elements of the e-mail, and Sanford suggested they were going to change the e-mails again after the discussion. I think TjL reflected the developer community’s frustration exactly when he responded to the further changes,

“Seriously? I’ve already started telling people to change their filters
and now they’re going to break *again*.

This is why daddy drinks.

All kidding aside, I don’t understand how a change like this gets
pushed out without the left hand knowing WTF the right hand is doing —
which is what it looks like (from an outsider’s perspective) happened.

IMO/FWIW: You’ve gotten too big to make these sorts of changes without
more consideration and communication. It makes me look bad as a
developer, and it makes Twitter look bad.

The irony is that you’re a company built around communication.”

Twitter has got to change their ways – on my blog posts about this I’m seeing comment after comment of developers now refusing to develop on the Twitter development platform because of their lack of warning during changes like this. The thing is I’m not complaining about rate limits or Twitter scalability or anything like that at all when I’m complaining. As developers, we simply want a little bit of communication before changes go out. I actually like Twitter. I have a business with components built on it so I want it to succeed. I also think the Twitter dev team has done an outstanding job building out this amazing API. The only area they’re failing in right now is communication. We need a) a clear developer ToS, and b) warning before changes go in, or come out. Developers have been amazingly patient for the most part regarding this, but I know there is frustration.

I want to be clear that I love what the Twitter API team is doing. I really like and respect Alex and Matt and the rest of the team working extremely hard, often to the late hours of the night working on this stuff. I’m not sure where the fault lies, but I do hope they are listening. We need some warning on this stuff guys.

There is still no official announcement on the Developer mailing list, nor any official blog post by Twitter on the e-mail changes.

Remember When Your Followers Were Deleted? Twitter’s Done it Again!

whale.pngEarlier in the year you may remember Twitter “accidentally” deleting a large portion of a majority of their users’ followers and having to spend days restoring those from tape backup due to their mishap. Well, it would appear that Twitter has done it again. This time may not be as obvious to users.

On I was noticing we were getting “Rate Limit Exceeded” errors for our whitelisted @socialtoo user. Such errors shouldn’t be happening for whitelisted users so I looked into it. Sure enough, on the Twitter development mailing list I noticed an email from the founder of MrTweet, Yu-Shan Fung, stating they too were seeing the same issue with their @mrtweet whitelited user.

Alex Payne, Twitter API Lead, confirmed the issue, stating, “It looks like some database maintenance inadvertently truncated our table of whitelisted users.” He then continued in a follow-up e-mail making the problem seem worse: ‘The updated estimate I’ve just received from our ops guys is “more
than 15 minutes and less than 12 hours”. They have to restore from a
nightly database backup. Said backups are quite large, and take some
time to get through.’ It would appear that Twitter has inadvertently deleted an entire table of all the whitelisted users – this is the table that enables many of the Twitter Apps you use to continue to talk to the API without breaking. This is what we as developers are relying on to work or our Apps go down.

It was the exact issue of database deletion and insecurity of Twitter being competent enough to not do it again that caused me to go on hiatus from Twitter earlier in the year. Problems like deleting an entire table from a database, especially twice in a year, are inexcusable Twitter! I recommend finding someone that can ensure this doesn’t happen again. It’s time to upgrade your Operations team. As developers, we simply can’t rely on this, and it’s why I called my service SocialToo and not TwitterToo.

In the meantime, many of the Twitter services you use until this gets resolved may have issues. This includes autofollow being down until the table in the Twitter database is up again. I’ll keep you updated on the @socialtoo Twitter account when this comes up again.