If you’re not famous, joining Twitter is painful

Twitter is great if you are a celebrity. Jerry Seinfeld joined a few days ago and already has 180k followers. But what if you are a random person who joins Twitter today? What’s in it for you?

Let’s say I’m Charlie Bucket and I see Seinfeld’s page. Awesome, I want to join Twitter and start interacting with people. I create an account and I’m shown a screen like this:

Seinfeldfollows

Ok, I know Chris Rock but I don’t want to follow him. Who are these other people? Take me out of this screen. Skip. Next step, Interests:

Twitter-interests

Ok. Chocolate is not there. Golden Tickets? Nintendo? Boring. I have an option to search by interest so I try chocolate. I see a number of accounts that supposedly will talk about chocolate. But, can I chat with them? Will they care about me? I click on the first suggestion (@divinechocolate) and see that he/she/it has 8k followers and doesn’t follow a lot of people. Ok, I’ll skip this section too.

Next step, friends. I don’t want Twitter to start looking into my Gmail and follow people who are on Twitter. Let’s jump back to reality for a moment. I’m not really Charlie Bucket, I’m creating this account for fun. My friends won’t know what’s going on it if Charlie Bucket follows them. Ok, back to Charlie Bucket. I click on “Search Contacts” for Gmail and I get a Fail Whale. Whatever, I’ll find my friends later.

So, after confirming my account this is what @charlucket’s home page looks like (after he unfollowed Seinfeld because he cluttered his timeline):

Charlucket

Charlucket’s avatar is also an egg, which is appropriate because he has 0 followers, 0 tweets and 0 listed.

So much for telling the world what’s happening! Nobody’s listening. So Charlie drops out of Twitter never to be seen again. Opening random Wonka bars is a better way to spend his time.

What I would do if I were Twitter

First, let’s admit that part of what makes Twitter interesting is egos and follower counts. There is clearly a pecking order on Twitter that doesn’t exist in other social networks. If you have 10k followers you can tell off some loser with only 500. When you join Twitter you are the new dorky kid in school. This is a direct result of how Twitter chose number of followers as an indicator of karma, along with number of tweets. That’s ok and shouldn’t change, but it does create the problem that new users need a way to build karma, and currently that doesn’t exist.

As a new Twitter user, it’s extremely hard to gain followers. I know, I’ve tried. People who happily respond to my tweets with my real account ignore witty comments from my “nobody” ones. People I’ve never heard of come and follow my official account. Nobody follows @charlucket.

I don’t know what Twitter’s business objectives are, but let’s assume that they want to create network connections and incentivize people to remain engaged. Here’s what I would do for a new user:

1) Don’t expose them to celebrities, or care so much about showing them people to follow. It’s ok to suggest a few people, but two screens of strangers who won’t give me the time of the day is too much.

2) Force me to introduce myself to the world. Do an ice-breaker. Let me put something out there about me that may help others find me and follow me.

3) Help me find newbies like me, who want to follow and be followed! It’s not hard to suggest pairs of newbies who should follow each other based on location, language or a few things they just said. Help me bootstrap my audience.

Remember Twitter, people want to be heard. There’s enough broadcast crap in the world. Celebrities don’t need another soapbox. This is why you should be very afraid of Google+, they give people an instant audience. That’s very powerful.

Speaking of, go follow @dbasch on Twitter now 🙂