Why Qwitter is likely to do more damage than good

Qwitter, a tool which informs you when someone unfollows you on Twitter, is likely to break relationships, sometimes before they’ve had an opportunity to prosper. This is the complete opposite to the ethos of the Twitter community.

I first learned of Qwitter (it didn’t have a name at the time) in January, when the developer asked for feedback on the functionality. I thought then, that it was a very smart widgetery piece of functionality. I still like it from a technical perspective. However, I don’t like the idea of a tool that is likely to give some of its users the wrong impression.

How can it give the wrong impression?

  1. Some followers subscribe to my RSS feed instead of following on Twitter. I know this because a few of them took to the time to write and say that I shouldn’t be offended if I didn’t see them following me. Some chose RSS so they didn’t miss any of my tweets, whilst others thought I had too much to say and they didn’t want their stream taken up by so many of my tweets.
  2. Some people follow/unfollow/follow… depending on the noise level they receive from individuals like me.
  3. Some thought they were following me, but weren’t, as the system unsubscribed them for some reason.
  4. Some thought I wasn’t following them as they were unable to send me direct messages. I checked and confirmed I was actually following them.

You could argue that Qwitter is a nice way to enable users to nudge friends who they think should be following them, but aren’t. Whilst this might be true for some, it won’t be for most. I’ve been using Twitter for longer than most – before it became a conversational tool. So, I’ve had time to learn all of the above. However, some less experienced, or people with less insight, will undoubtidly get the wrong impression and assume that people have unfollowed them for the wrong reason and without asking why, may reciprocate.

Comments  Join the discussion

  1. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Johnny Beirne said...

    Hi Paul,

    I have only turned Qwitter on and hadn’t considered the above. I also asked the question earlier “Can I enter any username in Qwitter and monitor (stalk) their ‘quiting’ activity? Not that I want too but curious”

    Anywho, I will use it for a while but perhaps I should promote my Twitter RSS more than my Twitter.



  2. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Marcus Mac Innes said...

    Which is exactly why I think this is a disruptive app.
    It could potentially disrupt the way people use twitter today… Unfollowing people now has a consequence – they will know and rightly or wrongly this is going to have a bearing on unfollow decisions. Cat amongst the pigeons I say! Well done to Eoghan, Paul, Des and Dave!

  3. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  don crowley said...

    spot on Paul. What also misses the mark is the last tweet bit. The last tweet before I unsubscribe means nothing. Last christmas I tweeted like ‘Scoble’ and lost quite a few followers, once I stopped eating sweets 😉 and calmed down again the fallout disappeared

  4. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Josie Fraser said...

    Yep, agree, but also think it’s a case of the stable door now being opened. I’ve previously been chopping and changing my follow list a lot, depending on what I’m doing and what the other person is doing, time they are posting etc, rather than whether I like, respect, admire etc that person. That will probably stop now. One of the problems (and strengths!) with Twitter is that many people use it as a community rather than broadcasting tool, meaning that they only follow the number of conversations they feel able to manage. This works out fine if there are about the same number of people following you as you follow, but can cause resentment if you don’t feel able to meaningfully engage with as many people who follow you. I’ve got the same tactic as you on this – respond promptly to anyone who @’s me. This worked well previously coupled with ongoing following and unfollowing, but I guess if it’s going to piss people off I might err on the side of stasis, which is a shame.

    Sadly enough, what really interests me about Quitter is the way in which it highlights shifts in community practice – and really points up how far Twitter has come along in terms of being a social networking service, with its own culture, mores and etiquette. No point in banging on about the inconvenience change brings when you choose to work in the social media field 🙂

  5. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Ian Delaney said...

    Entirely agree. Paul. I took a quick look and it was interesting. But a lot of people take these things *far* too seriously.

    No, it doesn’t mean you don’t like or respect someone if you don’t follow them. It just means you didn’t get round to it, didn’t think about it or have a million other things to do.

  6. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Steve Wheeler said...

    I agree with you Paul, but like Josie has said, the genie is out of the bottle now – no going back. And I only follow people on Twitter if a) I know where to find them and b) they have something interesting to say. Unfollowing is as you say, often when the signal to noise ratio goes bad – it’s a temporary measure for many.

  7. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  robwatts said...

    I agree too – a handy little thing if you are into some kind of ‘people’ monitoring gig(theres an idea) but generally, more likely to start a few “why don’t you like me type spats” than any positive conversational flow. Some people are still babies at heart, and rightly or wrongly no one really likes rejection, to wit which in essence is what this tool is all about – a means for knowing who mightn’t like you (thats how its being sold) without any additional context for a multitude of other reasons that might also exist.

  8. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Damien Mulley said...

    Brilliant. If people use this tool and get miffed, great. A tool that lets people know they’re not as great as they think they are might be a good thing in the longrun for them. It’s not damage. If someone unfollows me because I don’t follow them then they may have been following me for entirely the wrong reasons.

    Qwitter (bad name given another app with same name has existed for ages) is an app that is causing emotional reactions and changing the status quo on a social network. That’s Wow right there. Like Marcus said, disruption.

  9. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Why I love TweetDeck - Paul Walsh, the Irish Opportunist said...

    […] last post focused on the negative side of a good tool called Qwitter. My motivation was driven by the urge to […]

  10. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Andrew said...

    I’ve used Twitterless for a while now which does the same basic thing, and found it very weird when I got my first message saying someone had unfollowed me. I felt … Rejected. I think I may even have unfollowed them in turn purely in a tit-for-tat reaction. Funny how this virtual stuff can feel more real than real life at times. A week on and I’m more used to it. Unfollowing isn’t a personal rejection, and could be just a scaling back of activity or a focusing on certain signals. But that analysis takes rational thought and usually we’re more irrational and emotional.

    I’m wondering if I should quit the service. But then wondering if anyone’s unfollowed, and not knowing …

  11. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Alan Levine said...

    Like you I tried it out of curiosity of what it did technically, and saw my first “Qwitt-ed” notice today… and while there is a minor creep factor (like watching someone on close circuit video), I could really give a rats arse who quits following me; it has zero effect. My eqo is not correlated at all with how many followers I have.

    I routinely delete new follow requests unless it is someone I can recognize from the user name; and do more tracking when non followers tweet me via RS feeds for replies and searches.

    However, I don’t ascribe as much power to tools to think this tool, or some other one will “damage” / “break” a social network — it’s not the tool (which are value neutral) but what people do with them.

    That said, I doubt I will use Qwitter at all once I have seen how it works; I am to become a Qwitter quitter.

  12. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Keith Brophy said...

    I think it is a natural progression to see these type of tools come to the fore. There already exists a plethora of Twitter statistical analysis tools that probe, rank, grade, dissect and graph details from follower counts to your follower cost in milliscobles.

    Twitter affords this type of introspection and I would argue that the main user base is fascinated with such data. It is a linear progression from web stats and blog subscribers to analysing a users impact in the Twittersphere.

    Certainly, some interesting discussions may arise from Qwitter notifications, but I think this debate can only further illuminate how these tools are being used and how they fit into our lives.

    People (and machines!) use Twitter for many different reasons – it would be interesting to see how these tools would be used without the availability of such detailed stats.

  13. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Eoghan McCabe said...

    Hi Paul,

    A few quick comments on your post:

    1. Chill out. Qwitter is for fun only. It’s a throw-away app we built in an amount of hours that you could count on two hands.

    2. I mailed you about Qwitter on 11 January 2008 (search your mail for subject: “Just saw your Tweet about unfollow messages…”) not to get your feedback but because you specifically posted on Twitter about wanting such a service! You wondered aloud why Twitter don’t send unfollow messages themselves. Your response was nothing but positive: “do you want me to pimp it?”, “The requests are starting to come in, can I give the link out as a private beta to a few people?”. It’s interesting how your view on this has apparently changed so dramatically…

    3. Like you did in January, people really want this service. Many thousands of people are using it just two days after it was launched. I have dozens of e-mails thanking us. It’s adding great value to their use of Twitter. We’ll know the full extent of this value after a few weeks if we see people cancelling their Qwitter accounts. I’ll publish the data.

    4. Neither of us (especially you, since your track record on denouncing things as “likely to do more damage than good” is a little murky, to say the very least!) are in a position to say whether Qwitter will do “good” or “bad”, whatever those things mean. One way of looking at it might be to guess it could upset those receiving Qwitter messages. In my opinion, that would be “bad” because I really don’t want to upset anyone through this. That would upset me! Another way of looking at it would be to say it brought closer to real life the nature of a Twitter relationship. In my view, Twitter is the most natural of the social sites I know of. Unlike being someone’s Facebook “friend” which is close to meaningless and encourages people to compile lists of names rather than relationships (you have 940 Facebook “friends”), following someone on Twitter means you have to listen to their shite. That’s why I don’t follow you, for example. In defence of the value of Qwitter and the “good” I think it will do, I believe it will make Twitter relationships more human. I’ll think twice about following someone and (now, thanks to Qwitter) unfollowing someone, just as I’ll think twice about starting to go out with a girl or then break up with her or hang out with certain groups or specifically not hang out with them. Damien Mulley understands this: “If someone unfollows me because I don’t follow them then they may have been following me for entirely the wrong reasons.” This is what real human relationships are all about.

    Anyway, if you don’t like Qwitter or think it will do harm, just don’t use it and stop promoting it. 🙂

  14. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Paul Anthony said...

    I seriously can’t believe this sparked so much debate. To a lot of people take these things *far* too seriously.

    If you unfollow someone it’s not the end of the world for the tweeter, and the damage done is nothing more than ego-tistical.

    I wish the number of followers someone has would stop being touted as a badge of honour. Seriously.

  15. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Bernie Goldbach said...

    Then there’s the systemic problem many of us have where Twitter inexplicably unfollows people we have followed. Add that system issue alongside my preference to occasionally unfollow when I’m not within 3 time zones and you have the potential for people to read way too much into following and being followed.

    Twitter will never be the only backbone of vibrant social networking so it’s hardly worth thinking about the psychological impact of Qwitter.

  16. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Marie said...

    I think the whole point of Quitter is based on what value it brings to your use of Twitter. If you’re using Twitter as a way of engaging with an audience from a business/networking point of view, then yes, it brings value. If you’re giving a public talk/lecture and someone (who you presumably thought would find this of value) gets up and walks out of the room this is proof of lack of interest (or possibly a weak bladder). Wouldn’t you like to be able to pinpoint when people unfollow, too noisey perhaps or not relevant to them, etc?

    If on the other hand you tweet for larks then this tool is simply for sh*ts and giggles and chances are your real-life best friends won’t unfollow you so you shouldn’t get so worked up about people you don’t know very well choosing not to tune in to your stream of consciousness. In summation, nope, not damaging unless you have a fragile ego, besides, it’s fun to take note of who unfollows you and plan elaborate revenge!

  17. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    @Eoghan – I couldn’t be bothered to debate why/how I got to see Qwitter in January. I love comments/quotes which are out of context – it completely distorts the conversation.

    I have no doubt that Qwitter will be a success as you are right, many people will want to use the service. It’s very good.

    As per my last post, my motivation for writing this post was to highlight to some people, that they may be unfollowed for reasons that they hadn’t thought of.

    The number of emails and DMs I received in support of my opinion far outweigh the number of comments on this blog. Clearly my post was received well. It’s only my personal opinion so you shouldn’t feel so upset by it.

    As for point 4. In short, Qwitter is as negative as you are in person and as you are on your blog – which I read for short while, before being depressed with your constant negative output. You’re only one of three people I blocked on Twitter. That by the way, is not why I commented on your product. I knew my post would help promote it, which it did, quite well it would seem.

  18. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    Thanks for leaving comments guys. I don’t want you to think I’m ignoring you, so…

    Taken from the first paragraph of my post which followed this one:

    My last post focused on the negative side of a good tool called Qwitter. My motivation was driven by the urge to provide a little insight to how it ‘could’ be used in the wrong way. It wasn’t my intention to slate the product. So, there are good reasons to use Qwitter, but at least digest my post and remember not to make too many assumptions when people unfollow you.


  19. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Charles on… anything that comes along » How to be a good citizen of Twitter: it’s all about the links, baby (updatedx2) said...

    […] 2: Paul Walsh thinks Qwitter will do more harm than good. That could be right. People get too wound up on whether they’re being followed reciprocally. […]

  20. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Sabrina Dent: Pixel Pushing Ireland » Qwitter is for Friends said...

    […] not sound like the stuff of which social network meltdowns are made. But Qwitter was met with some frankly histrionic opinions along the lines of: Qwitter… is likely to break relationships, sometimes before […]

  21. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  John Kennedy said...

    Eoghan, you should repurpose the app for Facebook. Imagine the carnage when people become aware of who’s “unfriended” them. Seriously, I think you’d clear up!!!

  22. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Paul Campbell said...

    “I knew my post would help promote it, which it did, quite well it would seem.”

    So far your post has sent 33 people. Thanks for the link!

  23. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Paul Campbell said...

    @John Kennedy Was thinking that over the weekend. I think facebook are a bit more strict on the usage of their API. Probably worth a punt though!

  24. flag
    Paul Walsh  Paul Walsh said...

    @Paul C – Glad to see you picked up on something constructive. It’s not necessarily about the number of people who hit your site from this blog – other blogs have covered after reading about it here. Also, most would have come from Twitter. It’s not a numbers game.

    You’re like kids who live in a tiny rural village – who get upset because I had commented on the cons of your app. Grow up.

    Sigh. I can’t believe I spent my time writing that comment.

  25. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  David Barrett said...

    Personally, I can’t believe you made a comment like that, then demanded Contrast grow up. There’s only so much irony I can take in one day.

  26. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Oisin Prendiville said...

    This is great fun.. Long may the baiting and bashing continue!

  27. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  icedcoffee | words » qwit it said...

    […] Paul Walsh […]

  28. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Lar Veale said...

    Hi Paul,

    Where you saw negativity, I saw raw energy, passion, playfulness, freshness and honesty in Eoghan’s blogging.

    This is now being added to by tremendous thought provoking insight from Des.

    It’s quickly becoming the best blog in Ireland so I’d encourage you to give it another look.

    Say Hi to Aido and enjoy HK.


  29. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Stef said...

    I thought I’d try it out to see what happened. I clicked on your profile and unfollowed you, then clicked follow again, then I waited… This morning you’re no longer following me! ;-P

  30. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Luke said...

    Didn’t realise people are so sensitive about un-following!

    I follow those that interest me, entertain or bring some kind of value. I stop following those that don’t.

    When someone stops following me, I don’t see it as an attack or snub. I’m not even interested. Clearly I have nothing to offer them that they want.

    I would never un-follow someone in order to offend them – as insults go, it’s a bit ‘Pathetic Sharks’!

  31. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Christian DE NEEF said...

    Since I am on twitter, which is not that long, I am not particularly tracking who is following me (I learned the other day that you can receive an email for every new follower, a feature I am happy I didn’t discover/use) and whilst I tried qwitter out of curiosity, I don’t intend to use it to track who is UNfollowing me… To me, twitter is a very loose community, so why bother about followings? It’s not about the numbers, anyway!

  32. flag
    4Avatars v0.3.1 v0.3.1  Tuesday Push ~ An open push | Dave Kelly :: Blog said...

    […] If I had one (small) criticism of the design, it’s the character’s arm that obscures part of the interface. While it’s an innovative idea that I haven’t seen before, I don’t see the value it adds, and it seems to go against the simplicity of the service. The service itself is useful in its simplicity, a fantastic marketing idea, and suitably damaging to your ego when you get one of their mails (I’ve had two, and each made me feel like I died a little). Well, not really. I don’t really think it’s actually likely to damage anyone. […]

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