Since Twitter first opened its doors to the public back in July 2006, pretty much everybody has been obsessed with a single number – namely, how many followers do you have?
Attractive as large follower counts can look, they are, and always have been, a false metric. Easily gamed (or bought), follower counts are, in many cases, indicative of nothing, and they certainly do not tell us anything about a user’s actual influence.
So there has to be a better way to do this… right?
Perhaps so, at least according to Twitter cofounder and former CEO Evan Williams, who suggests that another familiar Twitter property might actually be the superior metric.
“The thing I think would be more interesting than followers is… retweets,” said Williams, who spoke at a Branch roundtable in Manhattan yesterday. “The dream metric is how many people saw your tweet.”
Williams also offered some clues as to why Twitter has been so aggressively closing doors on former partners of late, because with greater control over clients and apps Twitter could “measure whether or not a tweet was requested in a timeline”.
“If they [Twitter] control the clients, there’s better data,” he said.
Reading between the lines, you could easily speculate that Twitter might be preparing itself to take on another major player in its ecosystem – Klout. But scathing as I might be about these kinds of services, I’m not sure that an official Twitter measure of influence is any more reliable. After all, that could just as easily be manipulated – or promoted – too.
And unless they make the pretty ballsy decision to hide the follower count number on everyone’s profile page – and also stop making this data available via the API – I’m not sure your common or garden Twitter user will ignore this in favour of anything else. People like charts, and people like big numbers. This is a nice idea from Evans, and he’s right – we do need a better metric – but it’s going to take more than that to trigger such a significant, psychological shift in the way we all use the Twitter network.