As Twitter grows, so the number of potential spammers to my daily tweet stream increases. Twitter’s user model is the saving factor in all of this ‘noise’. It prevents me from being overwhelmed and could have important advantages over existing legacy internet services like email. In this blog post I’ll look at whether other internet services like email could learn a lesson from the way Twitter connects its users.
My main Twitter stream is like an RSS reader; my Mentions stream is like my Email inbox and my Direct Messages are like my Instant Messenger service(s). I can reduce my RSS spam by subscribing to less feeds and I have direct control over my Instant Messenger communications.
The biggest culprit for unwanted communication in my life is Email and as a concept it’s not moved with the times to block this abuse of the internet and my time. With Twitter I can be @mentioned or replied to through use of my username in a tweet so anyone can get a message to me even if I don’t follow them. This is the equivalent of getting an email from a previously unknown source. Twitter, though, allows me to Block the sender at the first sign of trouble. Suddenly, I am no longer plagued by messages from this source and without them knowing.
Whilst the ability to not follow people or block them gives me apparent control, most Twitter users are aware of the quantity of fake Twitter accounts registered on a daily basis. By fake, I mean an account being used for other purposes than to send genuine micro-updates to the world. My Twitter follower count peaks and troughs based on these fake phishing accounts trying to persuade me to follow links in their timeline just because they’ve done me the ‘honour’ of following me. And I’m sure for some, the vanity of this spam attempt works. However it does also mean that a newly registered fake account could still mention me in a tweet and I’d, once more, get the notification in my Mentions stream and I’d have to move to block it again. Cat and mouse once more.
Most Twitter fake accounts at the moment are passive. They list bad or spam URLs in their timeline and just follow other users. It won’t be long before they start to actively tweet those they follow to try and get users to click on a link, probably compressed by a URL Shortener service to obfuscate the spam or even malware destination.
Twitter does offer the Privacy option which will batten down the hatches so that only people you authorise can contact you. This does have the desired effect of blocking all but validated users but does turn you into an island limiting your communications. Which as an email replacement isn’t exactly useful.
Compared to the ‘open door’ policy of email, without some additional junk mail service running on our behalf, the Twitter subscription model does take us a step closer to reducing spam.
The eternal question of how you verify that a newly registered account is a real person will always be difficult to find a solution to. We need to take steps to put us, as the consumer, in charge of what we receive.
If Twitter’s user model was applied to email, could you see it reducing your spam traffic? As service providers are running out of bandwidth and we might face being charged on data quantity downloaded isn’t it about time we fixed email to stop the large slice of the world’s traffic being wasted on spam?
Your thoughts, as ever, gratefully received in open discussion.
(Of course, we’d need to lift the 140 character limit to make it a true replacement, unless we simply link to our email text in Google Docs or some online source. )