It seems I can’t post anything to Twitter recently without suddenly gaining a follower. “What a braggart!” you might say (brilliant word braggart) but this really isn’t a boast. These apparent followers are nothing more than bots, trawling the twitterverse for keywords and automatically following people that use them.
This isn’t that new in Twitter but its frequency – at least anecdotally for me – is becoming much more prominent. For example I recently posted a reply to a follower about books and how they should all have a digital equivalent. Searching for a quote in a book is much quicker when its digital. It appears simply this use of the word ‘Book’ got me a new follower. Hurrah, new found internet fame!
In actuality the follower was simply a bot for a user that was attempting to get individuals to talk about their favourite book. A worthwhile pursuit perhaps, but not exactly an individual interested in me. However I have also gathered other less altruistic followers , law firms simply from discussing IP law, book publishers who picked up on my complaints about the publishing industry and even a brooklyn wedding DJ after tweeting about visiting a wedding venue (which is about 3,445 miles from Brooklyn).
In all honesty (probably killing my internet cred here) I’d say about 85% of my followers on Twitter followed me not because they think I have something interesting to say, but simply because I used the right words and their bot picked me up as a potential customer
The capitalist urge to market and profit has obviously found its way into Twitter, and there are already seminars and courses on how to utilise Twitter for your business. US electronics retailer Best Buy even makes 250 Twitter followers a requirement of their applicants to marketing jobs, whether they count bots or not is unknown. What I find primarily interesting about this is the cycle of innovation and capitalist co-option. I’m sure many were drawn to Twitter for its open nature, the simplicity to talk with people you’d never meet otherwise. This however is also what brought marketing to it, and in a way it’s perhaps making Twitter a little less appealing to some. MySpace appears to be dying off since the News Corp purchase, the primary mainstay being bands using it as a marketing platform. Facebook, already swamped with applications has now reached a massive audience but with audience comes adverts and third party marketing which may be chasing off the early adopters.
This of course is not meant to be an anti-capitalist rant, these services need financial support in some way or another and it appears that advertising has become the primary source for supporting net services. According to the OECD, advertising agencies worldwide pulled in $445 billion USD in 2007 from selling internet advertising slots. These were primarily search based pay-per click and placement such as banner and sidebar ads. However the OECD also noted a rise in ‘behavioural advertising’, what could also be called taste targeted or algorithmic. This was two years ago (20 in internet time) so we’re forced to simply imagine how this has changed by now. However with so many ‘recommendation’ systems (iTunes, Last.fm, Amazon, Facebook ads etc) it has become apparent that we should perhaps get used to paying for these services with information about ourselves… oh I just got another bot.