Are We Following The Wrong People?

Just two days ago, I presented two lists of people to follow in software development for blogs and Twitter from Jurgen Appelo. The funny part about this is that in my recent blog reading, I am getting the feeling that we may not be following the right people. Why do I say this, especially after presenting “who to follow” lists? Let me first give you some of the context of my thinking. First I was reading a post from Chris Brogan and a quote jumped out:

When asked to define “Web 2.0,” I usually just shortcut and say it’s the two-way web. It’s our ability to shoot back that makes it interesting. It is also, very much, about the removal of distribution roadblocks, of jumping the hurdles of authority.

I highlight this because it is an excellent summarization of the power of sites like Twitter and FriendFeed. On those sites, you can avoid the normal channels and interact directly with those people seen as an authority on a subject. This is a fantastic development for the internet. This also further reinforces who the authorities tend to be. This is due to the “echo chamber” concept that many people complain about in social media. A recent post by Kevin Palmer on Social Media Explorer highlights this echo problem.

One thing I have the most trouble getting over is the massive echo chamber that is social media… As I have explored Twitter more I became fascinated that the same people are always mentioned as people that one should follow. Chris Brogan, Guy Kawasaki, Liz Strauss, Darren Rowse, and a handful of others are on just about every list.

As Kevin states, I am not saying to not follow these people as they could teach you more about their areas of expertise than I could. However, they are some of the most followed people on Twitter. There is little that you will be gaining from them that others are not. This means that you need to explore outside the standard authority figures to determine who that “undiscovered mind” may be. Granted, all of the social sites have various purposes, like networking, but I am focusing more on the aspect of learning. When you follow these people, you expect to learn something and maybe gain some competitive advantage.

If everyone is following the same people, then everyone will be getting the same information. As the number of subscribers grows, the value of that information will likely decrease. So, you need to find those people that are just as smart or experienced, but do not have the massive followings of people like Guy or Darren. I am not saying you should follow me on Twitter, but who do you follow that gives you that nugget of information that gives you the edge. Who is your secret weapon?

24 thoughts on “Are We Following The Wrong People?

  1. Robert

    I specifically avoided including you in this as you are a special case. Very few people can process information like you or Louis Gray and others. However, I do agreed that searches and filters like the things you can now do with friendfeed will make subscriptions less important and the information that is shared will rise in importance again.


  2. I actively eschew power users across all social networks and on twitter am starting to think about pruning those I follow. Sometimes, it’s just too much to be humanly possible.

    Someone out there ought to write a good article on the difference between social media and “look at me” herd mentality. It’s the latter which really turns me off digg etc.


  3. Chris, some people just attract followers no matter what network they are on. Robert Scoble will always have a ton of people following, but that is due to quality information. Other people try to increase their subscriber numbers because of the ego problem, but that is also just part of human nature.


  4. Let’s face it, for new Twitter users there are “Most Followed” lists everywhere – and we know how much people like lists. They feel that these people must know something otherwise they wouldn’t be on such a list (more often than not a false premise btw).

    I think this following the most followed phenomenon will eventually dissipate once Twitter and/or 3rd party apps produce a search function that does a good job helping people find people/orgs that match their interests/needs.

    Having said that, nothing will ever take the place of a referral/suggestion from a trusted friend and/or colleague.


  5. Julie

    I never understood the “most followed” lists. Why do I care that they are the most followed? I guess it appeals to the “am I missing something” idea.

    I do agree that as twitter is adopted by more people, there will be a more diverse set of people being mass followed as well. Referrals are obviously going to be even more important then too.


  6. Rob

    There is only one reason for doing “most followed” lists – the impossibility for creating “fewest followed” lists.

    I really like your post, because once I followed one of these twitter celebs. I stopped doing that, because it had only little value to me. This person was tweeting for all his thousands of followers an did like 30 tweets a day. Now I follow people who will retweet him, when there is something of value to them. So I won’t miss anything of value and can concentrate on following different people who tweet more interesting stuff to me.


  7. Richie

    What you are doing is using the power of your network to provide filtering for you. This is a very good long term strategy, especially as the number of people you want to listen to increases.


  8. The balancing of news-makers vs news-sharers will always be an issues about re-tweeting, creating spam or sharing what you and others would feel is fresh and original content.

    My way is to follow recognizable newsmakers, as listed in the post, and personally filter out the ‘black-hat’ news-sharers from the upcoming news-makers.

    It has been a while since I’ve seen a mention of interesting people (other than the ‘Top List’ by the ‘Top List’).


  9. After seeing the 30 minutes video of Robert Scoble, I even more delved into FriendFeed.

    To me, it is one of the best toolboxed around.

    As an example, I have integrated the tweets of some eight editors of a well known Dutch Government Ning community site in a single room:
    (all in Dutch)

    I publish this room on a number of other communities and platforms; increasing the visibility of this editors group (of which I am part).

    In this way I can re-publish a Twitter group conversation multiple ways.

    ‘Piece of cake’ using FriendFee (and Robert, thanks again for the great video on FastCompanyTV – at:!


  10. AK,

    The balance is key. I like lists mainly for the discovery they provide. So, I am not keen on “top 100” lists, but a list of java developers would be cool to see. My lists would be more categorizations.


    Aggregation is very powerful especially when combined with the distribution side. Once the data gets into a usable site like FriendFeed, you can filter it all sorts of ways.


  11. Hi Rob,

    Yeah, I think there’s a degree of truth to your post.

    The lists are helpful for highlighting certain industry people, who have, by their own work got themselves to that position.

    But that certainly doesn’t mean that their word is the be all and end all. We need variety, we all so need to hear the other side of every story, it’s not a dissimilar idea to my recent celebration of mistakes” post.

    We all need to hear fresh ideas and following people for reasons other than the number of followers they have is very important.

    Also, writing lists of people to follow around subjects is often an easy bit of blog content. There are a number of tools for Twitter now that allow you to search for subject matter in feeds, thus, for example, identifying those that mention social media the most. Does this mean they’re the best people to follow, not necessarily so.

    Something I mean to do more often, but don’t, is turn of the following feed and just watch the general public feed on Twitter and friendfeed, i.e. Everyone.

    Everyone has a different opinion, we shouldn’t follow others like sheep. That said, people usually become experts in their fields through experience and we can all learn from them. But that shouldn’t be the only voice we hear.


  12. Your sentence of “If everyone is following the same people, then everyone will be getting the same information.”

    I found particularly interesting. I find myself having to unfollow people because their entire ‘conversations’ were just re-tweeting those in the top 10 lists. Just Rting someone else’s view does not mean it’s interaction, or your even own thoughts on it.

    I think maybe after using Twitter for a while you start to wade through what people tell you to do and begin to realise that a list of contacts that you actually engage with and get value back is a list of gold. I’m only just finding the confidence to break free from the ‘follow’.


  13. Its funny that you linked to the most popular people that are being followed Guy Kawasaki, Darren Rowse, Chris Brogan and Liz Strauss. I’m still trying to figure out why there aren’t more people showing up with posts on tweetdeck for Twitter. Are there only a few people sending posts or does it go by the amount of traffic each has? Its funny there are days when Guy Kawasaki will send out similiar things to what we’re posting on twitter at lifeinthegalaxy 🙂


  14. I just wish they weren’t always the same people but I end up with them, sometimes because they publish fast, flawless, trustful information. But hold it one second, who says I am on twitter just for the smartest people, the most experienced who teach something valuable. The idea is interesting anyway, to find the right person with a lower profile yet to be discovered among the general public. Yep, for educational purposes this would be a great point. I agree with what Chris Milton says here anyway “Someone out there ought to write a good article on the difference between social media and ‘look at me’ herd mentality”. I like good tweets from influential people but I am not willing to take all the crap from them just for the sake of being in the herd.


  15. It goes deeper than the simple echo chamber. It goes to the level of interaction that those that you’re following can afford with you. If you look at someone like Robert Scoble he has thousands of followers and he takes the time to answer as many people as possible.

    Look at Ijustine though and rather than address every single user by name she speaks to them as a group, more as an speaker.

    They’re two very different styles that give people two very different feelings as to how twitter should be used.

    Of course after that there are the smaller minds, the individuals in effect. They are not recognised yet but may be conversational. As a result of this you’ve got a nice dialogue that can form and future collaborations are possible. That’s not the only aim of course.

    I find it interesting to avoid following the biggest names, and focus on those that focus on us. We get more out of the process.


  16. Human beings continually amaze me with their ability to apply meaning to almost anything. Perhaps my perception is biased as an outsider, but what is the point of making sure to follow the right people to begin with? What does a person really gain on a professional, emotional and spiritual level by making sure to find and follow the right people on social media? I understand why a person would want to blog. I understand why a person would want to read a good blog. But making sure to read a blog or subscribe to a feed because OTHER people think the information is valuable? Well, what does that really matter?

    Maybe it’s just not my “cup of tea” so to speak, but social media seems to be a kind of simulacrum of meaningful social interaction that people take entirely too seriously.


  17. Julie,

    Following people in social media is like trying to define your information filter. Two apps that I use for this filtering are google reader and friendfeed. The people I follow give me some information that I would normally not see as I do not want to read some blogs all the time. For example, I read Jesse Stay’s reader shares because of the Facebook information, and Mike Fruchter shares good marketing information. If I did not follow them, how do I know how to find good information on these topics besides a generic google search? This prefiltering is fantastic when you start moving away from your normal area of interest.

    Granted, this is an “insider” opinion, so the best answer probably lies somewhere between mine and yours.


  18. @rob
    I think my problem is that I am simply not eloquent enough to formulate the proper question/idea in my mind with regards to social media. And, if I invested the effort to formulate my question it would probably be only to confirm the high chance it’s already been asked, answered, debated and so forth.

    And, in order to know of this previously existing debate I will have had to be a part of the sphere, investing the time to do that, which I have an inexplicable aversion to because of the un-form-able question.

    So yeah.

    I guess it’s time for bed!


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