Sharing Links on Twitter

Of the few times I’ve posted something on TechCrunch, no matter the topic, it literally flies around Twitter with incredible speed. That is partly because TechCrunch has done a great job of establishing its distribution through multiple channels, but also partly because TechCrunch is a brand that, in technology, seems to drive much of the news in consumer and mobile internet technology, whether folks agree with it or not.

Lately, however, say the summer of 2011, I’ve noticed some troubling signs, both on the part of Twitter’s own infrastructure but also of the folks who use the medium. First, suppose an article is posted on TechCrunch’s Twitter account, which has close to 2m followers. By my eyeball estimates, for every 100 times that link is shared, about 80 of those sharing the link are fake accounts that have been designed as bots to auto-retweet the content. Of the remaining 20 shares, which I’ll generously assume are real people, most of the links are shared with the headline verbatim — with no personalization or comment on the link. Of these 20, I’d say that only 3 people will repost and share a link and actually add their own twist or spin on the link.

If 3% of all the retweets and shares of a link actually do more than a simple bot or regurgitation of an original tweet, what is the value of a share on Twitter? Where do all the tweets go? It’s obvious Twitter has both a spam and authenticated user problem, so let’s forget about the 80% for now, no matter how big of a noise issue that presents. For the remaining 20%, it’s just folks going to the source, perhaps reading the article, and then hitting the Tweet button. You never really know if they read it or not. In fact, by tracking some of these of late, there are folks with Twitter accounts who simply just retweet links from TechCrunch. That is their online activity.

I’ve tried to shave down the amount of people I “follow” on every network. As an information junkie, my first instinct is to follow interesting stuff or acquaintances, but when my senses kick in, I realize that I have to keep it simple in order to keep up to date. For instance, if someone I follow simply regurgitates articles with no added value or their own perspective, I just unfollow. Nothing personal, but I want the personalization.

I’ve tried to take the following approach to sharing articles on Twitter:

  • I only share articles that I’ve actually read, unless the person sharing provides an interesting spin on the link.
  • I don’t share every article I read.
  • If I do read something and I want to share it, I try to come up with my own words to describe it.

Twitter is a great tool for discovery, but because of the all the spam, bots, and those who just share content without much thought, it makes discovery a lot harder than it should be. As a result, I have had to monitor my feed more closely and tried to set some guidelines, both for myself and those that I follow. In the immediate term, I get by fine using this method. In the long term, I can’t see how Twitter will be useful unless the 80% of garbage is cleaned up.