The 11 Second Relationship

Published On December 15, 2009 | By mbalogh | Blog, Uncategorized

Some twitterers have thousands of followers and, likewise, follow thousands.  What are the implications of this?  Are they really taking an active interest in each other, or is this us just lots of people being polite at first and ignoring each other later?  If we assume 5,000 friends with a normal 8 hours sleep we can take the 960 minutes left in the day and simply divide.  Conversing with each of 5,000 friends would leave about 11 seconds for each of them.  11 seconds per. day.  If that’s the scope of your relationship, how deep could it really be?

If you’re like me you have a twitter account and, on that twitter account, you regularly have random "people" follow you.  And, if you’re like me, when this happens you get pretty excited about a possible new connection you’ve made with someone out there in that great big world who shares your interests and likes what you have to say enough to initiate a more formal relationship.  The next logical step when making a new friend, if you’re like me, is to see what they have to say, to take an interest in them, to possibly shed some light on why they chose you out of twitters millions of users.  So you check out their profile.  Then you see it:  Following 2587, Followed 0, Tweets 0.  And then you realize this isn’t a new friend at all.

Online social networking has done just what the name implies.  We’ve taken social norms and brought them online.  In short, we’re polite.  If someone extends you a compliment, "I like your shoes", you extend one back, "I like your bag".  The same becomes true with the twitter equivalent, "I’m interested in what you have to say".  But where’s the value in that?  What you’re really saying is "I’ll follow you, but I’ll filter you out with TweetDeck".  Is this really what you want?  A relationship founded on a lie?  I don’t think so.

There has to be a threshold for relationship depreciation.  Well, there has to be if it’s a relationship you want.  CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk), for example, has over 2.8 million followers but follows only 21.  Dividing followers by following yields a pretty hefty integer.  From this we can surmise @cnnbrk might have something interesting to say, but probably would not listen to me or engage in a conversation very much.  @cnnbrk is the person at the party who dives into a conversation, says something interesting, and then leaves before you can respond.  Not a bad thing if you are interested in what @cnnbrk has to say.  @cnnbrk is a one way conversation and they never pretend to be anything else.  There is no ruse of a relationship here.  They can have thousands or millions of friends without depreciation in the relationship.  Having thousands of friends, where conversations go both ways, however, is chaos.

What kind of relationship can you have in 11 seconds per. day?  I can, for instance, wake up my wife, ask her how she slept, kiss her on the forehead, and leave for work.  If this were our only interaction where could we expect the relationship to go?  Not very far I think.

So how much time is needed for a valuable relationship, and can we build a formula, maybe generate and index?  I think we can.  It’d have to contain the value of your contribution, which may be different for each of your friends, so we’d have to weight it dynamically.  The weight would have to take into account both the reach and span of your comments.  Does one message meet the demand of all 5,000 of your friends (or 2.8 million in the case of @cnnbrk)?  Together this is the power you have going out.  Next we’d have to add your availability hear what they have to say to you.  What you can take in.  How much time can you possibly spend on twitter?  Does TweetDeck run all day long on your second or third screen?  Now weight the two, incoming and outgoing, by the type of relationship you’re seeking.  Let’s put it all in a blender and come up with an answer.

Maybe 11 seconds is good enough.

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