To Follow or Not to Follow: a Twitter Dilemma

WASHINGTON ~ To follow or not to follow? That is the question facing millions of users of Twitter.

In other words, do you agree to be pelted with messages fired off by other Twitter users simply because they have signed up to be hit with your random commentary on the hot micro-blogging service?

There is no established etiquette – or Twit-iquette.

Practices vary widely from user to user and have been the subject of much debate in the “blogosphere.”

Celebrity users of the fast-growing service can be found on both sides of the “to follow or not to follow” divide.

Talk show superstar Oprah Winfrey, for example, has nearly 1.9 million fans clinging to her every “tweet” but follows a mere 14 people.

Winfrey, for that matter, also doesn’t tweet much – just 51 messages since joining the service in April and nothing at all since June 6.

At the other extreme is Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to president George W. Bush, who systematically follows nearly everyone who tracks his musings at Twitter.

Rove has nearly 73,000 people following his 140-character-or-less messages and follows more than 67,000 people himself.

Silicon Valley technology blogger Robert Scoble has more than 98,000 followers and follows even more people – nearly 102,000 – although he acknowledged in a recent tweet that probably half of them are spammers.

Pop star Britney Spears also follows a huge number of people – nearly 400,000 – while being followed by more than 2.4 million fans.

The White House Twitter feed has more than 680,000 followers but it follows just 67 accounts, nearly all of them US government departments or agencies.

Befitting the so-called “special friendship,” the White House has made a trans-Atlantic exception and follows the account of “Downing Street,” the Twitter feed of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office.

Popular New York Times technology columnist David Pogue has more than 650,000 followers and follows more than 1,300 people, reaching out to them earlier this year to collaborate on a book he is writing about Twitter.

NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal, who “tweets” under the handle @the_real_shaq and describes himself as “very quotatious,” has more than 1.6 million followers and follows more than 550 people.

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher are more discriminating than Rove and Spears and even O’Neal.

Armstrong, who is “tweeting” furiously during his current Tour de France comeback, has more than 1.4 million followers and follows 99 people while Kutcher has more than 2.7 million followers and follows 182 people.

Kutcher held a well-publicized race with the breaking news feed of the CNN television network earlier this year to see who could be the first to reach one million followers. Kutcher won.

For those who don’t have the star appeal of Kutcher, the husband of actress Demi Moore, there are several online services which promise to massage the ego by increasing one’s number of followers.

Getting on Twitter’s prized list of “Suggested Users” is considered a surefire way to beef up one’s Twitter fan club.

Websites such as whoshouldifollow.com or wefollow.com provide lists of notable users of Twitter, which has seen its number of registered users soar tenfold over the past year to nearly 40 million.

There are also services to help Twitter users keep track of their followers.

One such service, Qwitter, sends a message advising when someone stops following you.

Filed under: Perspective

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