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Should Twitter Remove Its Follower Count?

Kutcher and other parties like EA have been pulling out all the stops

picture-72Over the past few days, actor Ashton Kutcher has been racing CNN to be the first Twitter user with a million followers. Kutcher and other parties like EA have been pulling out all the stops to help his account gain followers as quickly as possible to hit the number. Clearly, this is a game — and really, gaining followers on Twitter, for most people, is a game. Which raises the question: Should Twitter just remove the follower counts?

Engadget cofounder Peter Rojas thinks it may be time for just that. “I’m beginning to think that Twitter would be a better place if it didn’t list anyone’s follower count,” he tweeted out today. That may indeed be true. It’s not just the Kutcher/CNN race, there have been a lot of users getting annoyed with the service — or other users — because of things like Twitter’s recommended user list (which currently includes the TechCrunch account). Some people are pissed off that only accounts of notable users seem to be included on it, adding tens of thousands of followers to their already high follower counts.

Why does anyone care? Well, in some cases it’s ego. The more followers you have, the more “popular” you are. And the more likely it is that other users will retweet what you have to say. In other cases it has to do with web site traffic. Accounts like TechCrunch’s tweet out links to their stories, which followers then click on — depending on how many followers you have, this can drive a lot of traffic to your site. And in some cases, it’s just a game. A lot of people on the web are bored; attempting to do things to raise you Twitter follower numbers is a way to pass the time.

Twitter, at its core, is supposed to be about communication, not your follower count. A couple of years ago when the number of Twitter users only registered in the thousands, a user would tweet something out and maybe only a dozen other people would see it. Was Twitter any less “fun” than because of that? No. But now, it seems like there’s a mentality that if you only have a few dozen people following you on Twitter, what’s the point of saying anything? Numerous people have given that as an excuse as to why they don’t tweet very often.

So what if you couldn’t see how many followers other people had? It would certainly take a lot of the pressure off users to gain more followers. And that could be a good thing. Perhaps the greatest thing about Twitter is that it can be what you make of it. Some people use it to tweet out where they are, others use it to tweet out funny things that pop into their heads, others use it to share article they’re reading, others use it to find information. With the drive to increase follower counts, there’s certainly a concern that it’s becoming less about the core communication, and more about self-promotion and straight-up bullshit just tweeted out hoping that others will see it and start following you.

But at the same time, not having a follower count, could actually make people use Twitter less. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing for many users, it means less overall activity on Twitter — and that is a bad thing for Twitter. If there’s no game to play, a lot of people would have no choice but to stop playing it. That could lead to a decrease in quantity — but perhaps an increase in quality.

With Twitter’s growth now absolutely exploding, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about quality over quantity. I really don’t want to see Twitter overrun by people pimping their own brands to gain more followers. I don’t want to see Twitter Search — its most valuable asset in the long-term — saturated with retweets from celebrities because millions of users are following them.

At least Kutcher has the right idea behind why having a million followers on Twitter is interesting. In the video below he talks about the insane idea that one person using this medium can have a larger audience than a traditional mass media powerhouse (CNN). (Entrepreneur Andrew Keen has more interesting thoughts on this that he recently shared with us.) Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to see any “regular” person ever reach such status on Twitter. Kutcher can do it because he’s a movie star — so it really shouldn’t be a shock that he can get a million people to follow him. So why should we care how many people follow him? Or for how many people follow anyone else for that matter? We really shouldn’t.

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