Talking tech since 2003

We the people have done quite a bit in making Twitter what it is today. In fact, some of the social network’s major pieces — retweets and hashtags, for example — were user inventions before they were worked into the service more officially.

But not all of our ideas have been slam dunks, and there is one in particular that has survived many years and refuses to die: Follow Friday.

The original Follow Friday was born out of an attempt by Micah Baldwin to recommend two friends to his Twitter followers. From there, it grew exponentially. Most who take part today use the #ff hashtag, though you’ll still find #followfriday popping up in a few tweets here and there. The tweets are usually squeezed right up to the last available character with usernames and, other than a hashtagged word or two, fail to really explain what makes someone so interesting to follow.

Popular Web comic The Oatmeal really knocked it out of the park with its commentary on the matter, but to reinforce the point — the lists aren’t all that helpful to anyone.

twitter_bird_angryI’m occasionally tossed into these lists (though I myself am vehemently opposed to Follow Friday) and even I don’t know why I’m in them sometimes. Is it because I tweet a lot about technology? Because I post pictures of my dog on the Internet? Is it because of where I live or because of a (likely unfunny) joke I made? I usually reply with a thank you — it’s the polite thing to do — and leave it at that.

But with the advent of the social media guru, what was once a single, simple tweet full of usernames began to avalanche into something far more terrible. Once the original Follow Friday tweet has gone live for the world to see, that’s rarely the end of the madness. The retweets soon follow — yes, those people who retweet everything they’re mentioned in — along with the reply-all updates that ring TweetDeck and your phone every five seconds, all so you can stare at that same list of users. Over. And over. And over.

I’m sure the constant mentions and alerts are a good time for some people. You could probably find a couple of people who enjoy the sound of a jackhammer if you looked hard enough. But my guess is that most aren’t fans of the noise in either case.

Guys, it’s not 2008 anymore. The Twitter baby we all cooed over is now a full-grown company that took our ragtag ideas, improved on them and implemented them as deep features in the service. We have a legit retweet function (though some pretend we don’t) that actually puts someone’s exact tweet into our stream — no editing required. And really, is there a bigger Twitter endorsement than retweeting someone? I don’t think there is.

We also have the “Discover” tab, which helps us find new content and follow new users. The Activity section of that tab shows you who they’re favoriting, following, adding to lists and so on. It’s a treasure trove for those who are willing to go in and browse through. And you can do so on your own terms, without having your stream bombarded every Friday with dozens and dozens of usernames.

Perhaps its some kind of display of “Twitter cred” to do things the old fashioned way, like, “Yeah, I was here back when we had to type ‘RT’ in with a keyboard.” But there’s only so much old-school cred you can muster up as you you work your Twitter magic from your iPhone 5 or latest-edition MacBook Air. The fact is, things change and get better, and the old ways of doing things get left behind.

Follow Friday is one of those things that we need to leave behind. I’m not saying we need to abandon recommendations. But I don’t think we need a special day for them, and I think we can be a little more thoughtful in how we do them going forward. The long name-filled lists, which are as much an eyesore as hashtags, need to be cut loose.

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