I was on a bus recently and the two gentlemen in front of me were having a conversation that included the line:
“Look, the thing you’ve got to understand about women from Croydon is-“
(as many of my readers are unlikely to encounter women from Croydon I’ll spare you the alleged insight)
Now, whatever you think about the men, the conversation, and the general state of a world that includes both, we can look at the potential value of the information scientifically.
Croyden includes 364,800 people (thank you Wikipedia) of which we can assume roughly 182,400 are female.
Our man on the bus (OMOTB) is unlikely to know all of them, but he may know a significant fraction. Actually this is where Dunbar’s Number is useful (Dunbar’s Number is roughly defined as the total number of people that a human can maintain a social relationship with, remember birthdays, that sort of thing). Dunbar’s number is normally taken as ‘about 150’. So we can assume that OMOTB knows 75 women reasonably well and if we give him the benefit of the doubt that they all live in Croydon then OMOTB knows roughly 0.04% of all the women in Croydon.
Why am I going on about this? Because the man that says “Look, the thing you’ve got to understand about women from Croydon is-” probably knows much more about women in Croydon than ANYONE WHO TELLS YOU HOW TWITTER WORKS KNOWS ABOUT TWITTER.
On average 58 million tweets are sent every day. If you read a random sampling of 0.04% of them every day then you probably know as much about twitter culture as OMOTB knows about women (in Croydon). It would be a bit difficult because that’s 23,848 tweets, which, at an average length of 60 characters (I was surprised but the data is here) means reading more than the length of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows every day, just in tweets.
I doubt very much that people writing guides on ‘7 rules for Twitter etiquette’ are managing that much reading.
(Although the people running http://dumbesttweets.com/ probably *are* and that must look a lot like that scene in Clockwork Orange).
Twitter is big. It’s really big. And people don’t understand this. There are hundreds of utterly unrelated subcultures; Teenagers, followers of Band X, fandoms of all types, people looking for support networks, people looking for and finding photos of topless women, people who use Twitter to fight sexism, people who use as an outlet for racism, people who use it only for sports, people who use it only for political activism, robots that obsess over grammar.
So when you tell me that “It’s polite on twitter to do X” what you mean is “in my tiny sub-bit of twitter we look down on people who don’t do X”. When you say “Stephen Fry is massive on Twitter, almost everyone follows him” – you mean “Stephen Fry is massive on twitter, because slightly over 1 in 100 Twitter users follows him”.
I understand that people naturally want to feel that they do things ‘properly’ but the thing to take away from this is that however you use Twitter, you are in the minority. There are more people who do things very differently from you than there are who agree with you. Engage with the rest of the world or don’t, but don’t pretend your way is “the way”.