Twitter is choking themselves by suggesting how their users should use the service

twitter quote

“We believe that following 2000 people is a reasonable limit for the number of people an average person can follow.”
—Submitted Nov 24, 2008 by crystal

I was a little dumbfounded over the weekend when I came across how Twitter was suggesting limits to the number of users one person can follow. Even more surprising reading their support info they mention this: “Twitter may facilitate social networking, but we’re not specifically a social networking website.”. Why do they feel it necessairy to dictate how people might organize themselves? If a person uses TweetDeck it is very easy to follow over 2,000 twitter feeds. There are more than 2,000 news sources that use Twitter for example. I don’t know if Crystal has ever lived in NYC, but it is indeed possible to know and follow 2,000 people here… Last time I checked there are no limit on how many rss feeds I can follow out there in the interwebs. It’s really surprising that in this day and age (ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW) that any company or service would limit the experience that a person has. It’s also fascinating that Twitter decided to cut off the conversation at the bottom of that support page. Since that that page was created in 2008, hopefully they’ll want to update it to current day standards.

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  • michael

    I guess it depends on your needs but from my experience I would argue that 2,000 is more than enough. I would say that a few hundred is also more than enough.

    At what point does all the constant messages coming in become noise, and how much time do you spend each hour reading it.

    The key term here is “reasonable” – not the power user, not the hardcore Twitter junkie.

    This limit might not be for you, but its probably more than adequate for 90% of users IMHO. However I would also add that unless there is some saving on Twitters side on server performance etc by enforcing a limit I don't see why they would impose one.

    And just in case it comes up, I do live and work in NYC…

  • michaelsurtees

    For me there's two different issues—on the technical performance side and the “morals” side. If Twitter really can't handle all users following x_ number of users—I can accept that limitation. On the other hand once people start throwing their own judgement on how many people any one person should follow I find that really heavy handed. It's crazy to decide how many people a person should be able to follow—how do you know how I user Twitter? It becomes way too subjective.

  • seanaes

    Unfortunately the follower/following number and follow ratio are viewed by many (most?) as a scorecard. Remove that number or abstract it to the point of uselessness and this would cease to be a problem. Would Twitter let you follow more than 2000 in that situation? You would never know.

  • Su

    [Semi-coherent notes. You've been warned.]
    While there's necessarily a technical aspect here–it's in their interest to control how much data/SMS they're sending out–I doubt that had too much to do with this. A cursory scan of Twitterholic will quickly reveal accounts whose friend numbers will make up for a good chunk of the people who won't get anywhere near 2000. You have a technical objection to the number, but the practical reality is that the overwhelming majority of users will never have any clue such a limit even exists.

    What you're more or less correctly objecting to at a low level is that this is Edwards' Law in effect. Where you're not entirely correct is that you chose the wrong mention of that number to quote. Further up on that page, it's defined that the 2000 is an initial limit, which will grow with the number of people following you reciprocally. Also a little more in the third point under “If I hit a limit, what should I do?”

    I don't think your RSS counter-example quite holds up for me, on probably several points. On the technological side, no single entity has to eat all the traffic, server load, etc. you cause by following 2000+ feeds; each site independently takes a small portion of that. But RSS subscription is also inherently unlimited, by definition of the medium. To a certain extent, Twitter created a new-ish medium, and are therefore allowed to define it.[1] (Though user behavior has resulted in changes, which we'll come to.) Sociologically, it was and still is defined as primarily an inter-personal communication tool. Having a wildly-skewed follow ratio could in that context be seen as “anti-social,” I guess. Part of the problem right now is that more and more people and entities are using it as a broadcast medium. (Sidenote, I think you're the only person I've ever encountered who has referred to “Twitter feeds” not specifically in reference to the syndication feeds the system creates for users, which may be telling something of your position.)

    And, yes, Twitter themselves have almost certainly been complicit in that, so your questions are valid. In the immediate, though, I think they're stuck in the middle of working out a proper answer to them.

    [1] Such as “no images,” which I continue to be surprised isn't being constantly griped about. Pownce had them and more, and languished. There's obviously a tipping-point argument there, but if Twitter's constraints were seen as “bad” then more people should still have jumped ship.

  • ian

    I like this new twitter-like app called “GoingOutside 1.0” It's cross-browser friendly, no compatibility issues… the type's big enough that you can always read it, without calibration, the colors are always spot on and the conversations are always more interesting when not limited to 140 characters…

    and I wouldn't want to know 2,000 people, much less let that define me as a person. I get a lot more done being a casual observer on Twitter…

    On a lighter note:
    I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2000 of something.
    -Mitch Hedberg

  • Mrs. Onion

    Sort of ridiculous people are going to use twitter the way they want and putting a limit on followers is absolutely stupid. Plus you may want to follow over 2000 and just peruse them until you see what you want. aghhhh

  • matt

    i think one also needs to view twitter as a potential business. i think the technical issues are interesting but honestly, people following more than 100 people or being followed by more than 100 people are most probably using twitter for business purposes. in that context, it makes sense for twitter to start setting limits to define potential charges if the service decide to start charging for power users.

  • ian

    Now I'm waiting for Amazon to announce a “no browsing, no window shopping, this isn't a library” policy…

    Are we in the Matrix yet? The machines are definitely winning… Don't get me wrong, Twitter is a great way to share links and talk to people that you would otherwise have no access to… but it should be a sidebar or a complement to real life. People get confused between virtual and reality…

    (btw: world's smallest violin playing for industry giant that has bandwidth issues… and also people feel incomplete without social networking access)

  • ian

    Side note: I love the word “Twitterholic.” Are there TA meetings? Do they have Red Bull and pizza instead of coffee and donuts. Writing Fight Club 2 script added to my To Do list.

    I actually saw a few of them almost hit by cars in Austin. Remember folks, look both ways when Twittering…

  • Chris Butler


    This is a good question. At one point, I was following many more people than I currently do, and found it overwhelming. I think there is probably a limit to the amount of people one can follow, though that specific number will vary considerably based upon the person, and tools that person uses (I didn't use TweetDeck). I pruned my list, which made my ongoing stream much more digestable to me, though it did offend some people who use monitoring services that alert you when someone “un-follows” you. One thing I don't like about those services is they tend to deliver a message like: “_____ stopped following you after you posted ______” which I think mistakenly links a specific post to someone's decision to stop following you. Chances are they have nothing to do with one another.

    I mentioned your post in a comment this morning here:


  • Ozh

    I believe that *200* is the max number a normal person can follow. More than 200 just says “hey, join me, I'll join you back!”

  • Paulo Pereira

    Here's a question does this mean celebrities or media companies are only allowed to follow 2000 people, also? Or is this for people that are not going to buy advertising on Twitter?

    If you look up the celebrity gossip show ExtraTV and TMZaol on Twitter are following more than 2000 people.


  • karl

    there is following and following… 😉

  • ian

    I agree w Ozh. 200 is good for normal people… I'll add that maybe 2000 is good for abnormal people…

  • michaelsurtees

    What's strange to me is that if I want to follow a ton of people, I don't expect them to follow me back. If they do, great—but it's not required. Twitter even say that a person should expect reciprocal follows, yet if the ratio is similar I can follow more people. As I type this I'm at 1,999 following to 1,493 followers. I had to delete some people which I really felt wasn't right, but there's no other option. The whole thing seems to be a dumb way of letting someone use the service.

    I see twitter feeds as a way to filter the info—tweetdeck allows a person to collect a number of diverse voices and filter accordingly to different themes of a users choice. No one is going to read every tweet, but it's nice to have the option outside of search.

  • sabrina killbot

    i totally agree with you. despite what anyone may think is 'reasonable' it's ridiculous to limit something at some random number when really there is no benefit to doing so. ugh. just because one person thinks 2k is ridiculously high doesnt mean everyone is going to. :/ oh twitter. you break my heart.

  • michaelsurtees

    thank you!