Asymmetric Follow a Core Web 2.0 Pattern


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James Governor wrote a post on asymmetrical follow as a core Web 2.0 pattern earlier this month. I ran across it when JP referenced it in his quest to decide if Twitter is a publishing platform.

James uses this metaphor to explain asymmetric follow:

You're sitting at the back of the room in a large auditorium. There is a guy up front, and he is having a conversation with the people in the front few rows. You can't hear them quite so well, although it seems like you can tune into them if you listen carefully. But his voice is loud, clear and resonant. You have something to add to the conversation, and almost as soon as you think of it he looks right at you, and says thanks for the contribution... great idea. Then repeats it to the rest of the group. That is Asymmetrical Follow.
From James Governor's Monkchips » Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern
Referenced Sat Dec 27 2008 16:49:30 GMT-0700 (MST)

Twitter is perhaps the best example of asymmetric follow. Most people don't follow everyone who follows them. If they did, the Twitterverse would be divided into cliques (in a graph theoretic sense). It's not. I suspect there are very few disconnected islands of uses on Twitter unless they've set out to intentionally create one.

Asymmetric follow is, in fact, one of the things that makes Twitter so interesting. As I see the interactions that those who I follow have with people I don't, I expand my circle of people who I follow. I see interesting things that I would never see any other way and hear interesting viewpoints that I would otherwise miss. That brings us to JP's post.

JP spent some time doing a little experiment:

Now for me one of the ways of testing something as a publishing platform (as opposed to a communications medium) is the depth of language used, the breadth of subjects covered. So I started "testing" Twitter. What I did was enter "random" words into Twitter search, and observe the results. I converted that into a game. The rules were simple:

  1. I had to know the word and what it meant
  2. It had to be a word that had found its way into the language proper, as opposed to one that was "technically" included, that made its way only because it formed part of an obscure branch of science.
  3. The number of results returned had to be zero.

I read a lot. I have been reading voraciously for over forty years. I read widely. And I have a good head for words, coupled with a decent memory. Years of playing around with crosswords and Scrabble have, if anything, sharpened my vocabulary.

Yet it took me several attempts before I found a zero. Aristology was my best for some time, with just one result returned, until I tried zeuglodont. Bugloss returned two, which was pretty good.

From Twitter from Aristology to Zeuglodont
Referenced Sat Dec 27 2008 16:54:40 GMT-0700 (MST)

JP's point is that people are discussing almost everything imaginable on Twitter--not just the innanities that we might presume at first glance. Asymmetric follow ensures that you'll be exposed to a wider range of those ideas than you would otherwise. A powerful one-two punch.

Note: James also discusses some of what's behind Twitter's rearchitecture, including Scala Lift and the use of the publish and subscribe metaphor for supporting asymmetric follow in his piece which is interesting in it's own right. He references one of JP's posts on Twitter's architecture from last December that's definitely worth a read.