Followers – Giving this a whirl

As most people are aware, Twitter is a social networking or micro-blogging service that encourages folks to send messages or 140 characters of less. And a glance to the right of this very post demonstrates that The Word Guy uses Twitter to provide daily etymologies on whatever takes my fancy.

Twitter is also free. People like free. I like free. But of course, Twitter isn’t really “free” insofar as there are servers to maintain, software to support, phone bills to pay etc. So it’s no surprise that the people would like use it to make money. This in itself is not a bad thing. I’m as capitalistic as the next entrepreneur and making money is fine by me – especially if I am the one making it.

Follow me imageSo to help this process of making money, some bright business folks have come up with clever software that lets you automatically follow someone who sends out tweets with specific keywords in them. As a follower, you can then send them tweets to promote yourself or whatever it is that you tweet for. [1]

This sort of works if you are in a business where keywords highlight what you do. For example, if I were the creator and marketer of “Snuggies,” then having software that trawls the Twitterverse for all mentions of the word “Snuggies” would give me lots of information about who is talking about my product, what they are saying, and even the chance to contact them back or re-tweet a particularly favorable message.

Alas, this begins to suck big time for someone whose use of words is not related to a specific product. Which includes me.

Because the actual “product” of The Word Guy tweets are words as items, there are no real keywords at all. In fact, each and every tweet from me can contain totally different words repeatedly. One day I might use “waltz,” the next “jalapeno,” and day after that, “cougar.” And guess what can happen…

The keyword search engines spot the word “waltz” and alerts “Johnny’s Dancing School” that I used a dance-related word. Next thing you know is that I get a message saying “Johnny’s Dancing School is now following you on Twitter.” My guess is that “Johnny” is not really interested in the etymology of “waltz” (Old High German “walzan”=to turn or roll) but simply rolling the lexical dance in the hope that I may be a prospect.

On the next day, I get the message “Tours in Mexico” is now following you on Twitter,” based on he automatic assumption that having used the word “jalapeno” (Aztec “Xalapan”=sand by water) means I am looking for a trip to Mexico. I am, but that’s besides the point. And the sort of folks who follow me based on “cougar” (Portuguese “cucuarana” < Tupi “suasuarana” < “suasu”=deer + “rana”+like (color)) are slightly less unlikely than those who respond to my use of “transvestite” (Latin “trans”=across + “vestire”=to dress) and “transsexual” (Latin “trans”=across + “sexus”=gender). I have nothing against Brazilian Ladyboys but it’s a little disconcerting to find “Ladyboy Lover is following you on Twitter” in your mailbox.


… when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, which is what I am going to do for a while with my automated followers. When I find a new auto-generated acolyte, I’ll share him/her/it with you so we can find out what the key word trigger was. Given that the potential for drumming up any number of weird and wonderful folks is huge, I might as well use the opportunity to demonstrate how spectacularly useless this automatic following can be when it comes to The Word Guy tweets.

Sit back and enjoy the upcoming ride.


[1] For those of you who are shocked that I am ending a sentence in a preposition, I have to say that it just sounds better this way. The alternative would be something along the lines of “…or whatever it is for which you tweet,” and that sounds ugly. I’m happy to take suggestions as to how I could have clung on to the “no-final-prep” rule but in this instance, I think it does sound OK.


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