We've all had one of those days when the universe seems to be playing games with us. Things haven't quite worked out all day, there's nothing good on TV, all your friends are out with each other and forgot (didn't want?!) to call you. Even 10 years ago this sort of Friday night would have been lonely. But these days, if you are plugged into the web, you simply cannot be bored!
The recent wave of social web innovations brought us new forms of entertainment and connected us across the world with people we never met. Flickr, YouTube, Digg, Facebook and thousands of other social services offer ways to connect anytime with friends and strangers. And then of course there is Twitter - a unique way to broadcast and subscribe to bite-sized bits of status information.
The beauty of Twitter is in its simplicity. Its magic comes from the endless creativity of its users. What started as a primitive way of telling people what you were up to, evolved into a global, distributed, multi-platform communication channel, a web-wide conversation, and new communication medium. In this post, we take a look of how you can kill a Friday night (and many other nights!) just playing around with Twitter. Caution, some of these could be very addictive!
1. Calculate your Twitter Score
The Twitter network, like most natural networks, has nodes of different weight. Most people have a handful of followers, but follow a lot of other people. Because a lot of people follow Jack Dorsey, Fred Wilson, Tim O'Reilly and other web celebrities, the network is far from being symmetric. Mathematically speaking, there is a power law at play here, more commonly known as 80-20 rule - that is, 80% of the people follow the other 20% of the people.
So it is interesting to calculate where exactly you fall on that curve. One simple way to do this is to take a ratio of people who follow you to the number of people you follow. Currently my score is 156/16 which is 9.75, Jack Dorsey's score is 8.02, Fred Wilson's score is 14.7 and Tim O'Reilly gets 42.6! Tell us your Twitter number in the comments.
2. Typecast Yourself and Your Friends
One step beyond computing score is figuring out the different types of people on Twitter. Visualizing follow and following as nodes in the network gets you three major types of characters: Talkers, Listeners and Hubs. Talkers are the people that have a lot of followers but do not follow a lot of people. Listeners are the opposite and the hubs are actually the ones that do both. Think of Twitter as a large network for information dissemination. It typically starts with talkers, flows through the hubs and ends up at listeners. So now the fun part - figure out your own type and the types of your friends.
3. Play Ego Wars
If you are less mathematically inclined and all of these calculations are making you dizzy, here's a game that you might like - ego wars. First, go and look at people who you follow and cross out the ones that follow you (you are even with them). The game is to get the people you follow that don't currently return the favor to follow you. It's tough, but here is an idea:
Pick a target, and then go see who this person follows. Follow all of these people (but make sure to keep track). The chances are that some of these people will automatically follow you. Now, the person who you are really after is going to see you in more and more places. It's a long shot, but worth a try. Two more bits: do not forget to unfollow all of these people once your mission is accomplished. And if this seems too hard, then just make sure every one of your tweets is the most awesome thing ever and people will follow you naturally.
4. Use Twitter to Meet New People
A sure way to combat boredom is let in a little serendipity. You can discover new people on Twitter through your follow list. First pick a person you follow and scan their follow list until you find someone you do not know. Follow them. Now repeat the same thing for your entire follow list.
How much can you infer about a random person by reading their front page? Quite a lot actually. There are people who tweet big ideas, there are those who write down details, people who pour out their relationships and those, like Marshall Kirkpatrick, who use Twitter to stay on top of the crazy tech world. Spend time flipping through people's profiles. What types of people do you bump into?
Now if you want to find total strangers (people multiple degrees removed from you), here is the way to do it. Keep clicking on people's lists until you end up on a page where you don't recognize a single face. You've reached a cluster of people that are connected to you through a very thin channel. So now, if you are up for it, you can engage with strangers!
Engage with strangers via the @reply. Sending total strangers personal messages sounds little like spam, but there's no spam box on Twitter and if you post something interesting you are likely to find new friends. Could you use Twitter to form business relationships? LinkedIn messages are way too formal for random chats, but on Twitter you could start a friendly chat that leads to a business contact. Has anyone tried that? And what about getting a date, any reports of clever tweets out there that lead to dating?
5. Push The Limits of Twitter and Your Brain
This is an interesting experiment game - get your Twitter client to roll updates non stop, then keep adding people at random and check how often you get an update. With just a handful of people you are likely to get an update every hour. Now how many people do you need to add to get an update every 15 minutes? Every minute? Every second? If anyone tries this, then the Twitter team is likely to hire you as the best stress tester ever. But seriously, on a slow night, just add a few more people to your list and it will be more fun.
These are just a handful of things that you can do with Twitter to have fun. And there many many more. Some of the more wild ideas that did not make it into the post were: Twitter every minute until every one of your followers unsubscribes or Send messages in Morse Code or Turn Twitter into a casino (or drinking game) by betting on when messages on a particular topic will appear.
Give some of these ideas a try and tell us your Twitter score, personality, and of course, the games that you like to play on Twitter.