Twitter’s fast-growing user base means it’s increasingly attractive to spammers. That’s something Twitter will make sure doesn’t get out of hand.
We got a lot of spam messages every day via email, some on instant-messaging clients, and a few on Facebook too. And while we generally welcome unsolicited messages on Twitter — any tweet including @ekrangel will cross my radar — we haven’t seen too much abuse of the feature yet.
But Twitter spam — we’ll call it “Twam” — already has some users griping to Bloomberg:
Rachel Gard, who started using Twitter two months ago to keep in touch with friends, says she may stop using the site if companies keep contacting her.
Already Home Depot Inc. has wished her luck painting her room, a medical company recommended its device for her ear infection, and a DJ told her to check out his single.
“I don’t want random people contacting me,” said Gard, 21, who lives in Clearwater, Florida. “Don’t try to sell yourself through my Twitter.”
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone says his team is on the case.
“Spam will always be an issue that requires attention,” Stone said in an e-mail. “Our goal is to stay ahead of spam and keep the user experience great for folks on Twitter.”
Here’s the problem for Twitter: The reason corporations like JetBlue use the service is they can monitor who’s tweeting about their brand in real-time, and can send replies to users, even if that user doesn’t follow the @jetblue account.
But the very same architecture that allows JetBlue to contact users without solicitation can also be used to hawk cheap Viagra, Nigerian bank scams, Web services, anything. And as Twitter continues to grow explosively, the financial incentives to manipulate the system in bad faith will keep going up.
Moreover, Twitter’s default setup means that when someone starts following you — anyone; a good friend or a spammer — you get an email. That’s another easy way for spammers to get your attention.
The good news: Twitter’s distributed nature (and passionate users) means that it might be easier for Twitter to identify and block spam. So far, Twitter has a “block” feature to turn off notifications from a particular user. Concerned Twitter users can also follow Twitter’s @spam account and message that account with spam reports. (Here’s how.)
But going forwards, Twitter may need to develop a more robust approach to “Twam.” Perhaps part of the solution lies somewhere in the “more features” Twitter promises for upcoming paid corporate accounts.