Twitter Terminal Velocity

Terminal Velocity is defined by physicists as the maximum speed that an object of a given mass can achieve when accelerating toward another object with a gravitational constant. Skydivers can only accelerate to a certain speed before maxing out at a terminal velocity.

For the geeky science type among us, the formula is for determining Terminal Velocity is here.

There is a Terminal Velocity with Twitter as well. I have, at the time of this writing, I have 1,293 followers on Twitter. That’s 1,293 people who I see tweets from. If my calculations are correct, I see approximately 10 tweets per minute. That’s 600 tweets per hour or 14,400 tweets per day. That’s a hell of a lot of Tweets.

Here’s my non-scientfic law, though. The tweet stream reached terminal velocity somewhere back around 500 followers when I also received approximately 10 tweets per minute. There are variables, of course, that play in to the tweet stream – mostly due to the Twitter infrastructure. For one, Twitter can only deliver a certain number of Tweets per second anyway. Secondly, the human factor plays in. How quickly do people read and respond to my tweets? How quickly do my tweets get delivered to them? In the end, the Tweet stream moves as quick at 1,293 followers as it did at 500. Titter terminal velocity.

So how do I deal with 14,400 tweets per day, you might ask? (I know you might ask because you ask all the time when I meet you). Simply, I don’t read everything. I read all the @ replies directed toward me. I read all the direct messages. I really only read everything whenever I sit down to actively engage in Twitter (which might happen once or twice a day for 30 mins at a time). It’s really the only way I can deal with the flow.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

13 thoughts on “Twitter Terminal Velocity

  1. Without wanting to dictate how anyone can use any service..(after all it’s up to you!), isn’t this less about terminal velocity, and more about oversubscribing?

    You’ve essentially set yourself with too much to follow unless you sit down to read everything, and even then will be skimming over the majority of content which isn’t flagged for your attention.

    And by the same token, a 30 minute block means any posts you make during that time are likely to end up with unread responses until the next day, because you’ve gone to do something else until your next 30 minute block?

    I’m following about 1/10th of the people you are, and yet I’m not keen on adding anyone else unless they offer a lot of value to me (It’s actually getting to the add and replace stage). That way I can definitely respond to anything worthy of an opinion – rather than what’s just flagged up…

  2. There’s validity in your comment, however I generally (with some exceptions) will follow anyone who follow me and a very small percent of my subscribers are those that I’ve actively followed first. In addition, the larger the base, the easier it is to follow conversations.

    To each his own. This works for me. ;-)

  3. Cool and cheers for the reply. I certainly don’t think you’re wrong if it works for you – I guess I’m just intrigued how it would work compared to the info overload I sometimes get from 120 follows, as opposed to 1200.

    And I’ve definitely become increasingly selective about who I follow as the numbers have increased…especially with the recent influx of seemingly spam type Twitters who follow several thousands before offering a single Tweet…

    It does also mean that you’re catching up on 480 Tweets a minute during one 30 minute section per day. Or 8 a second!.

    Even 2 30 minute blocks is 4 Tweets every second for a full 30 minutes each time!

    That’s impressive Johnny Five type reading…

  4. It does also mean that you’re catching up on 480 Tweets a minute during one 30 minute section per day. Or 8 a second!.

    Even 2 30 minute blocks is 4 Tweets every second for a full 30 minutes each time!

    If I’m reading them all. Which again, I’m not. That’s too much data for anyone. I think it’s a mental thing. Your mind gets trained to deal with a certain amount of input and adjusts accordingly. Inline with my post, someone said that the difference between 100 followers and 1000 are negligible.

  5. I like the way you’ve framed this. I’ve been happily growing my list in a slow, organic fashion. And, haven’t hit a tipping point where hordes of people start following me.
    Part of the reason that I’m happy is because I can engage in Twitter as a less time-intensive process more frequently throughout my day.

    There have been many posts about Twitter but one that sticks with me is @darmano idea of the conversation ecosystem. I use Twitter for the conversations that I can have more than as a content discovery tool.
    In fact, one of my criteria when determining if I want to follow someone is how much of their Twitter stream is just them talking and how much are @ replies. If they seem too 1-sided, I’ll probably pass.

    Because of that, I’m comfortable with following whoever is interesting to me. Even if they don’t follow me back, I know I can engage them with an @ reply. I feel that potential has yet to be realized with Twitter.

    Because I have a smaller network, I do spend more time clicking through other people’s @ replies to see what conversations are happening elsewhere. I’ve met some interesting people this way and gotten into some good discussions.
    By letting my network curate (in effect) I don’t have nearly as much to sift through but still get involved on topics that interest me.

    And since I haven’t reached terminal velocity, most of the time I can still associate the person with the tweet. Which is important to me.

  6. I handle Twitter almost exactly the same way you do. I follow/am followed by around 300 people and there’s no way I could read it all. But when I look through my list I know at least something about each of them. I respond to replies and DMs, and try to spend time each day focusing on Twitter and just hanging out. I don’t worry about what I’ve missed.

  7. I hope you have your computer’s speakers turned down, otherwise those “DING” sounds with Twhirl will get to you after a while.

  8. After reading this post I think I was afraid that Twitter had no Terminal velocity because of all the people you can add. I was so afraid of it growing out of control and you’ve just put it all into perspective that it won’t, with a little bit of structure I can add as many people as I’d like! Thank you!

  9. I not only enjoy the terminal velocity of the twitter but reading about it to. It’s fun to read updates of the unknown person as well as following well known expert. Yes, responding is fine but i find talking little difficult. However..

  10. Right now I’m following just under 100 people and can still keep up with everything in my stream, but I have contemplated what it will be like as that number grows.

    When moving to the TTV I think your stream begins to work in many ways like your brain does. You have your full stream which is like your subconscious; you can’t just jump in and experience it all simultaneously without going mad, but you can apply pattern recognition to realize currents in the stream that you may want to follow more closely. Following particular users would be like when you concentrate on a particular item, easing in to take in the whole stream at once could be like a zen meditative state, etc., etc., etc.

    I think it all really boils down to a matrix between how anal retentive you are (the degree to which you feel you need to see everything posted by all that you follow,) and where your ego lies (the degree to which you feel you need to follow all that follow you since if they find YOU interesting then they must in turn be interesting.)

    Sorry for getting bloggy here on a comment, but it’s such an interesting topic.

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