Asymmetric Attention and the Charity Roulette

What sets conversation starters apart from random street-shouting monologues is knowing who you are talking to.  Online, it’s not always obvious who that is.  Case in point: your Twitter ‘followers’ may not be actually tuned in, instead using selective lists and client-side filtering to create asymmetric attention. I’d like to imagine 200+ people are hanging on my every tweet but I know deep down that ain’t so (largely because I found myself slipping into this). Aside from the bots, I wanted to know who I was actually talking to and foster a more honest interaction.

Fishing for a way to test whether people were engaged or not I headed down the altruistic route. I asked my followers to nominate a charity and pledging to make a donation to the most popular if I got a minimum number of responses. I estimated 10% was a realistic stretch. As it turned out, the diversity of nominations meant there were no clear favourites, so I decided to pick the winner at random (hence ‘roulette’). I overestimated the response slightly but the result was interesting enough that it was well worth a donation anyway.

The main result was the vast majority of the respondents were people from uni. This might suggest they felt familiar enough to make a nomination – except several of them I’d hardly spoken to. More likely, they were doing little or no filtering and giving each one genuine attention. Most followed less than 100 people. The lesson from this experiment could be: unless someone is following a small number of people, ‘following’ only means they’ve noticed you at some point. Unless you are on their ‘unmissable’ or ‘faves’ list.

I like the charity nomination model. I think I prefer it to the model where the charity with the better marketing scores a standing order then tries to ratchet it up.  As I’m generally ignorant, it seems better to spread it around and learn about causes that are not so well known in the process. I’ve cancelled my usual standing orders and am going to play with this for a while.

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