Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern

photo of an audience by stijnbokhove on flickr

Youre sitting at the back of the room in a large auditorium. There is a guy up front, and he is having a conversation with the people in the front few rows. You cant hear them quite so well, although it seems like you can tune into them if you listen carefully. But his voice is loud, clear and resonant. You have something to add to the conversation, and almost as soon as you think of it he looks right at you, and says thanks for the contribution great idea. Then repeats it to the rest of the group.

That is Asymmetrical Follow.

When Twitter was first built it was intended for small groups of friends to communicate about going to the movies or the pub. It was never designed to cope with crazy popular people like Kevin Rose (@kevinrose 76,185 followers), Jason Calacanis (@jasoncalacanis 42,491), and Scobleizer (@scobleizer 41,916).

Oh yeah, and some dude called BarackObama (@barackobama 141,862)

But Twitter wasnt designed for whales. It was designed for small shoals of fish. Which brings us to one of the big issues with Asymmetrical Follow it introduces unexpected scaling problems. Twitters architecture didnt cope all that well at first, but has performed a lot better since the message broker was re-architected using Scala LIFT, a new web application programming framework). The technical approach that is most appropriate to support Asymmetrical Follow is well known in the world of high scale enterprise messaging- its called Publish And Subscribe.

But Publish and Subscribe also talks to the social aspects of Asymmetrical Follow. As @Jobsworth puts it:

I think we would be far better off considering Twitter as neither Pull nor Push, but instead as Pub-Sub, as Publish-Subscribe. The first and most beautiful thing about Twitter, as far as I am concerned, is that I only see the tweets of people I follow, people whose tweets I subscribe to. It is up to me to decide how many people I can follow. For some people this may be a Dunbar number, stabilising around 150, perhaps finding a Twitter adjustment to that number and raising it. Others may be Scoblesque in their reach, dissatisfied unless they push the 5000 limit (as in Facebook; I must admit I have no idea what the Twitter limit is).

So one way of avoiding increasing noise levels is to avoid increasing the network beyond one’s capacity. I can choose to “follow” (or subscribe to tweets from) just as many people as I am able to cope with. This is not something you can do easily with BlackBerry or with e-mail in general.

There are those that would would say their is something wrong with Asymmetrical Follow, which I would argue is just a function of the power laws you see in any community. For example, yesterday Benjamin Ellis (@bmje) said:

@timoreilly @monkchips Asymmetric follow is a hack in social software to enable relationships to scale. It is broadcast, not conversation

Pretty much the worst insult you can lay at the door of something Web 2.0 is that its not conversational. Ouch- the Cluetrain dog whistle.

Tims response was measured.

@bmje Not so. I follow 400; am followed by 16,000. But I respond to lots of people (like you) who I didnt know before. Not just broadcast.

Thats the point see. Asymmetrical Follow doesnt mean broadcast, its just a conversation in which one node has more connections, and likely cant personally scale to manage them all. Opt in or opt out. You can address the root nodes. Or to put it more eloquently, back to @bmje:

@timoreilly the wonderful power off twitter and good people its asymmetry is only partial, due to the power of @s :)


I have been giving Asymmetrical Follow a fair amount of thought lately. Certainly reaching 3000 followers has something to do with it. For me Twitter is a tool, as well as a conversation. Yesterday I got a request from a PR agency to brief me on a mobile IM technology called Palringo. I had never heard of it. But plenty of people in my network had. And I could engage with them because they could use an @reply which I would see, even though I didnt necessarily follow them back. As a researcher this kind of function is invaluable. Just imagine the power of Jeremiah Owyangs twinstant research network of 17,019 followers.

Of course it can seem mercenary to actually try and build your twitter presence. I certainly wouldnt take all of Guy Kawasakis advice on how to pick up followers. I *hate* machine-generated tweets, for example. But to use Twitter or any other social networks as a tool you should think about methods.

Of course these effects are not limited to Twitter: but it has done an amazing job of offering a platform for Asymmetrical Follow. This is particularly true when you consider that the notion of the @reply (where you begin a reply with the users name) was a community generated convention. We thought of it- Twitter just formalised it. And became the most powerful word of mouth platform on the planet in the process.

Its kind of amusing to me that Facebook now says: anyone with more than 5000 friends is a business. What. The. Heck? Scoble reports that the services 5000 follower limit is actually a technical scaling limitation, written into policy.

How ironic that Twitter, the service known for the Fail Whale, doesnt Fail its Whales. It supports them and the core pattern of Asymmetric Follow.

Twitter has allowed users to find a path, and then laid down the paving stones to support it.

If youre building a social network platform its critical that you consider the technical and social implications of Asymmetrical Follow. You may not expect it, but its part of the physics of social networks. Shirky wrote the book on this. Dont expect a Gaussian distribution.

I have a lot to do today, so I need to get to it. But I would love your ideas to help build out this theory.

[bonus update: Jeremiah says he read this a few times and it needs a definition. How about that? I thought this piece was a definition. But Jeremiah is really good at taking ideas to the mainstream, so I need to take the advice.

Asymmetric Follow is a core pattern for Web 2.0, in which a social network user can have many people following them without a need for reciprocity. Assmmetric Follow is unlike email for example, which tends to be within small groups, with all users knowing each other (newsletters are a clear exception here). If you see a social network where someone has 5000 followers and only follows 150 back thats Asymmetric Follow.

Picture used with permission under CreativeCommons Generic 2.0 Attribution license from stijnbokhoves flickr photostream.


  1. Posted December 5, 2008 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Just but no but :) The limitations of 140 characters and the semantic shifting of words. It isnt so much QED (and my bad spelling) as it is that Twitter allows highly transient symmetrical communication (via @s) as well as the less transitional friend or mutual follow.

    However, we are coming at different things from different perspectives and that is a good thing More when I post on WOWNDADI.

  2. Posted December 5, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I believe that Flickr was one of the first social sites to use an asymmetrical friendship model. It was one of the best leaps over very early social sites that required a 2-way friendship. Any site that is going to handle conversations or informaton exchanges between more than about 25 people at a time needs to use an asymmetrical model or the end users become overwhelmed and the information quickly gets lost in the noise. The Flickr model was what I used as a good example of how to handle follows for the guys on when I was doing early testing for them and they also changed to this asymmetrical model before Twitter was a known entity.
    Twitter overcomes the broadcast phenomena by enabling @s, Flickr does it by allowing users to choose to accept comments on photos from strangers. Amiestreet does it by allowing users to accept messages from strangers. In all of these cases, the receiver of a message from a stranger has a choice to either 1) respond/converse but not change follow status 2)respond/converse and then change follow status to add this new person to their circle 3)ignore the request 4) block the person from sending similar requests.
    If you think about normal human interactions, this is the same way people interact on a daily basis ( only it is not nearly as easy to block the really annoying ones).
    Applications like facebook and myspace, which use a 2-way friendship model fail not only because of the infrastructure/architecture issues, but because it quickly drowns people in information that they do not want/need and so they leave the venue.
    I think there is a longer blog post in this, but you are completely right about successful social models needing to be asymmetrical.

  3. Posted December 5, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I think this is an illustration of the different ways we communicate in general. A kind of unfiltered (at the source) broadcast stream of consciousness is very different from a directed (possibly topically) set of information that people subscribe to. So just classifying the messaging into the following categories might be helpful. At least as a framing model.

    First pure broadcast the kind of Tourettes model knee jerk publish. Some folks will find that interesting and helpful. If you like to think of it this way, it is just a very broad topic!

    Second narrower topic broadcasting on a channel so a receiver on that channel can be pretty sure that the messages are somehow relevant.

    Third asymmetrical response. I can send something intended for someone else to see, but up to that moment the other person may have had no clue who I am. The sort of, Joe told me that Bill hates me rumor which might cause me to communicate with Bill (whom I had never heard of before). I then will message Bill to find out why. Bill isnt necessarily expecting a reaction from me.

    Fourth direct 1:1 (queued) communication where I say something to someone who already knows me and we probably have a shared context or state going on. So, if James and I were discussing our plans fo Christmas, a series of direct messages go back and forth between us, either with the context embedded in the message (the whole previous stream), or the context is in our heads.

    I suspect every interaction is one of these, but a whole dialog can become complicated because it can take things that were formerly private (direct) and make them public. No different from the conversational world.

    Where things do get interesting is when and how we choose the communication channel. We presumably all have our favorites. We also tend to reply in the channel in which the priginal communication occurred. I see a tweet that rompts a Direct response, I will probably use Twitter to respond. Simply because that helps with the context. If I get a regular txt message, I typically respond in TXT not in email. If I get an email message that comes into one of my email accounts, then I use that account to respond. All about keeping the context with the correspondence.

    Now when you use a broadcast/touretes type of approach, then you are putting out a lot of information which the listeners have to respond to. If it is so mixed up taste i music at one moment, followed by some deep insight into the universe the next, there is an awful lot of work on the part of the listener required to filter the noise. For example, a tweet that has Dark side of the moon music? astronomy?

    So perhaps we should have multiple personae(oh those look like channels now) where Chris the Professional tweets vs Chris the cook, vs Chris the sailor, vs Chris the family man. Thats awfully cumbersome though.

    Tagging especially multi-tagging helps. It gets interesting though because it is unlikely that we would want a standard universe of tags. But since a tag is created by the initiator of a message, the recipients have to somehow understand the tag again in context. So, someone (say Stephen Fry) may use the word pants to describe something just bad and thats how he tags schlock in general, a tailor might use the pants tag differently.

    So we are potentially loading a very thin layered communications medium with the semantics of speech and of course it doesnt have the richness necessary because we cant express shared interest and shared context.

  4. Posted December 5, 2008 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Ok, now that Ive read this, Asymmetrical Follow sounds less like a Double Dutch jump rope game and more like a real phrase that means something. I like it. Nice concept, good post.

  5. Posted December 5, 2008 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Following on twitter is of course a reflection of human nature. Some people are followers, some people are leaders. Some want to learn all they can from those around and are heavily influenced by other people. Some value stable 1:1 relationships and quality over quantity.

    Some (dare I say like your good self) are just out there doing original things and are kind enough to pass that knowledge/insight along.

    Some people are just more interesting/attractive/better at expressing themselves than others.

    It would be a strange world indeed if we all symmetrically followed. Wed have 11 captains in a football team, as many kings as citizens and as many monks as sons of god.

    It would be interesting to see a hierarchy of twitter users do kings mainly follow other kings and monks other monks? Fascinating how human nature is reflected in everything we do

  6. Posted December 5, 2008 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I think you are re-writing history a little here, James most of the Web 2.0 Social Nets (Facebook, MySpace, Linked In etc) demand symmetric following ie we have to mutually agree to connect. In act, that was more the Web 2.0 mantra than asymmetry till Twitter et al arrived.

    As you note, Telcoland has had Pub/Sub models for a long time (as does Web 1.0 in its messaging systems, like Groups).

    And I would to an extent defend Ben Ellis when he says they are not fully conversational as they are more broadcast in structure, though they do of course have a backpath the @ signal in Twitter for example.

    But they are intrinsically far more scalable than symmetric commsnets

  7. Posted December 5, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Its an adjacent conversation, there was a great piece on happiness in social networks, happy people tend to be at the center of large networks. You can listen or read the npr piece here:

  8. Posted December 5, 2008 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Good stuff, James.

    In my view, the key thing for us to overcome is the false dichotomy between broadcasting and conversation, because the technological aspects of our new social media allow us to blur these lines so easily. Depending on the technology in use, you could potentially communicate with ANY number of people, from zero (writing something in your own journal for your eyes only) to the whole world, or at least the large fraction of the world that has access to the Internet + broadcast media.

    This upends our old views of whats conversation and whats broadcasting, because it reveals how many layers of more or less narrowcasting there are in-between.

  9. Posted December 5, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Well done James. This is definitely a pattern of note. At the core of this is the binary relationship variations noted in our Web 2.0 book. A is related to B. However, what does this mean. Such a statement is purely ambiguous at best. If A loves B, does it mean that B reciprocates and loves A? Certainly that is not known. Is B even aware of A and inversely, is A aware of B even though A is tweeting at B.

    These types of relationships are noted in most upper level ontology work. There are roughly 11 variations of a binary predicate aspect of any relationship. Symmetrical, Asymmetrical, transitive, intransitive, reflexsive, co-reflexsive, disjoint, etc.

    Adam Pease has documented most of these in SUMO. For example, the binary predicate logic flows as such:

    (documentation inverse The inverse of a &%BinaryRelation is a relation
    in which all the tuples of the original relation are reversed. In
    other words, one &%BinaryRelation is the inverse of another if they are
    equivalent when their arguments are swapped.)

    (inverse ?REL1 ?REL2)
    (forall (?INST1 ?INST2)
    (holds ?REL1 ?INST1 ?INST2)
    (holds ?REL2 ?INST2 ?INST1))))

    I am totally stoked to see you getting into this more and more. You might also consider looking at set-class theory before jumping into n-ary relationships.

    (documentation subclass (&%subclass ?CLASS1 ?CLASS2) means that ?CLASS1 is
    a subclass of ?CLASS2, i.e. every instance of ?CLASS1 is also an instance of
    ?CLASS2. A class may have multiple superclasses and subclasses.)

    (subclass ?SUBCLASS ?CLASS)
    (instance ?SUBCLASS SetOrClass)
    (instance ?CLASS SetOrClass)
    (forall (?INST)
    (instance ?INST ?SUBCLASS)
    (instance ?INST ?CLASS)))))

    Come and join the ontolog forum with us James!! We need more sharp minds like yours.

  10. Posted December 5, 2008 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Nice post James.

    I dont know if I can help with asymmetrical follow theory but I can tell you that Im not always impressed with those who make the effort to keep the follower numbers mutual. Im just skeptical that someone call follow more than 1,000 people or so in a thoughtful and personal way.

    So, for example, Rick Sanchez of CNN has more than 34,000 followers (@ricksanchezcnn) but he actually follows more than 20,000. I like his conversational style but I dont see how he can effectively engage with so many people. If he can, I would love to know how he does it. His colleague Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) is a classic asymmetrical follow with more than 5,600 followers but only following 7. Now, 7 is a very small number, but what bothers me more than his miniscule following habits are his posts, none of which are conversational, all of which are endless links being pushed without context.

    Tim OReilly as you noted is an interesting case because while he is asymmetrical, (follows 400 but has 17K+ followers), the amount of folks he follows seems to be more of a reasonable number to really engage with. More importantly, Tim has a very conversational style, and he backs it up. I dont believe he follows me (@jonerp), but recently I commented on one of his Tweeted blog entries and he did respond to me in the comment thread.

    Im sure this comes down to personal taste to a certain degree, but my verdict for now is that I judge people not by the asymmetry of their following (on Twitter or elsewhere) but how interactive they are with those who follow or speak to them. Thats probably reflective of a personal value of mine, in that I reserve my highest respect for those who value interacting not just with thought leaders but with the so-called rank and file, who often have more trenchant insights to begin with.

    Ironically enough, an effort to avoid asymmetry can leave the wrong impression on me. For example, James (@monkchips), I think you are one of the best Tweeters out there. You have 3,000 followers and you follow 648 currently. If you made an attempt to avoid asymmetry by following 3,000 people, I would be less interested in following you because I dont see how your bandwidth can handle that much input. In short, I judge you more by your human ability to engage in conversation, with the understanding you could never, without a support staff or some kind of automation, scale your side of that conversation. If your asymmetry reflects a certain thought leader status, better to simply embrace it than to make a busy and futile attempt to hide it by pretending to follow more than is humanly possible to engage with.

    Just my two cents.

    - Jon -

  11. Posted December 5, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Twitter allows us to do things that we couldnt do before, i.e. to reach a large group in near real time, and creates a low-friction environment for discovering other interesting / like-minded people. In this context, behaviour is only partly going to reflect the outside world.

    On the one hand, there are some famous people who others are happy to follow with no expectation of reciprocity; this appears to be the pattern you are describing. Then there is a smaller group of well-known individuals, such as @timoreilly, @scobleizer and you, who take the time to respond to people that they have never met before if they say something interesting. You can still reach someone even if they arent following you. Or they may auto-follow you, in which case they are more likely to hear you.

    The patterns are also determined to some extent by what the tool allows you to do. Making a conscious decision to unfollow someone requires slightly more effort than following them in the first place. If a Twitter add-on allowed me to follow groups temporarily, such as all the people who were recently at Conference X, and then confirm after two weeks which ones I wanted to continue following perhaps the numbers would look a bit different. When Twitters business model eventually becomes apparent it will be interesting to see how it fits the patterns we are seeing (is it cause or effect?). Ultimately reciprocal relationships are personally more rewarding.

  12. Posted December 5, 2008 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Didnt want to put a huge rambling response, so I posted the longer edition on my home turf, but this is an excellent item on the social networking base understanding, at least for me.

    I get the feeling its about essentially routing and a sort of pollination of ideas. The symmetric is for working through in the details, exploring, developing, extending, higher bandwidth. The asymmetry is about taking the results and broadcasting them to other symmetric networks.

    Sounds a lot like standard TCP/IP network hierarchy, but with the interesting aspect that the routers are relationships and judgements between the highly followed and the following. Whether a packet winds up on the local symmetric networks depends on those on the local networks seeing and accepting the idea as it gets broadcast.

    The routers, as I called them on the longer version of this, might get pulled into the local nets as ideas get pulled around, but they take on a symmetric role at that point. Asymmetric is spreading ideas and seeing what sticks and propagates.

    I follow the reference to a thought leader but I think that breaks down to some degree given the fine granularity and broad topic spread on a lot of twitter feeds. This feels much more shotgun and far less directed and formalized than a thought leader idea, its more like stumbling on a conversation at a party with people you know to varying degrees. You might hear a conversation that sparks your interest just because youre in the area (happened to be following someone in the chat) and you draw in and participate. Thats the sort of broadcast and interaction Im thinking of.

    That make any sense?

    The full edition goes a few more directions if youd care to come over to the local net on this. :-)

  13. Posted December 6, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Twitter is a hyper contextual communicaton tool.

    The number of different types of user experience is infinite (a big claim that I am prepared to stand by)

    This means for example that the user experience of a person with 100 followers is not the same as 200 followers.

    The next obvious context is the users preference for follow back which in itself ratio.

    Then there is the intent or purpose of use Al Jazeera, Financial Times, BBC Podcasts are all monologue, but there are also power users that choose to mainly hold a monologue.

    Which leads to the content of the 140 character limit. That in itself is almost impossible to describe.

    So while this is a terrific post about the asymmetrical twitter experience the point is, that how people experience the service is really up to them. So get stuck in and define how you like to use it. Its a remarkable evolutionary development in human communication on a par with the telegraph wire.

  14. Posted December 6, 2008 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    At the current rate of scale, in a few years time every converstaion in every medium will be about Twitter.

  15. Posted December 6, 2008 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Great post. I think Twitter will again run into problems as it scales not technical ones this time, but rather social ones, because the asymmetry of follow cuts both ways: as my quantity of followers grows, Twitter becomes a more effective outreach and research platform for me, but concurrently becomes a less effective communications platform for me The #1 most effective way to get my attention these days is to include @ahoppin in a Tweet, but if as many @ahoppin-inclusive Tweets were sent in a day as emails I receive in a day, it would no longer be such an effective way to get my attention. My guess is that the Twitter whales, including you @monkchips, already experience this.

    Im optimistic that these new types of scaling challenges will be met, however, by the development of Twitter apps tailored to more and more nuanced use-cases (e.g.: a Twitter interface specifically designed for the instant focus groups use case by Tweeters with large #s of followers), and by continued innovation through the user-generated markup language that is Twitter In particular, Im eager to see innovation in groups and categories Im a leader (more followed than following) in the content lens of NASA, for example, but Im a learner (more following than followed) in the content lens of venture capital I need a different interface for those two content lenses, and Ive even considered using different Twitter accounts to support my different personal use cases, though doing so would create new inefficiencies in terms of my desire to scale my presences, as well as the new efficiencies in terms of conversation categorization that I seek

    Andrew Hoppin

  16. Posted December 6, 2008 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    phenomenal post.

    (james: if youll be in Paris at LeWeb, id love to catchup for coffee.)

    altho ive used twitter for almost 2 years now, i only started grokking asymmetric follow about 3-4 months back. now i find myself reviewing the concept in many different sites, business models. communication medium, etc.

    in particular, you can infer asymmetric follow patterns in almost any communication medium by reviewing & sorting frequency. for example: people who email me more than i email them are fans, people who i email for than they email me are celebrities, and people who email me about the same as i email them are peers.

    you can do this tri-partite segmentation in almost any medium, apply the asymmetric follow framework, and find some very interesting & useful patterns.

    look forward to reading / watching more about this

  17. Posted December 7, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    This all puts me in mind of the small world work of Stanley Milgram and others. This work is what led to the six degrees of separation. The idea that our communication paths tend to be short that there are approximately 6. He popularized the idea in 1967, but the original work was done by others.

    If we look at the interconnectedness of the internet, maybe some of this comes into question it may be shorter than 6. What is clear, however, is that there are a number of super communicators and this has always been so. For example long before computing, if I had met Sir Winston Churchill, I would have immediately had the ability to access a huge number of his immediate connections. The ability actually to access those was, of course, limited because without high speed networks, etc. just writing the letters would have been a problem. So turning broadcast into the 2 way communication medium that a twitter or other social networking network enables, improves our (those of us that are not super-connected to leverage the networks of the super-connected. That gives rise to some of the other patterns we are seeing.

    Oh, then this brings the network effect into sharp focus instead of thinking in terms of the value of the network of things, now we drive value from the network of people on a grander scale than ever before.

  18. Posted December 7, 2008 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Whats fun is there are new tools that allow both styles of following. FriendFeed, for instance, lets me follow huge numbers, but I can also follow a small group in a list. So, I can have tight intimacy as well as the asymmetrical follow you are talking about here.

    I have a lot more to say about this post, which is most excellent, but gotta go to dinner with a bunch of Twitter followers. Oh, is that asymmetrical? Heheh.

  19. Posted December 7, 2008 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Still letting my first read-thru wash over. James & commenters, thanks for this wonderful page of thinking. You capture a lot.

    Though I appear to be a symmetrical follower, there is an inherent asymmetry in blowing out your follow numbers by following everyone back. On @pistachio, I can ONLY see @replies, and rarely, a few random tweets from the community.

    Now, most of this thread is about the symmetry of public messaging, but Twitter is a bi-level bridge, with @reply connections and private dm connections. So Ill add some thoughts about private, dm-level symmetry.

    Under the surface, anyone can privately engage me via dm *BECAUSE* I follow everyone back. Past a certain scale, dm is the ONLY reason I bother to reciprocate follows. I feel its polite to leave that door open, in return for the kindness people have paid by volunteering to tune in to my stream.

    In reality, following *everyone* back probably makes me a MORE asymmetrical follower. Also, I use a second account (it currently follows around 350) to tune in to a certain group that I choose to see and hear (whether we are a mutual follow on @Pistachio or not). I follow other folks other ways too: RSS, search, FriendFeed, dropping by their page on occasion

    But thats just me. Everyone must find their comfort level, and their way to engage. I wonder sometimes if too much emotional and social capital is spent being concerned about the reciprocity of follows. (Especially as Twitter spontaneously breaks connections from time to time. For a year, @pistachio has essentially NEVER unfollowed anyone, yet many think that I have.)

    Most of all, Im sad when *anyone* feels a need to judge *anyones* choices here. Were all just sort of shuffling and dancing and listening and watching and singing and thinking out loud. By far, most seem to mean well. Its all good.

  20. Posted December 7, 2008 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Great post James.

    I post this comment knowing full that I dont necessarily expect a response from you. Are blogging (with RSS delivery) and commenting the reference architecture for asymmetrical follow on the web? Unlike Twitter, blogging was enabled by the basic architecture of the Internet itself with with the help of some standards like RSS. It is really a Web 1.0 effect that arose fairly organically through a distributed network of pages and links rather than a monolithic silo that is Twitter.

    Outside of the web of course asymmetrical follow is alive and very well though all different media television, movies, radio and music as well as in politics. I can email, mail or phone (maybe) my member of Canadian parliament or Britney Spears and in each case not really expect a response unless from a communications manager or some such thing.

    Since, IMHO, asymmetrical follow is something that is a prominent pattern across all media, can we identify other patterns that while existing in more traditional forms of media are somehow amplified or made more useful in a Web 2.0 world?

    Do tools like Twitter actually help to reduce the asymmetry of traditional asymmetrical follow by making interactions more succinct (140 characters makes it easier to both submit feedback and respond to it), more timely (as a leader it is easy to ignore tweets while you have not been watching) and fewer in number (in real life more than 140k people follow the US President elect)?

  21. jgovernor
    Posted December 8, 2008 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    extraordinary quality of comments and trackback posts from everyone. i need to digest these a bit before follow up but thanks everyone.

  22. Posted December 25, 2008 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    I am watching House right now and am asking myself what he would think of assymetrical follow. Hed probably use the words, bullshit, and attention whore. Assymetrical follow is also another way of saying, Old media, e.g. TV, and newspaper are great examples.

  23. Posted December 29, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Coming very late to the party, but it takes a bit of time for these type of posts to filter down the ranks.

    Its an interesting analysis, one Ive pondered myself, but I cant but wonder if your theory isn’t limited to a certain world.

    You see, I dont know if the idea of asymmetrical following makes sense outside the tech community and early adopter communities. My suspicion is that for the average user and thats who is going to make up the bulk of Twitter users if the platform takes off- the notion of the citizen expert someone whose tweets they can learn from, yet someone they can realistically engage- makes a whole lot of sense.

    Their reasons for using social media aren’t very business oriented or self-promotional. For them, the emphasis is on social and the experts in their fields of interest are celebrities in their own right.

    The basketball star Shaquille ONeill seems to be a good example of where Twitter is heading. Shaq has close to 25,000 followers. None of whom actually expect to interact with him. And if he does send an @ message to one, its with the mutual understanding that its the equivalent of granting an autograph session not an open invitation for further conversation and friendship.

    The average non-tech user coming on to Twitter sees little value in following the tweets of strangers. The output of those the tech community calls experts or A-listers has no value to them. They may follow someone like Shaq for the entertainment value, or even CNN to get news updates. But those are one-way broadcast streams, not two-way streets.

    Look at how the latest wave of Facebookers 30 and 40something Xers use that platform, which is as a way to connect with people they know in real life and reconnect with people they knew in the past that seems to be where the future of Twitter is likely headed.

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  4. By Ymerce » Asymmetrisch volgen on 06 Dec 2008 at 7:33 am

    [...] schreef ik wat over het wel/niet mainstream kunnen gaan van Twitter. Vandaag lees ik een aardig bericht over het principe van asymmetrisch volgen, dat eigenlijk uitlegt hoe het hebben van [...]

  5. [...] phenomenon of asymmetry in modern communications as a result of DMing me a few days ago with his Asymmetric Follow post, an absolute must-read. He then followed it up with another, looking at Dopplr rather than [...]

  6. [...] to manage the contribution of external comments to her conversation in a much more direct manner. James Governor had a really great post that details not only the technical but social implications of this style [...]

  7. [...] в завтрашнем дне». советуем так же посетить Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern по данным сайта [...]

  8. By Understanding HP Labs Twitter Research on 08 Dec 2008 at 3:19 pm

    [...] follower number. Perhaps some werent following spam bots, or people that follow everyone. James Governor has been discussing asymmetrical networks, but it appears that on the average, most are [...]

  9. [...] [From James Governor’s Monkchips » Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern] [...]

  10. [...] these independently, though the velocity of recognition increases greatly as the effects of asymmetrical follow patterns take effect. Those really big ideas of cloud computing usually start as a great [...]

  11. [...] Read the rest of this post Print all_things_di220: SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern, url: }); Sphere Comment Tagged: Asymmetrical Follow, James Governor, RedMonk, Twitter, Voices, Web 2.0 | permalink [...]

  12. [...] Aymetrical Follow: A core Web 2.0 pattern that is taking over the online world. [...]

  13. [...] has been written about before, so I wont say much. Asymmetrical follow means I can follow the updates of a [...]

  14. [...] James as my inspiration, I have been thinking more about asymmetric follow and how it applies to the web. I decided to make [...]

  15. [...] Asymmetric follow [...]

  16. [...] not but it might be nice to think we celebrated merit. I have been thinking about the notion of Asymmetric Follow a lot lately (as have many others) that is the power laws which underpin social networks. As Dave [...]

  17. [...] network modalities 16Dec08 The fuss last week about asymmetric follow got me thinking about communication modalities in social networks. It seems to me that this is yet [...]

  18. [...] than just some tell, so I took out my trusty N95 and asked my Twitter community (which is now more than 3000 people), What does the Unilever brand stand [...]

  19. By Asymmetrical information flows « Memeserver Ltd on 17 Dec 2008 at 11:45 pm

    [...] pm on December 17, 2008 | # | Tags: Interactivity I saw this post a while ago about asymmetrical information flows and the changing hierarchies that applications such as Twitter bring to backchannel [...]

  20. [...] Governor mentions a very interesting pattern of web 2.0 asymmetrical follow. In a nutshell, its basically an unbalanced communication network you have some nodes on a [...]

  21. [...] JP Rangaswami has a thought-provoking post on the nature of asymmetric networks and conversations within the social media sphere, while James Governor also gives his thoughts on the asymmetric follow [...]

  22. By Twitter as Combinatorics | shmula on 28 Dec 2008 at 6:50 am

    [...] found in Twitter and other social media and calls it Asymmetric Follow.  He defines Asymmetric Follow as the following: Asymmetric Follow is a core pattern for Web 2.0, in which a social network user [...]

  23. [...] Twitter is not only about talking, but also or maybe more about listening. At least thats how I see it. Is it still a conversation? Or is it broadcast? Thats something worth thinking about. If you are interested, check James Governors thoughts. [...]

  24. [...] in its architecture with the idea of asymmetric follow. James Governor defined asymmetric follow here (touched off by some thoughts from JP Rangaswami over a year ago and egged on by Tim O’Reilly). [...]

  25. [...] month James Governor of Redmonk had a blog post entitled Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern where he made the following [...]

  26. [...] is not intrinsically part of Twitter, but I see it more used in Twitter than anywhere else. The asymmetric follow helps us improve our capacity to sense ambient status, which also helps us in many [...]

  27. [...] is not intrinsically part of Twitter, but I see it more used in Twitter than anywhere else. The asymmetric follow helps us improve our capacity to sense ambient status, which also helps us in many [...]

  28. [...] Governor wrote a post on asymmetrical follow as a core Web 2.0 pattern earlier this month. I ran across it when JP referenced it in his quest to decide if Twitter is a [...]

  29. By Links 2009-03-04 - Adam Crowe on 05 Mar 2009 at 12:32 am

    [...] How Twitter will redefine the InternetBitcurrent Twitter’s not a site, it’s a protocolMonkchips Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 PatternYvoSchaap [...]

  30. [...] news feed from FriendFeed and with yesterdays announcement it looks like the company agrees that Assymetrical follow is a core Web 2.0 pattern as popularized by [...]

  31. [...] while ago I put forward Asymmetric Follow as a name to describe one of the key phenomena driving Twitter adoption the asymmetrical nature [...]

  32. [...] Governor has a nice post on the asymmetric relationship pattern. Grab the RSS Feed Links to this [...]

  33. [...] James Governor’s Monkchips » Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern (tags: twitter theory social) [...]

  34. [...] James Governor’s Monkchips » Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern [...]

  35. By no pokebacks « cyberpop on 16 Aug 2009 at 3:54 am

    [...] to both Ross Mayfield of Socialtext and James Governor of Redmonk, news feed updates, wall posts, and tweets enable a kind of continuous partial [...]

  36. [...] of behaviour we can mine. Declarative Living and Tag Gardening can let us “do the math”. Asymmetric Follow is just a scale-free network- but we have the maths at [...]

  37. [...] The original asymmetric-follow reference [...]

  38. [...] Asymmetric follow [...]

  39. [...] James Governors Monkchips » Asymmetrical Follow: A Core Web 2.0 Pattern (tags: monkchips twitter social media networking socialmedia theory community communication participation relationships) [...]

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