Eat spam Twitter bot!

As you may, or may not be aware, twitter updated the email notifications a while back to display more information about new followers you have received on your account.

Im hoping that they will expand upon this a little more to make the process of following people back a little simpler and also  to help weed out and spot twitter spam accounts and twitter bots, the true bane of using twitter effectively.

(I cannot and will not go into a rant on this post detailing how much I hate this and how adverse its effects are, that’s for another day, one which might just include a hangover).

The Original Twitter notification email

In the first instance (back in the day..I cant believe I’m saying that) you would have got a plain text email from twitter notifying you that someone is now following you, it looked like this:

Hi, justinparks.

Scott Stratten (unmarketing) is now following your updates on Twitter.

Check out unmarketing’s profile here:

http://twitter.com/unmarketing

You may follow unmarketing as well by clicking on the “follow” button.

Best,
Twitter


Turn off these emails at: http://twitter.com/account/notifications

Now obviously, there’s no information in this email at all except the name and username, so to check that user out I have to click the links go to the profiles, read their bio, location and info, decide if they are a bot, spammer or even just plain interesting  in order that I can decide to follow them back or not.

The example above is NOT a twitter bot or twitter spammer in any way, its Scott Stratten and he’s someone I would highly recommend, he’s just unlucky enough to be used as an example and I just wanted to clarify that.

The Current Twitter notification email

So that email notification above is now obsolete.  Twitter created a new email notification format and I got the first one through on Friday the 8th May 2009 and here’s an example below and one that you are all no doubt familiar with.

ProBlogger (Darren Rowse) is now following your updates on Twitter.

A little information about ProBlogger:

Eat spam Twitter bot! 69,854 followers
12,930 updates
following 40,501 people

The Twitter Team

Turn off these emails at: http://twitter.com/account/notifications

Great! Everyone rejoiced at the new information included in the email.

At a glance now we can all see who this new follower is, what they look like (bald with specs in this case, sorry Darren, your an Ozzie though so I’m sure you can handle a bit of “making the mick” :)), the number of followers, how many they are following and the number of updates they have made.

But the same problems still exists as the in the original twitter notification email.  This information doesn’t help us decide if we want to follow this person back, and indeed we shouldn’t base that decision on this information alone, in fact its almost misleading!

Again, Problogger isn’t a spammer or bot, he’s cool.  Would also recommend you follow him if you’re into becoming a blogger.

What we really need in Twitter notification emails

In my opinion we need a little more help from twitter in the notification email department. First things first, I would love to see the other normal information included that’s already available on the users twitter page, this means, show me the location and their bio.

The only reason that I can think of that twitter would not want to include this is to encourage us to visit the profile pages physically, and that’s fair enough, I understand the reasoning behind that.

Show us how many times you have been blocked on twitter

One thing I would love to see to make those twitter bots eat spam though is how many times a user has been blocked by other twitter users.  This is not available anywhere (as far as I know, but please do correct me if I’m wrong).  This one small piece of information will immediately help me access the new follower at a single glance.

It would also help us to help each other, I believe, as we can begin to actively manage the twitter spammers and twitter bots as a community, helping each other to spot and remove these damn things asap.

I cant see any way to automate the process, its impossible, and there’s no way Twitter can manage it by themselves, that would just be insane and the reporting feature of tweeting @spam followed by the username seems to be totally ineffective. Basically lets effectively crowd source the ability to fight the twitter spammers and twitter bots.

Twitter Block numbers and the downside

The downside of this of course is that not everyone who’s getting blocked will be a twitter bot or twitter spammer.  I’m raining on my own parade here but I like to be realistic about these things. If you have a large following or are a celebrity or such, then it is inevitable that your account will be blocked more than the average user but this could balance against the amount of followers they already have and should be quite obvious.

Indeed, if you are being yourself, that doesn’t always mean you will be popular, and this could cause your account to be blocked more than normal, or if indeed you manage to offend some group or other then you may find your blocked a lot more than you’re being followed, for no other reason than you have an opinion, or disagreement over something and its made tempers flare or caused offence.

This could of course balance out I guess and it still acts as a representation of the user to a certain extent, but it is something to be wary of. Of course this is mentioning nothing of potential “Twitter Blocking Campaigns “ that could be initiated targeting other users but I think the case for is stronger than the case against, at least from my point of view. Maybe adding in a tweet to explain why you decided to block an account would, for the record, help us all in advance as well so we would end up with notification emails that look like this:

Twitter Spammer (Twitter Spam Bot) is now following your updates on Twitter.

A little information about Twitter Spammer:

Eat spam Twitter bot! 6,825 followers
5 updates
following 8,501 people
Blocked: 1,240 Find out why…

The Twitter Team

Turn off these emails at: http://twitter.com/account/notifications

Now wouldn’t that be helpful?

Other thoughts on twitter spam and twitter bots

If you want to read more info on how this spam and the bots are adversely affecting twitter, there are plenty out there but heres a few that came through while I was putting the finishing touches to this post.

From my friend @bungeespin Social twitter or just spam? and @problogger tweeted this today from Twitip.com
3 Ways to Recognize Bots and Spammers on Twitter . Of course if your interested in what the tweeple think there’s always the latest views on the #twitter-spam hashtag.

So what’s your point of view?

Do you think this would work, or have you another suggestion on how to deal with this problem created by twitter spammers and bots?  Its growing and for me I want to see it curtailed before it becomes detrimental to Twitter and before it becomes so out of hand that we all decide that its simply not worth being involved in Twitter any more.

  • Guest

    Putting the user’s last 5 or 10 tweets into the notification email would go a long way to helping me decide quickly if (a) they’re a spam bot and (b) if I want to follow them back or not. When I click through to their Twitter profile page that’s what I judge on, but like you say, perhaps discouraging page visits is not in Twitter’s own best interests.

    • http://www.justinparks.com Justin Parks

      Indeed John, but the problem is if Twitter do not deal with this spam and bots we wont be going anywhere except away! What are you thoughts on the number of blocks idea?

      • Guest

        I’ve been informed that @tmailer http://twimailer.com can be used to rewrite notification emails and add useful information such as the last 10 tweets and a follow-back link. I’ve signed up and I’m now waiting for a new follower to test it out!

        “number of blocks” would be a useful addition I think, and something that @tmailer could add if the information was available through the Twitter API.

        But there’s nothing like seeing a user’s Tweet stream to judge for yourself if they’re a spammer, linkbot or whatever.

        • http://www.justinparks.com Justin Parks

          That sounds interesting, will check it out. I have looked for information on blocked twitter accounts but nothing solid as yet, so I would assume its not available in the API.

          I totally agree though, the best way to judge is the twitter stream but having this little bit of information also adds depth to real accounts and makes spotting the bots and spammers that little bit easier.

  • http://twitter.com/johngirvin John Girvin

    Putting the user's last 5 or 10 tweets into the notification email would go a long way to helping me decide quickly if (a) they're a spam bot and (b) if I want to follow them back or not. When I click through to their Twitter profile page that's what I judge on, but like you say, perhaps discouraging page visits is not in Twitter's own best interests.

  • http://www.justinparks.com justinparks

    Indeed John, but the problem is if Twitter do not deal with this spam and bots we wont be going anywhere except away! What are you thoughts on the number of blocks idea?

  • http://twitter.com/johngirvin John Girvin

    I've been informed that @tmailer http://twimailer.com can be used to rewrite notification emails and add useful information such as the last 10 tweets and a follow-back link. I've signed up and I'm now waiting for a new follower to test it out!

    “number of blocks” would be a useful addition I think, and something that @tmailer could add if the information was available through the Twitter API.

    But there's nothing like seeing a user's Tweet stream to judge for yourself if they're a spammer, linkbot or whatever.

  • http://www.justinparks.com justinparks

    That sounds interesting, will check it out. I have looked for information on blocked twitter accounts but nothing solid as yet, so I would assume its not available in the API.

    I totally agree though, the best way to judge is the twitter stream but having this little bit of information also adds depth to real accounts and makes spotting the bots and spammers that little bit easier.

  • http://millerian.com @millerian

    Hi Justin,

    I have tried both Twimailer and Topify, and much prefer Topify. Main reason is that it’s easier to follow/block/spam report new followers, but also you can keep your main email address on Twitter, and then only forward follower notifications to Topify for processing. Otherwise, all other Twitter emails (e.g. password resets) go through a 3rd party which I’m not so comfortable with.

    Here’s a post I used as a basis for rules in Gmail http://bit.ly/RD2If

    Also, between Twimailer and Topify, Topify has been a LOT more reliable, Twimailer kept losing follows and has had several server issues for me.

  • http://millerian.com @millerian

    Hi Justin,

    I have tried both Twimailer and Topify, and much prefer Topify. Main reason is that it's easier to follow/block/spam report new followers, but also you can keep your main email address on Twitter, and then only forward follower notifications to Topify for processing. Otherwise, all other Twitter emails (e.g. password resets) go through a 3rd party which I'm not so comfortable with.

    Here's a post I used as a basis for rules in Gmail http://bit.ly/RD2If

    Also, between Twimailer and Topify, Topify has been a LOT more reliable, Twimailer kept losing follows and has had several server issues for me.

  • http://millerian.com @millerian

    Hi Justin,

    I have tried both Twimailer and Topify, and much prefer Topify. Main reason is that it's easier to follow/block/spam report new followers, but also you can keep your main email address on Twitter, and then only forward follower notifications to Topify for processing. Otherwise, all other Twitter emails (e.g. password resets) go through a 3rd party which I'm not so comfortable with.

    Here's a post I used as a basis for rules in Gmail http://bit.ly/RD2If

    Also, between Twimailer and Topify, Topify has been a LOT more reliable, Twimailer kept losing follows and has had several server issues for me.

  • http://millerian.com @millerian

    Hi Justin,

    I have tried both Twimailer and Topify, and much prefer Topify. Main reason is that it's easier to follow/block/spam report new followers, but also you can keep your main email address on Twitter, and then only forward follower notifications to Topify for processing. Otherwise, all other Twitter emails (e.g. password resets) go through a 3rd party which I'm not so comfortable with.

    Here's a post I used as a basis for rules in Gmail http://bit.ly/RD2If

    Also, between Twimailer and Topify, Topify has been a LOT more reliable, Twimailer kept losing follows and has had several server issues for me.

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