This is going a rant. More of an "old man yells at cloud" type of moment... So, feel free to leave the article now before suffering it 😋
Let me start by saying I'm not too fond of the concept of Dev/Tech Twitter. I find it ridiculous. It makes it look like all the developers on Twitter think and behave in the same way when, in reality, it is an incredibly diverse group, often divergent and contradictory. Yet, for simplicity, I will use the term Dev Twitter many times in this article.
In my time browsing Dev Twitter, I found many types of developers that could be classified based on what/how they post:
- People who mostly read and rarely share about development.
- People who talk about dev and share original content.
- People who share original content (but mostly not theirs).
- People who talk about programming (but don't share dev content).
- People who mostly don't talk about programming, mainly feel-good and current topics (aka memes).
It's not a strict classification, and many users jump from one to another. But in general, at any given moment, most users fall into one of those five groups.
I will talk about people who fall in the last two categories: Twitter users who speak about programming, but mostly they don't.
Twitter Grifters are people that are on Twitter to build an audience. They don't care about what, who, or how. They mostly care about numbers (and how to make money out of it). There are grifters everywhere, but Dev Twitter has a ton of them.
They could talk about software development or about the growth of sugar cane in the Himalayas, but they picked software development because it is far more profitable.
Grifters prey on people new to development. Learning programming is not easy, and it can be confusing at times: there are too many resources from too many places. It is difficult to find the right thing and easy to get lost. A person that combines feel-good messages with apparently well-curated information is appealing. Grifters take advantage of that. They present themselves as teachers and educators, but nothing further from the truth.
Here are some clues that you may be in front of a Twitter Grifter:
- They post a lot. Like nonstop. At a rate that is unhealthy for an account.
- Most of their posts are lists or threads that start with "👇🧵."
- Most of their content is not original, but refried content from various sources (often without proper attribution.)
- Their content ratio of trending memes is incredibly high (they love these things and surf them like champs.)
- They love open-ended questions that have a subjective answer and generate many responses (same idea as above).
- They like and retweet (and re-retweet, and re-re-retweet several times more) their own content.
- Their content ratio of inspirational messages is considerably high.
- They may (or may not) talk a lot about development, but they don't actually share any development they do.
- They talk more about their number of followers than about any other thing. This one has many variants:
- "I'll do X when I get to Y followers."
- "I'm X followers short to Y."
- "I'll share X if this gets to Y likes/retweets."
- "I made it to X followers! Now off to Y!"
My personal favorite is "I'll share more videos when I get to 1,000 subscribers on Youtube." Why 1,000 and not 100, 250, or 500? (which would be more realistic expectations). The answer is simple: a Youtuber willing to serve ads must have –you guessed right– at least 1,000 subscribers. It was never about the message or the audience. It's always about the money.
Some readers may say now, "I know a bunch of people that check most of those things, but they definitely are not grifters." And you are definitely right. Some are "regular people," and some others are DevRels.
I call them DevRel for shorts, but they go by many names: Dev Relations, Evangelists, Advocates, etc. And it has been a trendy new position for companies to influence developers.
But DevRels are not "Dev influencers." Their role goes beyond writing about development or sharing inspirational quotes on Twitter. DevRels are a bridge between external developers and company developers. They need to engage with the audience, but not in the same way a Twitter Grifter does it.
Still, the fine line separating a DevRel and a Twitter Grifter is really thin and blurry. Some people jump between the two often: they build a large audience as Grifters, then they are hired as DevRels by companies trying to take advantage of the big number of followers as a promotion stunt.
DevRels post about programming, but many times without actually coding. They share encouragement and inspiring quotes, but mostly targeted and tailored to their audience, not developers in general, but some tool users in particular.
The end of everything as we know it
Dev Twitter has evolved through this last decade. Ten years ago, there was no Dev Twitter. Then, it was a nebulous idea that now concentrates on a group of people (call them Dev influencers) who talk and define the topics.
The problem is that the Twitter Grifters are hoarding the conversation, but they are not really contributing much to its progress: their topics are repetitive, their messages are void of meaning or depth, and they don't really care about their audience (as long as it grows). And that causes the Dev Twitter ecosystem to become stale.
DevRels could help, they are better, and they are active too. But many of them are not on Dev Twitter for the sake of being around other developers, but because it is part of their job at company XYZ. So they work with developers but ultimately for a company, presenting a (not always clear) bias in their interactions.
So, how do we prevent Dev Twitter from falling into the hands of the Grifters? I don't know, and maybe we can't. It's how the system was built. But, unfortunately, larger audiences mean higher reach to new audiences too. It's a vicious cycle.
Maybe, we could break this system by getting other (better) developers more involved and focusing on them. But that's not always possible. The best developers I've known are not too active on Twitter. They read and comment here or there, but they don't participate in the conversations that much. The actual development and teaching are not done on Twitter but in their jobs. They don't have the time or interest to play a role online.
I don't know what needs to be done. But whatever it is, we cannot pin it on individuals. It should be a collective effort from the whole community. The Grifters could be helpful given their high audience. But will they want to change their ways and move forward?
Top comments (43)
I Wanna be a Grifters and I promise that after 10K followers, I will be a DevRels so
Also, a link to your profile? Seriously? What are we? Rookies??!! You need to do it the grifter way! Create a link directly to a follow popup!
I learned that trick from a Twitter Grifter (for real). That's how he shared his Twitter profile online.
Oh my god, I don't know this 😳 I have to add this into my websites now!
If it works, it works.
I actually did...somehow wasn’t following you (hey, 10 years off social media, I am like a grandpa relearning things! 🤣)
<the grifter>you are my followers number 300! You have earned a full access to my profile account with all the tweets and content I share. Not only this but you will get such content automatically in your home feed so you don't have to check my account all the time! New content each day that will blow your mind and make you the best developer
<the devRels>a new follower .. ok .. let's hope he understand some CSS
Although you forgot to say that you get extra bonus content if you like and retweet this tweet so I can tell you aren't a grifter!!
well, I am still new to grifting 🤓 I will need time to build my grifts database
Joke's on you, I already follow you 😋
And I already follow you, but that is only because you popped up in my Twitter feed, I really need to start searching out people I like on DEV to follow on Twitter...as I said, grandpa is just getting into this social stuff...now how do I send a Twitter again?!
Ok, grandpa, this is how you write a Twitter again:
I look forward to reading your Twitters 😊😊😊
On it right now, so £25 a tweet, can I get a bulk discount?
Of course! If you send 10 cheques, you can do £20 each instead of £25. That's 8 tweets for the price of 10.
I had to double check that I didn't post this! I thought I was the only angry ranter on here! 🤣
The thing is, it is prevalent in any medium. Plenty of zero value posts on here get lots of attention.
I think you are looking at it backwards. Why is the low quality, high quantity mechanism working? Why is the clickbait and everything else working?
We have taught young people that everybody is perfect (Instagram life), you can be anything you want to be (general super positive rubbish) etc.
Couple that with the fact we are in an industry so overloaded with information that it is overwhelming (a new JS library every week, to fix the problem with the previous JS library but introduces 10 new problems that will be fixed by the next JS library) and everybody is looking for shortcuts and quick fixes.
You and I would be the same if we had been exposed to the same crap, we have just managed to develop a filter.
You and I have the experience to know that either: they don't have a job and have the time to do it all, or they have hired people to do it, or they have recycled something that someone else has done and claimed credit.
I probably could not have identified such things at 16.
So I would follow them, wonder how they do it all and hang on their every word. The second they recommend a book I would buy it. Doesn't matter how crap the book actually is, the person with 100k followers said it was good so I must learn it.
Grifters will always attract an audience, they have 100k followers so they must be useful. And they are, they are useful for knowing how to game the system, how to find retweetable and shareable content. Learn from them!
I am studying them with great interest, hoping to slip some real knowledge and truly useful resources under the radar, but you still have to play the game, get the following and then start making change.
It is why "imposter syndrome" appears every week in the feed. The feeling of inadequacy most people experience is down to the Instagram and Twitter façade of the perfect life and popularity.
The only thing you or I can do is to up our game. Create even better content, encourage others to do the same, and just hope that one day the people who are sucked in by the grifters and click bait realise that there is no value there. That there are no magic bullets.
Society and its high expectations are definitely a problem. But it's easy to blame society for everything, it's an abstract entity (it's everyone and no one at the same time). Grifters are more defined entities. And taking advantage of people when they are in need is an ugly thing to do.
You are 100% right. We can learn a lot from them. They are great at marketing, gaming the system, and getting people's engagement (in general). But at this point, their post create more annoyance than curiosity in me. I unfollower/blocked a few of them these past weeks, and I'm tempted to unfollow/block some people that retweet them often.
I like your suggestion of upping up our game and create better content, and especially encouraging others to do the same. Will it make a difference in the long term? Worth trying.
Long term - quality wins, but I think the reality is short term cutting corners to build a platform large enough to then share quality stuff is the route to go!
Do everything the grifters do (other than shilling crap products...by all means promote super quality stuff though) for a year, at 10k - 20k followers you have enough of a platform to pivot and still grow.
That is the dilemma I have been facing, accessibility gets no views, so I am pivoting to popular stuff and will drip feed the accessibility in as part of the content for a while, as I am going to launch a business next year and a large follower count is a good sales tool for investors! Plus a nice platform to announce from.
As for grifters I agree it is horrid behaviour!
We live in a society
We found the Joker! (double meaning!) 😉
Putting on my Grifter makeup right now
Do you want to know how I got these
My father was a grifter...and an influencer.
And one night, he start tweeting more furiously than usual.
Mommy goes to the plug for the Wi-Fi to stop him.
He doesn't like that. Not...one...bit.
So with me watching he takes his phone and starts taking selfies.
He points the phone at me. "Why no grifting?"
He puts the flash on and gets really close.
"Why no grifting?",
He adds a filter,
"Lets put a winking emoji on your face"
And...why no grifting?
If you zoom out, you can apply this to many groups on twitter and other social media platforms. I think it encapsulates that era of social media and the businesses behind them. The economics of social media means they chase eyeballs and to get those eyeballs, you need to have content that is provocative. If you incentivize people chasing numbers, it moves digital platforms in the direction of a digital informercialand. Until social media and tech can change the incentives and break away from engagement metrics, there will always be groups like this. The only option as an individual is to filter them out, or ditch the platform.
You are 100% correct. This is not unique to Tech Twitter, it happens in every single community online and offline, and the current incentives online only promote this type of practices. I like the term you used: "digital informercialand". I may
steal ituse it in the future :)
I will deploy my digital rights bots to claim royalties 😉
It is a web intent. The Twitter documentation describes it as a a way "to help users easily follow a Twitter account".
Using it, you can create a link/button that redirects to a Twitter account with the "Follow this account?" popup already open. The code is simple
https://twitter.com/intent/follow?screen_name=[TWITTER_HANDLER]. For example, a follow intent to my Twitter account 😉😉: twitter.com/intent/user?screen_nam... or twitter.com/intent/follow?screen_n... (they both work)
I've noticed this, too. It's fascinating how they've moved into the dev space on twitter. One of the things I look for is a youtube account where they actually code.
That being said, I'm a bad dev twitterer. I rarely post about dev these days! I should make an effort.
Not everything has to be about dev, I really enjoyed your drawing live sessions. Have you done any lately?
@inhuofficial why did you remove your answer? I was about to reply 😬
I think he will make it a post instead 😅
You know that most of my essays are in comments! Hell, my comments are much better than my crappy posts are!
There, it is back now! I got distracted and didn't realise I had done that, I was just trying to check I hadn't left any swear words in it without blanking them!
Oh crap, I was meaning to edit it...two secs!
Being part of DevTwitter I love this compilation.
You are absolutly right with your classification
If this comment reaches 100.000.000 likes y will answer you with a Youtube video
The solution seems pretty obvious: stop reading twitter. There is nothing of value on the entire site that can't also be found somewhere else that isn't twitter.
Same logic applies to DEV. And yet, here we are.
The solution isn't stop reading Twitter, in the same way that the solution to have zero car accidents isn't stop driving at all. Twitter is just a platform for sharing and, from my experience, a great one for reaching out to new people and learning new things.
Thanks for the post! In hindsight, this proves several reasons why Twitter wasn't all good even before the crazy rich man took over.
Could you ellaborate? I don't fully understand what you mean.
Thanks. That totally makes sense.