Back in the day, people subscribed to magazines, newspapers and product catalogs–all printed versions of content for information, pleasure or commerce. As a kid I got on several dozen mail-order catalog mailing lists because I liked them, although the only ones I was truly loved were the ones with clever copy, Burts Bees and J. Peterman. In college I had a four-foot-high teetering tower of New York Times in my dorm room, because I could pick them up for free on campus.
Luckily, I’ve cut down on the clutter since. Starting with the rise of e-mail, you could receive electronic versions of subscription-based material you used to have physically. This e-mail model followed the old one: you were on a list, kept in the hands of the company, and if you grew bored of what they wrote you, you’d have to unsubscribe and ask to be removed from their list. Often the process to unsubscribe was cumbersome and nosy and sometimes it wouldn’t even work.
With RSS, the rules of subscription have changed. If you like something and want to automatically get updates, you subscribe. But you can leave at any time without having to justify why. I have shifted nearly all my previous reading and clipping and saving habits online. No more piles of paper, just accessible-from-anywhere content on Google Reader, Diigo and Read it Later.
Twitter certainly comes into play here too. As Nancy Friedman writes in “Twitter’s Language Problem,” Twitter’s content model is open, unlike other mutual friending social networks:
Yes, Twitter can connect “friends, family, and co-workers,” but its most valuable function—the one that most Twitter users single out—is its ability to connect you with people you don’t know. In that it’s completely unlike other social-media platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook, which require permission to connect and which even (in the case of LinkedIn) warn you not to connect with anyone you don’t know. Twitter sets no such barriers. If I’m amused by Paula Poundstone or eager to learn from Robert Scoble or curious about the Library of Congress, I can follow their tweets. They can then choose to follow mine, or not.
What this means for people who write for blogs and Twitter:
Unfortunately, you won’t always know why a follower leaves. And that’s OK. But it means you’ve got to add value overall and with each post or tweet you write. Posting too often, depending on what type of content you offer, is potentially grounds for losing subscribers or followers, as is posting irrelevant or annoying material.
I subscribe to more than 800 blogs and follower more than 200 Twitterers–which, relative to you may seem excessive or just a drop in the ocean. This is not the post where I’ll discuss systematic organization of content that you do want to follow, whether closely or skimming. That’s for another day. Rather, I am interested in the new model of subscription and grounds for the unfollow or unsubscribe.
So, what have been your experiences of subscription in this digital age? Who do you see following the old-school model to ill effect? What are the main reasons you unsubscribe or unfollow from something/someone? Please comment.
The image is of me unsubscribing from Facebook updates, which I used to scan via my Google Reader instead of Facebook, because now status updates have been integrated with TweetDeck. Yay!