There can be no doubt that Twitter has taken off. It has become completely main-stream, and is rapidly rising in popularity and usage, last weekend’s twitpocalypse is proof of that! It would be nice to think that Twitter can remain the peaceful and relatively spam-free haven it is now, but I can see the start of the downward spiral already. Spam. Sure, you choose who you follow, and if you choose badly you can un-follow people, but does that prevent spam? Unfortunately it doesn’t. Anyone can message you using the @ sign, even if you don’t follow them. In many ways this is a great thing, for me, it lets listeners to my podcasts contact me without my having to give out my email address. However, this provides spammers with a mechanism to target people with their infuriating crap.

I saw the first hint of my feared apocalypse recently when I innocently tweeted something about my cat. Within minutes I got an @ reply from some pet shop advertising cheap cat stuff on the net. Clearly they were running some sort of automated bot to scan Twitter for mentions of cats, and spam any poor unfortunate who was stupid enough to mention having a cat. A friend of mine had a similar experience when he mentioned having booked flights. Right now the volume of crud is low, but why should it stay low?

I remember finding the first few spam emails funny. I laughed at the pathetic grammar, and at the concept that anyone was stupid enough to think they could make money like that. Now look at what’s happened email, it has been destroyed by spam. Email is now so broken as to be almost useless as a public way of communicating with people. My email address is not on my website, and I never give it out on podcasts because the only way to have spam-free email is never to give your address to people. For me email has become a closed system, one which I use to communicate only with trusted parties, but never with outsiders. In many ways, that defeats the point of email all together! Sure, I have a few public email accounts, but I almost never read them because they are all full of junk. If I were to believe my email I’m depressed, have too small a penis, too small of breasts, and can’t get an erection! I also apparently really want a fake Rolex watch to make up for all these inadequacies. I have no doubt that I miss out on a load of genuine emails because they get lost in the sea of garbage. (if you sent me a mail and I didn’t respond, this is probably why.)

Getting back to Twitter, today, it’s a funny little distraction when you get spammed once a month for stumbling on some keyword booby-trap. But imagine how you’ll feel about it when it becomes a daily occurrence, or an hourly one … or worse! This is just like the early days of email spam, it’s harmless and even mildly funny, but it’s picking up speed. Give it another year or two. Then what?

The only way I can see of protecting yourself from @ spam is to make your updates private, to stop anyone but trusted people from interacting with you in any way on Twitter. Sure, that will protect you from the spam avalanche I so fear, but it won’t be Twitter anymore. I won’t be able to use it to comment to the podcasters I follow, and my listeners won’t be able to use it to follow me. Twitter will have massively lost it’s usefulness, and the spammers will have killed another communication channel.

I can’t see any way to stop the spammers destroying Twitter. Can you? Is there something I’ve missed? Some important factor I’m not accounting for? Some great trick the Twitter folks have up their sleeves? Oh please tell me I’ve missed something really obvious … please!