Twitter as a Social Metric

♫ Be not selfish in your doings:
Pass it on. (Pass it on, children)
Help your brothers (help them) in their needs:
Pass it on…♫

Lyrics and Music by Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer), recorded by The Wailers.

As a lawyer, I enjoy the study of law. As we all know, laws come in many forms. When studying laws, we are accustomed to dealing with a set of formal laws – being those duly considered and passed by a parliament, legislature, congress or other legislative body. In addition to these formal laws and associated regulations, at least in the common-law system, there is also precedent or judge-made law. However, experience tells us that outside these formal laws exists a parallel universe of unwritten laws. A good example of an unwritten law is the Pereto Principle: namely that in any business entity, 80% of the revenues arise from only 20% of the clients – or as it is usually restated, 80% of your time is occupied by 20% of your client base.

However, one of the more interesting unwritten laws is the law of unintended consequences. One way of expressing this law is as follows: once unleashed, in addition to the expressed purpose or design of any intended action there will be an equal but wholly unexpected and unintended reaction. One good documented example of the law of unintended consequences was the effect of rent control. While it was intended to protect tenants against large rent increases, once introduced, it had the well-observed effect of drying up the stock of rental housing over time, as investment funds that would have been used to build new apartment buildings went into other projects that produced financial returns that were not similarly controlled.

When the creators of Twitter invented Twitter, they intended it to be used as a microblogging/web 2.0 communication tool. I am certain that they did not intend for it to be used as a metric or gauge of social importance.

But people have now invented plug-ins for blogs that display how many twitter followers any particular blogger has accumulated ( Furthermore, you can download a plug-in that will disply how many tweets any particular blog post has received ( . Building on this, Friendfeed (see Favorites) and Tweetmeme will allow you to track the most popular Tweets of the day (based on how often each has been tweeted or retweeted). This allows you to jump to the top-rated blog posts in the blogosphere. Mashable ( is a tremendous social media resource site in this regard.

So in addition to being a microblogging tool, an unintended consequence of Twitter is that Tweets (and retweets) are now been used to gauge the blogosphere. My old mathematics professor (Dr. Marlon Rayburn, where are you?) who made a study of abstract metrics and measurement would be fascinated by how a tool intended for communication is being used to impose a certain degree of order on an inherently disorganized space. The lawyer in me is fascinated with the fact that each technological advance seems to uncover a new unwritten law. So brothers and sisters – be not selfish in your doing and pass this post along – tweet and retweet – and help your brothers and sisters in need!


  1. David: Thanks for the post. It is always good to hear fellow attorney perspectives on social media issues. I wonder if using Twitter and other social media tools will become more widely used as a statistical gauge of client interaction–a real tool to gauge how well one is doing with their existing client base. Most of the time, I am hoping just to keep up.