At the moment of this writing, a man named Thom has tweeted 192,587 times. He signed up for Twitter three and a half years ago, which would work out to one tweet every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day. But he says his activity really didn’t pick up until 2010. “I think i went from 150k to [nearly] 200k in four months or so,” and that, while he’s not sure of his estimates, he thinks he’s probably posting at least 500 times a day.
Twitter has a speed limit. It’s high enough that virtually nobody reaches it by accident, and that most people don’t know it exists. But if you tweet too much and too fast, your account will get temporarily suspended, or rate-limited. (Super-tweeters call this “Twitter jail” or “TwitMo”) Twitter’s official limit is 1,000 tweets a day, but that assumes a steady rate of posting. The algorithm is adaptive, so a much smaller burst can result in a banning, too.
The company’s site says the limits are in place “for the sake of reliability,” and “alleviate some of the strain on the behind-the-scenes part of Twitter and reduce downtime and error pages.” A Twitter spokeperson tells BuzzFeed FWD that limits are in place for “technical and user experience reasons — for example, to limit spam.” They’re a safeguard against bots and timeline flooding, basically — not an attempt to slow users down. As far as Twitter users are concerned the rate limit is meant to be a theoretical maximum, like the speed of light.
Zeke Miller, a politics reporter here at BuzzFeed, tweets at about the same rate as Thom, but with a much clearer purpose: to be a one-stop Twitter shop for political news. He passed his 50,000th Tweet last week, but not without a struggle: rate-limiting had become such a regular occurrence during intense periods in the news cycle — Super Tuesday, for example — that Zeke had developed a backup plan. “I never knew when [the rate limit] was coming up,” he says, “so when I hit it I used to Gchat tweets to people. I didn’t really have a preventative strategy.”
Zeke eventually got whitelisted by Twitter, so he can tweet as much as he wants. But whitelisting is a rarity, usually reserved for applications, not people, or corporate customer service accounts with multiple users. “Twitter is central to my job — it’s the only way to keep track of everything happening in politics,” he says. His Twitter day starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m. But Thom? He’s just doing it because he wants to.
“The first thing was just talking to a wall and being really surprised it responds,” Thom says, a story which jibes with his fragmented, bitty tweeting style. “I think what happened is that over time Twitter has completely replaced every other website I might browse, so the amount of time I’m spending on the internet isn’t changing, but more of it is becoming Twitter.”
Thom’s strategy for staying out of Tweet jail — “there’s no telling when it happens but it’s NEVER convenient,” he says — is finely honed. He has two overflow accounts to cope with rate-limiting, one at @celestialbear and the other at @celestialbee. The accounts have 5230 and 5 tweets, respectively.
It’s hard to say what Thom tweets about, exactly, since it’s very often nothing, or something only he is seeing, or some other person’s tweet. It’s a stream-of-conciousness account of a 23-year-old Dutch man’s digital days, shot through with a particular style of ultra-arch internet humor. It’s funny as often as it’s inscrutable, but most importantly it’s low-impact. It’s tolerable. It doesn’t resemble spam. It’s almost soothing.
A such, Thom’s hundreds of tweets somehow don’t feel overwhelming in my already crowded feed. They feel like structural feature, or a pleasing background hum, and together create a vivid, if refracted, rendering of a man I’ve never met. He tests both the functional and expressive limits of Twitter. He has a sense of humor about it all, of course. Here’s the video he created to tease his 200,000th tweet:
But it’s clear that Twitter is a deeply important part of his life. “I’m probably part Twitter, yeah. A few people told me they can’t conceive of me as a person that sleeps or eats breakfast or gets annoyed because the bus is late.” Without Twitter, he says “I’d have to find some other abstract outlet to communicate Me to whoever is interested.”
It’s all a bit less strange than it may sound. Thom is an IT professional so he’s used to sitting in front of his computer for most of the day, which anyone with a computer-centric job can surely sympathize with. I don’t produce nearly the number of tweets he does, but I bet I read just as many.
Thom recently quit his job, which he says he thought make him tweet a bit less. “But,” he says, “I don’t think I am.”