To build or not to build
Who’s behind those no-profile-pic, low-follower-count “johnnybunchanumbers” accounts on Twitter—and can’t we make it super easy to vanquish them from your mentions? We get this request a lot; it’s one that seems to fit right in with Block Party’s suite of auto-muting tools. After a lot of thought… we decided not to build this rule. Why not? Read on! (And don’t worry, we’ve still got a way for you to keep these pesky accounts at bay).
What’s in a “johnnybunchanumbers” name?
Usernames ending in a string of random digits are auto-generated by Twitter whenever a new account is created. Sometimes, these accounts belong to real people who don’t bother setting their own usernames; most often, they’re created en masse as part of botnets or astroturfing campaigns—to give the impression of lots of support where there’s actually not much. That’s why so many of these accounts have no profile info, few followers, and little history… and feel so suspiciously troll-y.
To Block Party users, these attributes might look familiar. (If so, great eye!) Our current moderate filters allow you to hear from everyone except:
- people without a profile photo
- people with <100 followers
- newly created accounts
We know these filters work; in April 2022, over 1.85 million users have been auto-muted through just these filters alone. Still, we wanted to test whether our existing heuristics were enough to catch most “johnnybunchanumbers” accounts, or whether creating a new rule specifically filtering for these accounts would result in significantly more of them being muted.
Our hypothesis: that auto-generated usernames co-occur frequently with other signals of low- or no-effort account signups, and thus don’t provide us with any new information
Choosing not to build
With a few rounds of data analysis, we were able to validate our hypothesis:
- 93% of accounts with usernames ending in a string of numbers are already being auto-muted via the existing moderate filters set by Block Party users, and
- Introducing a new rule to “mute if username ends in exactly 8 digits” would mute only an additional 0.5% of accounts.
The remaining 6-7% not auto-muted are likely real accounts created by real people who simply chose not to set usernames, or didn’t realize their usernames were auto-generated (two of the top-searched Google queries about Twitter usernames are “Why does my Twitter name have a bunch of numbers?” and “How do I remove the numbers from my Twitter name?”).
As product builders, we are always striving to be as thoughtful, discerning, and user-centric as we can, digging in to understand what’s at the core of our users’ problems so we can work to solve them. Sometimes, adding a new feature is the easy but wrong answer, because it introduces product complexity without delivering real value to users. That’s the conclusion we came to here.
If you’re looking to auto-mute “johnnybunchanumbers” accounts, consider giving our moderate filters a try—they’re available to all users as part of Block Party’s free Basic plan. As always, we’d love to hear any feedback you have!