Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

Miles, mums, pomegranates, and why your auto-reply message sucks
19/02/2009, 08:38
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , , ,

10 days until I hit the road and hand my destiny over to Twitter. The three day rule means I can’t start planning my route (and Twitter users can’t offer to help me) until a week today, on the 26th. That’s just seven days away, and most likely the reason that yesterday I suffered my first fully blown bout of nerves. I’m beginning to exude the fear of a man about to travel the globe armed with nothing more than a passport and a change of underwear.

Momentum is building once more and behind the scenes there’s oodles to tell you about. I need to write briefer posts more often, but I haven’t learnt how to to do that yet; instead, here’s a collection of occurrences and observations from the past few days:

I’ve just done some very elementary maths. I’ve worked out how many miles I have to cover per day, to travel as far as I can in 30 days:

12,500 miles (roughly half the circumference of the Earth)

divided by

30 days (the amount of travelling time I have)


A worryingly high number. It’s 417 miles, in case you were wondering. I’ve got to cover 417 miles a day. Suddenly the world seems much bigger than it used to, and 30 days doesn’t seem nearly long enough.

My Mum recently emigrated to Canada and I miss her something stupid. My Grandad is Canadian – he emigrated to England when he was a teenager – so Mum has taken him home to Hamilton, near Toronto. He’s riddled with cancer and still heartbroken over the loss of my Nana, an unstoppable powerhouse of a woman also cut down in a matter of months by cancer’s ravaging cruelty, so this is where he’ll see out his final years.

Mum is a thoroughly ludicrous woman, too. Her ability to lose all sensation of reality and yank hold of a passing tangent is a trait I deeply admire and love. And so on Saturday, when I broke the news of my trip to her, she didn’t fail to disappoint:

“How are you? How’s Jane? How’s the weather?”

“I’m good, Jane’s fine, the weather is British.”

“Good, good. Any news?”

“Well… I’m going around the world in a couple of weeks, using Twitter. Have you heard of it?”


“It’s a website that lets you communicate and make friends all over the world. They’ll hopefully help me get to New Zealand.”

“Oh. You’ll have to get a pomegranate phone.”


“Are you still there?”

“Yes mother. I thought you said a pomegranate phone?”

“I did! It makes coffee and everything, sucks the bloody water right up out of your cup!”


“Are you still there?”

“Yes mother.”

“It’s a shaver too! They’re brilliant. You need to get one, OK?”

“Wow. OK.”

“Sorry son, I don’t know what else to say.”

That made two of us. Thing is, she’s right. Have a look at the Pomegranate phone. It’s the most mind-meltingly gimmicky piece of nonsense I’ve ever seen, but there’s something strangely alluring about it. I didn’t ask Mum why she considered the shaver a deal-breaker; such truths should remain unspoken between mother and son.

Plenty of Twitter users have set up an auto-reply on their account: if somebody begins following them, they automatically receive a friendly, shiny direct message thanking them for doing so. Now that I’m following over 3,500 people, I’ve seen dozens of them. If you’re using auto-replies, a word to the wise: they don’t work.

Part of the problem is that by their very nature, auto-replies have to be the most impersonal, generic message it’s possible to send, because there’s no telling who it’s being sent to:

“Hi! Thanks for following me! You look great today! Is that a new hat? My, what big ears you have. Let’s tweet baby, yeah! etc etc”

Even when voodoo has been used to incorporate the name of the recipient into it, it still has an odour of door-to-door salesman about it.

Secondly, plenty of you are spamming your followers. No, I don’t want to learn the seven secrets of financial success, nor do I want to read about owning property in Spain. And it’s fair to say that regardless of the service they offer, I will never ask you about SocialToo. This website appears to be the single biggest source of auto-reply spam; their name has been plastered all over so many auto-replies, and the similarity of each suggests a template message is offered to users. Once you’ve received over a dozen DMs recommending SocialToo, you just don’t care what service they offer, because the spam has completely devalued it.

Twitter is about socialising, conversation and being personable. If you notice you’ve got a new follower, take a moment to check their profile and, if you’re so inclined, send them a message based on it. If you receive far too many new followers to do that with, cherry-pick a handful to send a message to, and leave the rest. Nobody expects a tweet treat as a reward simply for following a person, and setting up a thoughtless auto-follow does you no favours at all.


7 Comments so far
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Now you’ve told us something of your awesome, you setting off around the world on a Tweet somehow makes sense. I’m sure they are oozing with pride about you and what you’re trying to achieve.

The Pomegranate phone sounds awesome! Here in Greece (and possibly elsewhere in the East Med) the Pomegranate is supposed to represent good fortune, productivity and prosperity, and people give them as good luck tokens at the start of every new year.

Maybe it’s a good omen?

Comment by Mandi Millen

New Zealand is ready and waiting for you Paul. As you know the cold beers are on me if you pull it off!

As for RT’s I was writing about them today as well

Good luck

Comment by Ande Mac

“Her ability to lose all sensation of reality and yank hold of a passing tangent is a trait I deeply admire and love.”

Your mum sounds great!

Comment by weirdsis

Yay, I just wrote the same sentiments of Twitter. And I bigged up you too – see here

Looking forward to more updates!

Comment by alexbettylou

What I want to know is how your mom heard about Pomegranate? It’s a very strange way to virally market Nova Scotia…

Comment by ateedub

Man, this phone call reminds me of a discussion I had with the old lady living next door. She asked where I was working and I said “I work in an internet company” and she said “Oh wow, you might know my nephew then, he is working at internet, too” …

so it’s 5 days left until I am allowed to place my offers, I am really looking forward to the take-off.

A huge RESPECT to the twitchhiker,


Comment by Jochen @getyourcar

I checked out the Pomegranate Phone and sadly it’s all a farce. It’s just a viral campaign to advertise Nova Scotia, of all places… Erm, I just don’t get the connection! Disappointment, I so wanted a phone that could brew me the 10 caffeine hits a day that I need to function properly.

Comment by alexbettylou

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