Much ado about Twitter

I’ve been on Twitter for close to 10 years now. That’s a long time. Nearly as long as my first marriage lasted. Much like that marriage, the shine on the service has dulled and, well, it’s not much fun anymore.

What is it about Twitter that has made it a less exciting place than 5 years ago and much less than 10 years ago?


Negative emotions can be subtle and vile things. A complaint here, a jibe there. It’s hard to notice but they bubble and fester and infect those around us. After awhile, you look around and everybody seems to be in a mood.

From #Gamergate to #Blacklivesmatter to the current US election—all very serious and important matters—it can be overwhelming. It can make the world feel dire and dismal, when in reality, for the most part, things are actually pretty awesome.

How can we improve the experience?


One key technique that I’ve been using is careful curation. I curate in a few different ways:

  1. I don’t follow brands.
  2. I turn off retweets for some people. For whatever reason, some people retweet one kind of content but their original content is fine.
  3. I use Tweetbot’s keyword filters to hide topics that I no longer want to hear about.
  4. I mute people for a short time if I find they’re ranting.
  5. I mute people forever if I still want to maintain the appearance of a relationship, even though I don’t want to hear what they have to say.
  6. I unfollow people that consistently don’t post content that I value.

Some of this might seem mean or closed-minded but for me, it’s more about what I use Twitter for. I want to hear about people’s personal lives and about the work that they’re doing. If I go to a conference, I expect the same thing. Imagine going to a web conference and having people talking about the election, or about uprisings, or about anything other than the web. Yes, the topics are important. No, that doesn’t mean that is what I want to hear at that particular time.

Harder to find

One of the other facets of Twitter is how easy you can be to find. If you have a non-private account, your tweets can make you a target, both for vitriol and for spam. Neither of which makes the platform much fun.

Turning your account private provides some level of protection but at the expense of forcing you to confirm every new person who wants to follow you. You might want people to easily follow you and be able to retweet your content. You just want to have a bit more control over how people discover you.

How do you get back to a small, curated community that makes everyone feel safe?

There are two facets to being harder to find:

  1. Having the user account be harder to find, and
  2. Having the tweets be harder to find.

Right now, a person can only make their tweets harder to find by turning their account private. There’s nothing a person can do to make their account harder to find—except maybe changing their handle on a regular basis and providing no profile information in which to identify who they are, a tedious task.

One approach that might help maintain tighter community circles within Twitter is to allow users to opt out of both tweet and people search. In all other ways, the account is public.

What this does is force follower growth to occur through word-of-mouth. This word-of-mouth can happen literally or via likes and retweets. It can also happen by broadcasting the handle in community channels. For example, I can include a link to my account from my web site. I’m encouraging people who care about web design and development to interact with me. Public search doesn’t necessarily encourage that.


Who knows if any of these changes would work. For me, I’ve made a concerted effort to be positive in what I put out into the world. Sometimes I’ll fail but I hope, more often than not, your day will be a little bit better having read something I’ve written.

Published March 18, 2016
Categorized as Opinion
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2 Comments · RSS feed
Anton Peck said on March 18, 2016

After losing some friends due to poor online behavior on my part, I've seen firsthand the type of curation that you mention. Honest criticism from people I trust (such as yourself) have helped me greatly improve my use of the app, and monitor what I share.

We've both been account holders since the beginning, and it has seemed to change gradually. However the value that it brings in connecting with others of similar interests is powerful enough to keep me locked-in, ready to discover and share new things every day.

Martijn said on March 21, 2016

Twitter kind of adds to this problem by showing your tweets they find are you are likely to appreciate. Tweets that looks similar in content to other tweets you've been reading, and account that look similar to accounts you already follow. It's their way of pushing more content to users, and it seems obvious why they'd want to do this.

The downside is that this can very easily result in a downward spiral. This is hardly different from Youtube comments, or Reddit posts. Any service that 'floats' popular topics to the tops has this problem - negative posts get more responses, become more popular, and get pushed to more users.

What can you do?

Some people disavlue the service for this, and they're fully in their right to do so. A bit of a shame, because your points to curate your content should help. I would like to add somehing:

7. I do not follow people solely because they're friends or coworkers.
8. I do file complaints when someone is overly negative, even when they're not breaking the rules.

I'm not sure if it really helps, but unfollowing or blocking consistent negativity should provide more focus on positivity. It may also have the effect of blindfolding oneself from what's really going on. I'm not sure.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.

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