I'm Following You

I'm not usually the type of person to talk about who I follow or why I follow someone on a social network. And yet, here I am writing a blog post about it. Okay then...

I've always liked Twitter. I like it's simplicity. I also like that there's the ability to do a one-way association by following somebody without requiring a reciprocal association. If you look at the list of people that I follow, it won't be instantly clear why I chose these people to listen to. What is clear is that I've gone out of my way to bestow some importance on these people. I've given them permission to speak to me via both public and private tweets.

Some people only follow a few people. Others follow thousands. I'm somewhere in the middle—currently at around 400. And those 400 people are quite active. Many have been using Twitter as long, if not longer, than I have. Following too many people increases the amount of information coming in and one hopes that the noise doesn't outweigh the signal.

It can get noisy.

So we start unfollowing people. (Well, I did.)

Which is unfortunate because sometimes we still want to hear what they have to say, just maybe not all the time or as often. What if we could filter this?

Making a List

Twitter introduced Lists awhile back and people added plenty of people to plenty of lists and categorizing them in various ways. I like seeing how people categorize me. javascript, design, and a weblebrity. Heh.

I created a few lists. And yet, I so rarely use them. Like, actually use them in any way other than to categorize people that I follow. I've gotten the sense that many people are in the same boat.

What struck me recently, though, was that there were plenty of people that I wanted to follow. I wanted to allow them to contact me via direct message. I wanted to publicly (albeit subtlely) say that this was a person I found interesting. But I had hit that precarious tipping point between signal and noise.

Checking it twice

I decided to revisit lists and this time, I created a new list: the one that I actually visit on a regular basis. I skip over my main timeline most of the time and use my special list to soak in what people have to say.

As a result, I've noticed some interesting idiosyncracies between the main timeline and a list.

  1. There's no retweets in a list.
  2. Replies between people show up in the list but replies to me (aka Mentions) don't, even if the reply is from somebody on the list. (I wonder if it would if I add myself to my own list?)

I haven't decided whether the former is a good thing or a bad thing but I'd really prefer to have my mentions show up in the list.

Crossing the Streams

One of the ideas that I had for some version of a twitter application that never came to be was the ability to combine multiple streams into a single timeline. I could pick people, lists, retweets or whatever stream I wanted and then could feed it into a single timeline. I'd like to see a Twitter application that can do this.

Or maybe one day I'll actually, finally, build the Twitter desktop application I envisioned...

Published November 04, 2010
Categorized as Other
Short URL: https://snook.ca/s/985


23 Comments · RSS feed
Lisa said on November 03, 2010

I completely relate to what you've said here. I've been thinking much of this recently and have just started setting up lists to try and use them more effectively. I follow around 400 people too and it is definitely my tipping point. I had to stop following some people recently because of that and just chose to remove people who never engage with me. The ones I still feel connected to went into a list.

I think I need to set up a special list too. I like the sound of what you've noticed.

James W said on November 03, 2010

I run into the same problems on Twitter, where following too many people makes it difficult to distinguish between noise and valuable tweets. I now only follow people with only a few tweets a day. Lists don't work in twitter apps on all my devices so I try to keep my timeline clean.

Brando said on November 03, 2010

I'm pretty sure Nambu does what you want it to do as far as combining certain items into one timeline.

It's kinda ugly, though. :P

pfwd said on November 03, 2010

I think 400 is the magic number. When I reach 400 I'm going to do a massive spring clean. It's going to be a balancing act. Good post

Dave Stevens said on November 03, 2010

In my experience, if I am added to one of my lists, I see @ replies in the list. Can't recall if that's twitter native or tweetdeck though.

Artem Pereverzev said on November 04, 2010

Yes, Jonathan, you are right. Adding yourself to the list lets you see replies to you. It's not just Tweetdeck. I use HootSuite and it's the same there. The only possible drawback in adding yourself to the list is that all of your own tweets appear in the same list, too.

I've used lists to sort my tweet reading experience for a while and it works alright, but then you have to keep it a habit to add someone you start following to one of the lists.

Scott said on November 04, 2010

This is OT but did you know there is a weird (but funny) bug with the mobile site? Whenever I read an article on the iPhone, the top nav (home/work/contact) start thrashing about, increasing and decreasing in size. Makes it impossible to read you posts!

Juan Ignacio Serra said on November 04, 2010

This is exactly how I've been using lists for 4 months now. I solve the problem of the mentions by including myself in the lists. But, I really want that the retweets would appear in the list also.

Jonathan Snook said on November 04, 2010

@Brando:Nambu sort of does it. They do have a combined view but it combines everything from all streams from all accounts. I want to be choosier in what goes into a particular stream.

Jesse Gardner said on November 04, 2010

I just wish lists were supported in the desktop client. I almost never used Twitter.com, but not being able to follow lists or delete tweets really proves to be annoying.

Jonathan Snook said on November 04, 2010

@Jesse Gardner: Which desktop application are you using? Tweetie comes to mind as not having Lists support but many other desktop apps do.

Ian Parr said on November 04, 2010

Have you tried a service like Brizzly.com ? Allows you to "publicly say that this was a person I found interesting", but also mute them so that they don't add to the 'noise'.

Nicholas C. Zakas said on November 07, 2010

I'm one of those who follows very few people. I find it so hard to deal with the massive onslaught of updates that so many people seem to enjoy. I actively unfollow anyone that tweets more than a few times a day, as nothing annoys me more than going to Twitter and seeing just one person's updates. I try to keep my tweeting to the same 4-5 per day maximum so I don't overload my followers.

I've also experimented with lists. For now, I have one list which is my beta test for following people. If I find myself enjoying the person's tweets, I'll upgrade out of the list, and if they're too annoying I downgrade out of the list. Thusfar it's been a fun way to dip my toe into other people's updates without turning on the firehose.

Jem said on November 18, 2010

I'm following around 200 people which is about right for me, but even with the lists I'm having problems keeping the right balance between info + noise in my twitter stream.

My biggest problem, though, is aiming tweets at the right people. For example, I follow a big group of mums, but also lots of developers. If I wanted to talk dev without scaring off the mums, or talk - I don't know - poopy nappies without scaring off the devs, there's no real way to do that. I can't assume that everyone who follows me is making use of lists so have to try and strike a balance. The only solution I've thought of is to create a separate twitter account but I found I just neglect one or the other then.

John Tidey said on December 03, 2010

I do a similar thing, I have a private list of about 30 people I know personally or really want to hear from. I have a bookmark in my browser leading to that, and after I've read those tweets I'll then check my main stream.

Dave Fowler said on December 08, 2010

I find myself regularly unfollowing people on Twitter. I've set myself the basic measure that if less than one in five tweets (roughly, I don't count) adds to my knowledge, or if more than one tweet in a week is trivial nonsense, I unfollow. I think authors from the web design and marketing community should be setting the standard for posting genuinely worthwhile content, but I find myself unfollowing around 2 out of every 3 people. Equally, those who follow me but are following 1000s of others are patently collectors, and I don't even bother to view their profile. The web is a wonderful platform for knowledge sharing; a glut of nonsensical information spoils the experience and needs to be rigorously filtered out.

web design victoria bc said on December 14, 2010

Great idea gotta explore this lists feature!!! I almost mainly use twitter to share good links (like this one) for my followers to read as well so I can bounce back to them.

Brannon said on December 18, 2010

I use Tweet Deck for something like this. I've created various lists from my professional Twitter feed like "Tools, Experts, Industry and Mentions" which all show up in a dashboard as parallel timelines. If I want to, I can scan the entire dashboard a few times a day and get all of the information I want in whatever areas are most important to me at the time.

WebBlitz said on January 05, 2011

I enjoyed this post. I hope you build your Twitter app one day! (First time I have heard about weblebrity - is it something to aspire to?!)

Website Design Company India said on January 07, 2011

I am on twitter, facebook and many other social websites, but I can't still understand how it can help a person in his profession like how to get more good contacts and business through twitter or facebook, I can see how youtube videos can be effective, but I can't understand how twitter and facebook can be an effective media to get more good contacts and business.

Somebody please guide.

Jonathan Snook said on January 07, 2011

Well, Mr India. Twitter and Facebook are social mediums. And like any other social outlet, you must socialize in order to make them effective. Showing up at a party and hanging out like a wallflower isn't going to make you the life of the party and neither will the mere act of just creating twitter or facebook accounts. Create value and share with people and they'll beat a path to do business with you.

sarbartha said on January 19, 2011

My followers are round to 400..Its kind of coincident.
Following too much unworthy is waste of twitter space..And i don't do that..

sudhaalakshmi said on January 24, 2011


nice to post....................

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