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“Twitter’s a service, not a karma ration.”

“Twitter’s a service, not a karma ration.”

I’ve drastically restructured my approach to Twitter.

This goes waaaay beyond my “Twitter cull” earlier this year.

Back in May I wrote about how and why I’d cut the number of people I followed by about 200 (from 968 to 770).

This time I’ve gone from following 945 accounts to 425.

You can see from the Twitter Counter graph that I was half-heartedly unfollowing people (usually on the train home) for about two weeks from 29th October.

Then, on 13th November, the half-heartedness turned into a full-blooded plan.

A full-blooded list-based plan.

Henceforth my whole approach to Twitter would be based on lists.

And if you don’t belong on one of those lists, or if you don’t prompt the creation of a new list, you won’t be followed.

There’s nothing personal behind this. It’s entirely business.

Twitter has always been a business tool for me. A tool whose usefulness is in direct proportion to the quality of its “signal“.

When I blogged about my Twitter cull, Justin Kownacki was kind enough to leave a comment, which he ended with the statement that I’ve used as the title for this post.

Don’t ever be afraid to manage your information intake. Twitter’s a service, not a karma ration.

It served as a timely reminder about what Twitter is for. For me.

So here’s what happened.

  • Over a period of about a week I painstakingly looked at everyone I was following, reminding myself of who everyone was, skim-reading the last week or so’s worth of tweets, and trying (and failing in too many cases) to remember why I’d followed people in the first place.
  • I unfollowed a lot of people.
  • I used a great tool called Twitlistmanager (how’s that for doing what you say on the tin?) to allocate everyone I was still following to at least one of those lists. This tool is based on a simple grid (see below) with lists along the top and “friends” down the side. It’s a simple tick-box process to match people to lists. In some cases this process resulted in a few more unfollows when it came to the final crunch.

  • Finally I used four of these lists (Blogs I Follow, Modern Ideas, Specialists and Blonde) as the basis of a revised approach to monitoring tweets through Tweetdeck. (Previously I had set up a series of Groups within Tweetdeck itself). Some of my lists are for reference purposes, whereas the four mentioned above were carefully curated to be my main source of signally goodness.

It just so happens that my MacBook screen neatly accommodates four Tweetdeck columns, each based on one of these “signal” lists.

And each list has about 100 or so friends (less in the case of Blogs I Follow).

The result is four columns of highly relevant content and opinions.

The result is also more persistent content and opinions. By this I mean that each tweet in each column remains visible for longer because there is now a lot less real time noise to push it down the screen. I’m much less likely to miss good stuff. I’m much less likely to miss an opportunity to talk to someone I rate.

It is most definitely working for me.

As an aside it’s interesting to look at what has happened to the number of people following me as a result of my mass unfollowing of other people.

I knew that I’d lose followers but decided that I really didn’t care. Based on my definition of what Twitter is for, and my new list-based approach, it didn’t matter.

Here’s the Twitter Counter graph of my followers for the same period as that above.

The loss of followers was less rapid than the rate at which I was unfollowing.

I took a week to complete my restructure.

But I experienced a net loss of followers most days for a two week period from 13th to 27th November, when I started to see net daily gains again.

I assume that this is due to a proportion of the people that I unfollowed monitoring their “follow-backs” on an ad hoc basis and unfollowing me on a reciprocal basis.

I know that this was the case for one person because they rather bizarrely broadcast the fact.

Everyone has their own approach to Twitter, but I don’t get the tit-for-tat nature of this reciprocal unfollowing. It feels thoughtless and vain.

I’m not saying that my new approach is right, nor that it should suit everyone.

But it is the opposite of thoughtless.

(Although I’ll accept that blogging about it might be construed as vain).

(“You’re not on the list. You’re not coming in.”)




  1. Well I guess I should be glad that MY name is Dan 🙂

    Very nice post and one that also reflects on some of the discussions I’ve been hearing about Google + and circles. Like you twitter is more of a business/discussion tool for me and the signal tends to degrade, or more likely shoot me down blind alleys, when it starts to distort and lose focus.

    With G+ and circles its more about the chorus I want to listen to rather than the people I want to broadcast to. The more focused those circles can be, and mine are a mess right now, hopefully the better I’ll be able to hear. And the better I can hear the better I can join the discussion.

    1. phil

      Thanks Dan. G+ is a more extreme version of the Twitter approach I’m now taking. I agree that it’s about more focussed listening. Also, because it’s still in its early adoption phase, even amongst the geek set, it’s easier to have proper conversations in comment threads with some awesomely talented and clever people. People with whom it would be much harder to make contact via Twitter. Given the opportunity to start from scratch with G+ I’ve also tried to make the signal feed more diverse and eclectic than Twitter which, as a function of history, tends to revolve around my work.

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