Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Community, Ethics, Higher Education, Interview, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 13-11-2009-05-2008
If you don’t use Twitter, this post will be largely irrelevant for you. For those who do tweet, I hope it provides insight to my perspective and is a learning opportunity for others.
If you have been unfollowed by me, please take the time to read this so you can better understand.
(Tweetdeck for iPhone = I hate it. And yeah, that guy creeping over my shoulder threw me off at the end…)
I thought it’d be helpful to explain how I use Twitter, so that you better understand how my usage of Twitter might differ from yours. I owe it to you and I want you to better understand me as a person and the motives behind my decision to cut back.
I Cut Back on Twitter
Late this summer, I was following around 750 people on Twitter, with about 2,500 people following me. (Overall, I’m a small fish in the Twitter pond.) If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that I have never hoped or intended to follow back everyone who follows me. For me, it’s not feasible or beneficial to use Twitter in this manner. (Everyone views Twitter differently, and you are welcome to disagree with my view, but that’s what it is for me.)
Twitter started to ruin my Facebook experience. I would see updates from someone on Twitter, then again on Facebook. I view Facebook as a more intimate relationship, so it made sense to me at the time to cut the cord on the Twitter side. Also, I was receiving these updates through the @BlueFuego account, which I monitor and filter through each day.
At the same time, I have made a conscious decision to cut back on using Twitter, as it cuts into things that are more important to me, such as time with family and putting food on the table.
How I Cut Back
I started systematically removed people, using a mixture of TweetStats.com, TwitterCounter.com, and FollowCost.com. Factors that weighed into my decisions were the volume of updates, the signal-to-noise ratio (your definition of this ratio will differ from mine), and the amount of conversations irrelevant to me or my interests. Not a single person was removed from my following list without a combination of these tools to decide. I did my downsizing in two waves, from 750 to around 400, and then down to 200 a month later. Looking back, that number could likely have been at 250 or so, as cutting people got harder towards the end of this process. And many of those last few are the ones whose feelings I have hurt. I should have known when to stop, but, again, if you know me you know that when I set a goal I reach it. 200 was the finish line for me.
During the this time I closely monitored my follower #’s and the amount of interactions I was having with people. For every single person, I was having the same amount of @replies and interactions with them as before, but I was able to follow Twitter better by not receiving as much noise.
Methods to ‘Following Everyone’ and Information Overload
Yes, there are MANY tools to help someone follow 50,000+ people if they wish. Tweetdeck, Seesmic, and other desktop-based tools allow a user to segment people into groups (not to be confused with Twitter Lists, which we’ll talk about in a bit.). I’m positive that every person reading this utilizes something like Tweetdeck.
For me, following hundreds of thousands of people is not valuable. These people usually have alternate ways of *actually* following along. You just don’t see them.
Even one of the most prominent bloggers and tweeters in the Social Web space, who I respect and admire greatly, has a separate twitter account called @My100, a blank account that is used for following a small crowd of less than 30 people. This person has recently blogged about Twitter Lists, and said he refuses to use them because people will feel left out. It’s the same for his personal account. It’s no longer possible to NOT follow people without backlash, because the precedent has been set, so this is one way that he has been able to cut back. At face value, everyone gets followed back and all is well. *Most* people with 5-10,000+ just sit on @replies and DM’s to interact with people. They don’t read what you’re actually up to unless it relates to them.
What about Twitter Lists?
Twitter Lists have recently been added, and they provide a way to follow a group of people without “following” them. After trying a few higher ed lists, I have found Anne Peterson’s Higher Ed Twitter List to be the best one out there, and the one that most closely resembles the way I used to use Twitter. It’s the one I follow, and when I’m at a desk, track to see what’s going on in the community. For me, this is a great way to stay abreast of what’s happening, in addition to the @BlueFuego twitter account. I have enjoyed Twitter Lists so far, because they offer me the flexibility to “stick my head into the fire hose” at my leisure and consume tweets when I can, rather than being forced to see them. But as far as mobile goes, they are useless to me. So let’s talk about mobile usage for a second.
Why YOUR Twitter is not MY Twitter
Here’s the deal: Your view and my view probably differ. Why? Because the way we use Twitter is different. More than likely, you have a desk job (right?). You are able to use tools l have mentioned above to track, target, segment and follow many more people than I can.
This month, I will be ‘in the office’, meaning physically sitting at a desk for extended periods of a day, for a total of 4 work days. Four. If you work a desk job, you’ll be at your desk for 19 days this month. You already have a strong advantage over me, because you can use tools like Tweetdeck and Seesmic to stay up to date with everyone, and let them run in the background of your computer all day.
While this month is hectic for me, it’s not that out of line of most months. I’m in and out of 3 conferences in one day each (i.e. not staying to sit and listen to other presentations, which would be more like a ‘desk day’ to me). I’ll spend 6 full days on site visits for clients, and I’ll have 19 flights.
So please imagine being in my shoes for a moment. (They’re size 13) Not only am I consuming tweets in chunks, catching up between meetings and flights, but I’m doing it while mobile (and usually, while driving….).
I’d estimate that this is how I use Twitter for over 80% of the time. This leaves a lot… A LOT… of scrolling and filtering through my iPhone Twitter app to get through everything. And that’s not how I want to use Twitter.
The Final Straw
If you’re still with me, I hope you understand this one thing: I don’t tell you all of this so that you will empathize and feel sorry for me. I tell you this so that you will understand me.
Rule #1: Family comes first. It absolutely kills me to miss tweets from my wife, my mom, my brother and cousins, and other friends that I interact and see IRL weekly. One week during September, while traveling, I heard the same question from my wife or another family member three nights in a row on the phone. “Hey, did you see what I tweeted today about work/what the dog did/your dad/etc.?”
It kills me to say that. I value the communication and relationship with my family above all else, and the moment at which I was frequently missing their updates because they were squished in hundreds and hundreds of other updates was the moment i knew I needed to downsize.
I have never intended to hurt someone’s feelings by not following them, but my personal decision to downgrade was first and foremost about family, secondly because I was usually receiving the same message across multiple platforms, and thirdly because my personal work lifestyle (mobile) does not match with my previous work lifestyle (desk job). Yes, there are mobile people who can handle it (at least at face value), but that is not my style.
What could I do better?
A LOT. I could manage my time better. I could travel less. I could do a lot of things. But this is where I am right now. I signed up for it, and I love it, but it’s not where I was 12 months ago. I’m a different type of Twitter user than I was before. My time is limited, my attention is stretched, my family is now involved. It’s a new ballgame.
Applications like Boxcar, which provide me push messages from Twitter for @replies allow me to be aware of anyone who messages me during the day, even more quickly than a direct message, email or Facebook message. (Like yesterday, when I was criticized for not following to someone or responding to them, yet I got back to her within 60 seconds. )
If you’ve been offended by my unfollowings, here’s what you could do better: Understand. Understand there is more than one way to follow a conversation, there are multiple ways to track what’s happening, and understand that you and me are very different people at the end of the day. That’s the beauty of the social web. You use it how you want to, and let me use it how I want to.
And you know what I could do better? Understand. Understand the value you put on a connection and relationship with me. I horribly underestimated it, and for that I apologize. My intent has never been to hurt someone’s feelings. My intent has been to align my usage of Twitter with my personal needs.
You’ll Get There One Day
The day is going to come for you as well. You’ll hit the point where there’s just too much. You’ll undoubtedly cut down your list one day after you define and realize how you want to use this tool. And when you do, when that time comes, I certainly hope you’ll better understand both sides of the issue.
If you want to be proactive, look around the higher ed community. There are people who have work/personal accounts, so that they don’t have to filter through the community noise. There are other people in the community who have never followed more than double digits. One person DM’d me to say she/he used Twitter lists to create a private “NOISE” list and a private “People worth following” list, and only track one of the lists. I’ll let you guess which one is used most.
Give Me Your Thoughts!
I continuously review my actions. If you think there is a better way for me to manage my Twitter presence, I’m all ears. Please leave a comment to let me know where I’m missing a tool or opportunity to do better with staying connected. If you somehow fell through the cracks and I’m truly not seeing your updates somewhere, please let me know so I can fix that as well.
**Update** When you’re done reading the comments, go check out this fantastic post by @robin2go: http://www.personal.psu.edu/rvs2/blogs/renegade/2009/11/connections.html