Tech Life Essential information management rules

The Twitter Equilibrium

I’m back from a few days in Vegas. Before I left, I decided it was time to talk a bit more about Vegas, and I decided I’d Twitter tips for what I consider to be a successful Vegas trip. Thing is, from the moment I set foot in the airport, I realized I had a million tips to send, but I also knew that I had to sensibly and carefully dole them out. I needed to maintain a Twitter equilibrium.

Yeah, that’s a mouthful. I’ll explain this in a moment.

Before the definition, you need understanding how I’m using Twitter. For me, Twitter is a desktop application like Twitterific. It’s not a bookmark and it’s not a webpage; it’s an integral part of my real-time desktop alongside Mail, iCal, iChat, Stickies, and Safari. I use the Twitter website, but I use it as an administration tool to manage my account. I rarely use it to actually read Twitters.

Second, you need to understand my mental model of Twitter. In my head, it’s a chat room. When I sit down at my computer, I expect there to be a reasonable amount of new content from bright people. In my head, I have no idea that these people can’t actually hear each other’s Twitters. You’d think that’d present a conversation consistency problem, but it doesn’t because I don’t let the chatter get out of control — I maintain a Twitter equilibrium.

This equilibrium is the state when Twitter is providing you with precisely the right frequency and quality of content that you expect. It’s totally arbitrary and completely personal while also being essential to preventing Twitter from becoming another useless, annoying social networking tool that you maintain out of a weak sense of loyalty to people you don’t actually know.

For me, I’ve achieved a Twitter equilibrium following roughly 100 people. For whatever reason, at around 100 folks, I’m finding a pleasant flow of new, interesting content whenever I glance over at Twitterrific. I’ve been refining this number since I started using Twitter and, during that time, I’ve found a couple of essential information management rules:

Rule #1: Remove noisy people. Even if you love them. Probably the easiest way to get turned off Twitter is following someone who is filling Twitter with useless noise. This is especially common with newcomers who are still figuring out that Twitter is the king of casual information, so I cut new people some slack. If the problem persists, they’re out. Good friends who I talk with daily get noisy and get removed, too, but, yeah, I eventually end up following them again.

Rule #2: Follow Rands’ First Law of Information Management. Which reads: “For each new piece of information you track, there is an equally old and useless piece of information you must throw away.” If you continue to follow new people, eventually they’re going to overwhelm you with their casual information flood, so you must get in the habit of removing a person for each new person that you follow. Incidentally, the first law tastes great with RSS feeds as well.

Those of us afflicted with NADD have a problem with this law, since folks with NADD believe that, at any point, something interesting might happen anywhere. The first law is a compromise — yes, you might throw something away that you could use — but think of it like this: by throwing away crap, you have more time to find new gems.

Rule #3: Find ways to stumble about. While Twitter is a fine way to follow folks you know, there are more people that you don’t know and there’s a good chance they might have something to say. The folks at Twitter recently introduced the Twitter Blocks feature to allow you to do just this, but there’s an easier way to explore your Twitter-hood. Once or twice a week, I glance at the replies page to see messages from folks who are following me, but I might not be following. The choice to engage in a conversation, to me, seems like the single best way to see if we have mutual interests.

100 people doesn’t seem like a lot. I’d like to follow more, but to do that, Twitter needs to step up. Allow me to easily find and prune people who haven’t updated in forever. Let me group or tag people I follow, so I can filter conversations to co-workers, new people, and folks on Twitter probation. I know, I said keep it Spartan, but Twitter’s success will be defined by it’s growth and that means they need to figure how I can spend less time following more people.

13 Responses

  1. NinjaRabbi 7 years ago

    So, hey, I’m going to try Twitter at last. Is there a windows version of Twitterific, or something similar?

  2. “Rule #1: Remove noisy people. Even if you love them.”

    You could move them to Bloglines (or Google Reader). It’s what I did with @codinghorror, which is like Jeff Atwood’s linkblog.

  3. kleine 7 years ago

    I use Twitterific which is twitter as a desktop app.

    I want to reach an equilibrium on twitter which means just the right amount of info and of good quality (the specifics are personal).

    To do this I try to remove one person for each one I add (I do this with RSS too).

    The new twitter blocks feature lets you stumble about to find new people which are intersting.

    Now:

    The above (maybe shorter) is what I want for all the RSS feeds that I want to follow and I would like to create a startup to that end. Short peices of information (can be a post summary) all on a given topic which people vote up or down.

    What do you think about this?

  4. jjmoho 7 years ago

    I just started using twitter a few days ago and it can be fairly easy to let mental/verbal diarrhea fly. Thanks for the early overpost intervention.

    jjmoho:~$ apt-cache search twitter

    jjmoho:~$
    :-(

    Has anyone used Pwytter? I’ve been using IM as my client which hasn’t been bad but it’s more “in your face” then I’d prefer.

  5. srgoldman 7 years ago

    I read and enjoyed the book and so decided to try twitter based on this post. So how do you build up a good list from scratch?

    Seth

  6. Having read this I am very pleased to still be followed.

  7. I don’t get it. What is the point of Twitter, exactly? Yeah, I have read about it and think I get it conceptually, but practically… what do you use this thing for? How does it make you more productive or happier? Serious question. I would like to be interested in it and want to know how it is useful, because it doesnt appear (to me) to extend any existing technology. Seems to do the same thing that an away message does on Trillian/ICQ/IM apps.

  8. I don’t get it. What is the point of Twitter, exactly? Yeah, I have read about it and think I get it conceptually, but practically… what do you use this thing for? How does it make you more productive or happier? Serious question. I would like to be interested in it and want to know how it is useful, because it doesnt appear (to me) to extend any existing technology. Seems to do the same thing that an away message does on Trillian/ICQ/IM apps.

    Josh

  9. Josh:

    Among other things, it leaves a history of such “away messages”.

  10. I don’t mind the folks who only post rarely. It seems like quite a few Twitter users go semi-dormant for a while, but some are starting to wake up again.

    I suspect a lot actually went to Jaiku or Pownce and are now returning to Twitter, where most folks seem to be.

    I’m at 120 following. That seems like a bit much to keep up with, but most of that is from duplication of news feeds, not individuals. Every time it starts getting too bad, I go cut another news feed.

    I noticed in one of your post about laptops in a meeting, you noted how it’s never OK to waste people’s time. This is true for Twitter, too, though I think each person will have to decide for themselves what constitutes a tweet with useful information in it!

  11. When do you think Google will buy them out?

  12. Have you heard of William Brighty Rands? methinks you may of. (If no then try http://www.wbrands.com

  13. I agree that Twitter badly needs tagging for people you follow to help contextually filter the flow of information. I’d also like the ability to set notifications specific to people (SMS for friends, IM for others).