How do you read Twitter?

I’m pretty sure I first became aware of Twitter two years ago around the time SXSWi 2007 was going on. It was fun to keep up with who was at which party and who was trying to get a cab home or to the next event.

Once I got involved with Twitter, I noticed that there were two styles of following people:

  1. Follow only people you actually know or want to read.
  2. Follow everyone that follows you (not including spammers, etc).

Steve Garfield from apparently subscribes to #2. Steve is currently following 10,666 people @ while 9,714 people follow him. (note: Steve speaks about this in the comments below. Click Here to jump to Steve’s reply)

Meanwhile, Veronica Belmont appears to subscribe to #1 and is currently following 480 people @ while 154,033 people follow her.

The question is “Which style works best for you?”.

Off the bat, following everyone didn’t work for me. That was when I was only following 200 people. I’m currently following 2,067 people @, while 2,324 people follow me.

The first thing I did, back in the “200” days was make another account strictly for following the local NYC Twitterers (Yes, “Twitterers”. If they wanted their posts called Tweets and their users Tweeters, they should have named their app “Tweeter”. Too Late.). That worked well until basically all of the people I was following stopped using Twitter to make plans, favoring more private apps.

So then, there was the ability to @reply people, which means that if you make a Twitter post and put @billcammack in the message, it’s supposed to show up in my “@Replies” folder on my Twitter home page. This works, and it doesn’t work.

First of all, the way it was initially implemented, @replies weren’t threaded. This means that if I made statement “A” and then made statement “B” afterwards, if you read my statement “A” and responded to it with an @billcammack, when you clicked the “in reply to” link, it would show you my LATEST comment, statement “B” as opposed to the comment you were actually referencing. They’ve since fixed that and @replies reference the correect and intended Twitter post.

Second, if you don’t put @billcammack in the very beginning of your Twitter post, it won’t show up in my @Replies folder. I wish I remember who told me about this so I could properly credit her, but a friend of mine and I were referenced in the same post, like this hypothetical, yet probable line:

Observer @CaliNative: Your stats are THE WACK, compared to @BillCammack‘s

What would happen in that instance, to this day, is that @CaliNative would get this in HER @Replies folder, and I wouldn’t get it in mine. The way around this is to use to search for your own screen name.

What I’ve found recently is that I mostly respond to @billcammack references, because my timeline moves too quickly for me to derive any value from watching the board. This is with only 2,000 people to follow… NOT 10,000, like Steve Garfield or 150,000 if Veronica Belmont were to follow everyone that follows her. I was already swamped with less than *half* of the current 480 people she follows, when I was reading the board back in the day.

The obvious issue here is that I would LIKE to be able to skim over everything that EVERYONE I’m following has to say, but I just can’t. Some people tend to sit on Twitter and Friendfeed and other sites/apps ALL. DAMN. DAY. to the point where you wonder how the people that hired them are getting any value out of their workday. On top of that, I tend to avoid those people on Social Media sites at all costs, because they flood your board more than 40 other Twitterers combined.

So there’s the question, and I’m hoping to answer this for myself today. Moving forward, how do I want to read Twitter? If I want to watch the board, then I need to reduce the number of people that I’m following. If I stick to @replies, I can keep following 2,000 people and never read the board anyway. I can also get @replies from people I’m not following, so that functionality isn’t lost in paring down my list.

So how do YOU read Twitter?… And, How’s that workin’ for ya?

~Bill Cammack

Twitter: BillCammack
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  1. Hi Bill,

    First of all, great picture.

    Secondly, yes, I follow everyone who follows me, but I also don’t, see my third point below.

    I emailed twitter and they set up auto-follow for me. This was a few months back when so many people were following me that I couldn’t keep up following back.

    This worked great for a while, up until all the spam accounts started getting set up.

    Then there is the problem of auto-DM’s. Automatic messages from people saying, “Thanks for the follow. Where do I learn more about you?” Please! You learn more about me on my profile, there’s a link to my site right there.

    I joined Social Too and turned on the setting to stop all DM’s from Social Too users, that helped.

    But now I have a new problem, twitter is using an algorithm from SkyNet that doesn’t let me follow new people I chose to follow, when my ratio of followers gets to some secret point.

    So I emailed support at twitter to shut auto-follow off.

    Third, I have a second twitter account where I follow people I know that I want to make sure I don’t miss their tweets.

    You can see them all on my Twitter Mosaic:

    Fourth, I use Twhirl to keep both accounts open at the same time. I read almost all the tweets that stream by on my 10,670 following list and often reply to people asking questions about cameras, editing or how I enjoyed the play last night.

    Here’s my Social Media Desktop:

    Steve Garfield's Social Media Desktop

    It has twitter (2), Seesmic and Friendfeed.

    Oh yeah, I follow a smaller number of people on Friendfeed.

    Hope this helps.

    1. Hey Steve. 🙂

      That’s very interesting about the SkyNet algorithm. I wonder how that works, considering that I see spammers all the time following close to 1,000 people and only having 53 followers.

      I like the Twitter Mosaic as well. I may do the two-account thing again, but first, I think I’ll try one of the solutions that Joe mentions after this, of apps to break your existing group into segments for easier following and interaction.

      Thanks for the great tips! 😀

  2. As Steve points out, a good Twitter client really helps. I use PeopleBrowsr which has groups, plus the ability to create a different “stream” for just people in that group. For instance, I have a group called “homies” which contains people I’m closer to whose tweets I don’t want to miss. And yes, Bill, you’re in it, which is why I saw your tweet with the link to this post! I also have a group for local CT people whom I may want to DM all at once for a meetup or something, another function of PeopleBrowsr. TweetDeck is a desktop app that allows you to do similar things.

    I generally keep open 4 streams.
    1. The Following stream that corresponds to the normal stream in Twitter.
    2. A stream that is the result of a search on my handle. This is better than the replies stream because it shows all *my* tweets, too and any tweet in which I’m mentioned regardless of whether I follow the person or not.
    3. My “homies” group stream. So I won’t miss tweets from people that are important to me.
    4. My DM stream. Again, this is nicer than Twitter because I see both received and sent DMs in the same stream, allowing me to follow conversations easier.

    So, I’d say a good Twitter client with groups gives you the ability to select out your really close friends, or special interest groups and not miss any of their tweets. Then you can let your general Following river just flow by. Sure, you’ll miss a lot, but not anything from the people who matter to you.

    1. I ended up taking Joe’s tip and using TweetDeck to set up something that looks similar to Steve’s “Social Media Desktop”. I have my stream for all of the people I’m following, my stream for the group of people I particularly want to hear from during the day, @replies, Direct Messages and I still have space for two search streams if I use “Narrow Columns” on my 1680-wide screen.

      The best part is that I can clear an entire column. Once I’ve read/responded/deleted a Direct Message, it’s off the list. Using my hot corners, I can see literally in one second whether my @replies or DM streams have any new posts. I drag the cursor to the corner that I’ve set up to make all the windows on the desktop separate, and TweetDeck appears either with columns that are empty like I left them or have posts in them. No posts, I’m back to the action. Posts, I click on the small TD window and look at them.

      I currently have the polling set @ 2 minutes for all three (all, @replies, DMs, for 90% of the API), because I don’t check it more often than every two minutes.

  3. There is a difference between following and listening. 🙂 I follow 300+ people but I listen intently to less than 100. I found that just because I know someone doesn’t mean we have the same interests.

    So I have search terms set up as RSS feeds in my RSS reader so I can follow conversations about the topics that interest ME. In TweetDeck I have a group for the people I am interested in. In RSS (from before) I have a very limited list of people I “really” want to hear what they are saying. TweetDeck has the ability to set up searches as well.

    For me, it’s not based on if I know you. It’s based on whether a person has the same interests as I do.

    1. Yeah, agreed about the difference between following and listening.

      What I’ve attempted to do is make a change in the way that I monitor Twitter (follow) so that I can find things that I want to “listen” to or comment on.

      Right now, TweetDeck’s doing the job for me. It took its sweet time pulling in all of the people that I’m following, but I have a decent list right now of people whom I normally have conversations with or @replies with on Twitter. If that list isn’t adequate to slow the stream enough, I’ll create a more exclusive tier. Meanwhile, I’m monitoring my @replies and my search simultaneously in their own columns.

      How funny is that? That’s Social Media for you. I meant to SAY something, ended up ASKING something and got answers for what I was thinking about which were TOTALLY different, yet completely useful. Thanks Steve, Joe & Tyme! 😀

  4. I generally read the whole board in the morning with tweetdeck. I’ll check it again around mid day and early evening from itweet, tweetvisor or twitterberry. If there’s an “event” going on like the President speaking I’ll use tweetgrid to do multiple searches. No matter the app, I’m looking for information that falls under the areas I’m interested in, talk to people that I usually correspond with, engage folks I haven’t corresponded with and share info that caught my eye and may be of value to someone else.

    As for followers and follow backs. I tried to follow everyone but it doesn’t work. Spammers are hitting hard and I did quite a bit of ranting about that (and blocking them) yesterday. Besides, I like to get a feel for whose following me by checking out their site and latest tweets.

    1. WOW! haha Didn’t know that there were so many of these apps based on Twitter. I supposed it’s like different versions of cell phones.

      I check people’s pages also before adding them after I get the notification that someone’s followed me. As long as someone seems like they’re doing something intelligent or TRYING to do something intelligent, I’ll most likely follow them, but they won’t be in my “Listen” stream in TweetDeck.

      I’ve only had a couple of issues with TweetDeck, such as it not knowing I was being followed by a friend of mine and thus not letting me DM them, but when I went to the Twiiter page in my browser, I had the “message” link, and did it from there. Other than that, I find it to be a good way to keep everything organized and I take a look at it now and then to see if anything’s new.

      Thanks for the tips, Soulpowr! 😀

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