How I stopped wasting time using Twitter

Twitter is binary: either you love it and use it, or you hate it and stand away from it. For me, is a nice communication tool, where I can leave short bursts of information, rants and offtopic stuff that I don't want to post (or that I will post later more in detail, among other data, etcetera), but has some big flaws that annoy me. Or used to annoy me until a few weeks ago.

My major problem with Twitter usage is the non-existing filters on the official webpage and applications (so I can hide all the noise from XBox 360 achievements, running, votings and other areas I don't care about even regarding my friends), plus "The One Timeline" that gets messy and unmanageable when you are following a few hundred people.

I have been using this service since quite some years, and gradually I've been shifting between "quick checks" to "spending a lot of time" (many times not being successful finding interesting info). My list of followed people grows and grows without much control and I can't separate friends tweeting in realtime a soccer match from the latest tech news of the day or an incoming user group event.

So, I had this idea of classifying people into lists (those twitter lists that many people don't use, and others start to use and then forget about), and always read people using lists (akin to Google+ circles-based feeds). But if you keep the normal timeline, it is tempting to check it and waste time again, so my second part of this plan was to unfollow everyone after classifying into at least one list.

I only follow now 14 people, because they have protected accounts and else I couldn't see their tweets. I keep all my friends, colleages, ex-coworkers, different kinds of news... I just don't follow anyone except if has a protected account. I keep my lists tidy, in fact I am building additional lists with finer detail (like splitting "development" into "dev", "dev .NET", "game dev"...) when I see it is benefitial to me.

Some people don't agree with this approach, mainly because G+ circles, FB lists and Twitter lists, when used as a secondary sorting mechanism, tend to get outdated forgotten with time. I think my approach works because lists are the only way I use Twitter now.

I used to scroll a few pages of new tweets each time I checked it. Now I just think "do I have time to see all or should I focus on dev-related stuff and leave the rest for a coffee break?". I use Echofon in my phone (muting client types FTW) and the official website at the desktop, and only use the Interactions/Mentions and Lists views.

I also have got rid of the Twitter follow back disease: As I now don't follow anyone, those that were only interested in having follow backs (that stupid etiquette) won't stick around.

Nothing is perfect, and this method has had three drawbacks:

  1. You won't see retweets anymore. Twitter only shows retweets from a user if you follow him/her. For me is not an issue as I already had more than 50% of my followed people with retweets turned off.
    UPDATE: You now cannot turn off retweets of people in lists if you don't follow them, so now the behaviour is the opposite, you always see them.
  2. People cannot send you direct messages. This could be a bit problematic if you are a heavy DM user. To me, it is better to fallback to emails for private conversations, as Twitter's DM management is a torture I am happy to not suffer anymore (you have to delete one by one all individual messages).
    UPDATE: There is an option at Twitter to enable DMs from anyone.
  3. Website's autocomplete of users (@whatever) no longer works as doesn't finds anybody on your followed list. As you can just click a username and choose the "Tweet to @xxxx" is not terrible but less fast.
    UPDATE: Autofill now works with all existing users.

I hope this helps at least making you think about how to improve the time you spend reading things on social services. Keeping relevant information and filtering out noise for me is critical, and many times we don't even have the possibility of changing it.

Tags: Social

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