Twitter overload

“There is no such thing as information overload, there's only filter failure.” -Clay Shirky, via @jayrosen_nyu

One of the questions I get asked most about Twitter and other social media — whether from friends or from people I’m training– is, “Okay, I understand how it technically works now, but how do you handle that flood of information coming your way? It would drive me crazy to try and keep track of x number of people!”

Yes! I agree!

If I actually tried to stay on top of the 200+ people and conversations I’m following on Twitter, I would: (a) never get any work done, (b) go slightly bonkers, and thus (c) be rendered homeless quite fast. The trick is that I’m not actually paying that much attention to all those people. (Sorry, people I follow.)

The paradigm of email being our main form of digital communication for the past 10+ years (at least in the mainstream) has created this sense that every message appearing in front of our faces is significantly important enough to demand our attention. As social media expands, nothing could be further from the truth. We are presented with the opportunity to reach numbers of people that previously was technologically impossible. That doesn’t mean we have to pay attention to them all.

In the case of Twitter, I like to think of it as my personal water cooler in the break room– when I’m bored or otherwise off on an ADD jaunt, I stop by here and listen to what other people are talking about at the moment. If something interesting or funny just happened, I pop my head into the group and tell them. (“A guy wearing boxers on the outside of his pants carrying a 1984 boombox blaring Michael Jackson just danced with me on Houston St.”)

There are some decisions I’ve made about my Twitter use that have helped me to keep enjoying it as a helpful tool:

  • I don’t try to figure out all the conversations that were happening before I stopped by. Unless there’s some heated, heavy-duty discussion happening, I don’t go back in time and try to find out what everyone’s said since I last checked.
  • I’ve accepted that there will be some things that I miss. I generally rely on “retweets” — denoted by RT or rtwt — to keep me abreast of really important news or funnies.
  • I search for my username to look for people replying or referring to me. I want to be polite and respond to people talking to me as much as possible. You can save an RSS feed of the search results so you don’t have to keep checking the webpage.
  • I’m selective about who I follow and unfollow. I don’t follow everyone that follows me, and I unfollow people who overwhelm my stream. This comes across to some as rude or unkind in the new paradigm, but I don’t subscribe to that belief. I don’t expect everyone that follows me to stay interested in my tweets about just how hilarious and weird my friends and dog are. I don’t expect them to be interested in every meeting or conference that I decide to live-tweet. Like most relationships, we need to work on our expectation management and boundaries in the social media sphere. I wrote a post about this last year.

The biggest thing I like to stress to people who ask me these things is that Twitter (and other tools like it) are tools for enhancing your communication and relationships — not destroying your sanity trying to keep up with everything. You should use them how you see fit, and not be afraid to make your own rules for your relationships– just as you would offline, so can you online.

9 Responses to “Twitter overload”

  1. danlatorre says:

    Usefully concise post on Twitter practice! I’ll be sharing with new people on Twitter especially those in nonprofits who can best benefit from the efficient info sharing & networking that Twitter enables.

    About filter failter, or how to best filter, my current tip at this time is that TweetDeck is the most efficient Twitter app for filtering by keywords relevant to your work (e.g. teaching, sustainability, fund raising, etc.) and it also allows you to add small groups of people into a stream (e.g. have a tweet stream of *only* people who focus on nonprofits, who are teachers, etc.)

  2. deanna zandt says:

    I was going to mention apps that can filter for you, but decided in the end to leave it all in the philosophy realm for simplicity’s sake. Thanks for bringing up Tweetdeck… I was using it for a while myself, but even that after a while felt like too much to manage. I’m currently hooked on Blogo, but it’s just a simple/elegant reader/poster.

  3. annavws says:

    Thanks for your great posts – I am kinda new to twitter and was a little confused about a lot of the issues you address. Living in Australia, it seems Twitter doesn’t have the uptake it does in the US – but I’m hoping that’s gonna change! I plan to share your posts with all the new Twitter people I know!

  4. rickey gold says:

    Great tips on how to use Twitter and still have a life. I totally agree with the way you handle followers. Still don’t get how people are able to “follow” 1000s of people and love that someone else is saying “do it the way it works best for you”!

  5. [...] I’m not actually paying that much attention to all those people. (Sorry, people I follow.) deanna zandt » Twitter overload   « For the record, I’m generally in the third camp. But the fourth people [...]

  6. [...] Deanna Zandt, technology consultant [...]

  7. [...] And then, there is this Twitter for Beginners article by Deanna Zandt, where she goes over the basics and gives links for more information. I definitely recommend reading it. Or her one on why people do it, or the one on info overload. [...]

  8. Amanda says:

    My new favorite analogy: it is like a bar. Or a party. Except you get to pick who is allowed in. When you drop in for a pint (or three, don’t pretend you never got falling over twitter drunk) or some whiskey and bitters concoction, you don’t go round up the backlog of what everyone is talking about and make sure you weigh in on every conversation you might have something to say about.

    You sidle up to the conversation that sounds interesting to you. You stay as long as you feel like staying.

  9. Louisa Olay says:

    The childhood cartoon fad thing on facebook is cute and all, but I don’t think it really aids child abuse, or promotes awareness

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