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:

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.

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  • danlatorre

    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.)

  • 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.

  • annavws

    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!

  • 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”!

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  • Amanda

    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.

  • 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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