Twitter seems inspire both love and loathing in equal measure. Some crusade to win converts to their tweet streams. Others denounce the practice of tweeting at every opportunity. It’s been called a vehicle for mass narcissism, and that’s one of the nicer descriptions. I won’t deny the accusations can have merit. Twitter can be silly. It can be self-absorbed. It can be boring. It can be an utter waste of time. That depends not on what you tweet so much as who you follow. If Twitter is a broadcasting device, it’s a two-way radio. Talk into it all day long, but if you aren’t picking up good stations in return, it’s probably useless to you.
I use Twitter primarily to discover information. Some people use it more for casual chat, and that’s okay. Still, the main difference in what one person gets out of Twitter and what another person doesn’t get is in who is talking to them. Twitter is enormous. It’s silly to say everything on it is a waste of time. That would be like saying everything in the library is a waste of time because you didn’t care for the first few books you picked up. If you are interested in it, you can find it somewhere on Twitter.
Because I’m interested in discovering information, I follow newspapers, journalists, bloggers, and people who like to share articles on topics important to me. I follow whole networks of people I associate with particular online communities, such as tech rhetors, poets, and Mississippians. The topics are important to me; therefore, the tweeters are interesting to me.
Twitter is who you follow.
This is not to say I haven’t had trouble sorting out what is worth my time and what isn’t in my tweet stream. I have, and I think that issue comes up more if you follow a lot of people, and/or if you follow people who don’t easily fit into a category. I unfollowed someone who is a professor and whose professional tweets are of interest to me because she happened to hate the Saints. I didn’t unfollow everyone who tweeted against the Saints. Only this one person bothered me because she wasn’t cheering for a team. She was just posting anti-Saints tweets every week during Saints games. I decided I wasn’t going to go through a Super Bowl like that, so I just culled her from my stream.
I have no doubt others have unfollowed me for similar reasons. They may have followed me in the first place when I tweeted about poetry, but then they lost interest when I tweeted about Mississippi. That’s okay. Relationships, like information, are transitory on Twitter.
It isn’t necessary, however, to start unfollowing people just because you are having trouble keeping up with the kind of information you want to find. That will all become much easier if you organize the people you follow into lists.
Twitter is how you follow.
If you want to only read tweets from Saints fans during a Saints game, make a list of Saints fans, and watch only that stream while the game is on. Likewise, make a list of people who share your professional interests to refer to when you are looking for job-related information. Make as many lists as you need to organize your stream into manageable categories.
Twitter is one long continuous conversation, but if you’ve ever sat in the middle of a big dinner table trying to hold a conversation with everyone in your immediate vicinity, you’ve probably felt that slight sense of disorientation that comes when one conversation is really several overlapping conversations. Twitter can be disorienting like that. It can also be stimulating and informative. Making lists is just one way to help control which it becomes for you.