How to tame Twitter
Despite its best efforts to make you hate it.
In a departure from some of the writing I’ve done here, I thought it would be interesting and perhaps helpful to mention how I use Twitter and how that keeps me a little more protected from the dreadful content and commentary that is so readily forced onto your retinas.
It starts with using the right tools and then unfollowing everyone. (Well, not “everyone”, but most accounts). Then with judicious use of the largely misunderstood and unused tool on Twitter, the experience is much better and more productive for people like me who primarily use it as a research tool.
How to use Twitter
Let’s face it; Twitter is a hell-hole. You don’t need to be on it too long to discover this. I could (maybe I will one day) get into an extensive discussion on moderation vs privacy vs free speech, a veritable minefield if there ever was one. Despite my urges, I’ll resist.
It is also worth noting that I don’t use it for, let’s charitably call it, performative art. Virtue signalling (or empty boasting), attention-seeking and other forms of engineering to be the centre of attention are anathemas to my personality.
So armed with this, many years ago, I decided I would use Twitter for my research and resist use for entertainment and Doomscrolling. I needed to implement a mechanism that would help achieve these goals. I’m on the inattentive spectrum of ADHD, and Twitter is pretty much Kryptonite for people like me… and me. It contributes hugely to procrastination and losing focus, or, better put, moving the focus from the things that need to be done to the interesting things in the moment, inevitably leading to falling down the rabbit hole.
I’ve been on the platform since 2009. I could see its possibilities for community and exchange of ideas back then, which I would hope, is its future post-Elon Musk. I think the future of social networks is more akin to distributed autonomous organisations or DAOs than the monolithic model of social networks today. As humans, we’re just cabled to interact with thousands or millions of people in a day. We didn’t evolve that way. At best, we had immediate family and a few friends. For most of us, the maximum amount of people we’ve been in close contact with is at school, a large business or a conference. That’s why when you go to a big conference (I was a regular at one that had over 20000 people each year), it’s overwhelming at first until you get your bearings and you start to filter out the stuff you don’t need to see and concentrate on the things you do. I’ll try to write up a little more on that idea in the future, but one name springs to mind, Dunbar.
Back to Twitter, I ignored the potential downsides because the user base was almost exclusively tech at the time, and it intrigued me where it could go. Rose-tinted glasses. The reality turned out quite different.
One thing I did do from the beginning was use a third-party Twitter client. In those days, Twitter was web-only, which didn’t appeal to me. For some reason, I’ve never liked web apps. I can’t articulate why, but something feels “off” for me when I use them. I still use a third-party client, Tweetbot, on both iOS and macOS. But I have used Twitterrific and Tweetie —the first third-party iOS app for Twitter and invented the pull-to-refresh UI element that is so pervasive today— and was subsequently purchased by Twitter in 2010 and ruined.
The advantages of using a third-party app are two-fold. No adverts and a chronological timeline. Twitter has consistently tried to make advertising work for it over the years. Despite having some 86% of its revenue in 2020 from advertising, the financials don’t seem to make Twitter an ad powerhouse or act as a profit centre for them. When I’ve strayed into the official app, the ads have been useless and other forms of online media inform me better.
Similarly, Twitter has flip-flopped from a chronological timeline to an algorithmic one. In 2016 they made it the default, causing consternation and a bunch of articles on how to disable it. This was only temporary, as Twitter reverted to the useless algorithm shortly after disabling it. Then it was possible to make that change permanent, then more recently, it has become vital for Twitter to go back to an algorithm - god knows why? (Heads up: Ads)
I’m not against ads per se; I’m against crass, overly intrusive ads. With no ads, I’m not subjected to the barrage of trite that I see when I open the official web app. The chronological timeline allows me to run down a few pages and quickly get up to speed on a topic without wasting hours and being spoon-fed conspiracies and other distasteful junk.
But the most effective way to tame Twitter is a two-pronged approach and can be done with or without the official client. And, even if you’re happy with the tracking and the ads and a completely useless “promoted” timeline, this configuration will still help a little.
Firstly, I “follow” only a few accounts; as a principle, the term “follow” is nauseating for me, but that’s where we are. 🤷♂️
These are hand-picked, and it is not an endorsement if I follow you. I just want to temporarily see your thoughts or retweets, etc., in my timeline. This changes now and again as I audit, adding and removing follows as I see fit.
Note: If I’ve unfollowed you recently, don’t take it personally. I’m probably keeping up-to-date with you still but not in my timeline. You’ll see why in a minute.
So my timeline is a pretty quiet place, and it helps me avoid too much time-wasting. This brings me to the other tool. I think this is Twitter’s under-estimated superpower.
It’s called Lists.
Use them prodigiously.
When I thought about this shift in the use of Twitter, one thing that was evident to me was that the soup of random nonsense on the timeline was because we have to switch contexts cognitively as we scroll through constantly. One tweet grotesquely shows videos of deaths in Ukraine (complete with burning corpses), the next, a funny dog video, then a serious political news story from a reputable source, followed by a shitpost from Elon Musk or Kanye West, then the inevitable conspiracy theory skid mark.
It’s cerebrally fatiguing and draining. Not to mention the sheer effort required to understand the truth of what you’ve just seen.
I wanted to devise a way where I could be in a particular context and stay in it for the duration of the session on Twitter. This is where Lists come in. Lists allow you to add Twitter accounts without having to follow them. That way, you can keep up-to-date on a subject, research project, or any context you want without being derailed by the algorithm and other deranging information. I’ve been doing this for a few years, which has helped me a lot.
I recommend you look at this feature and put it to use yourself. The rewards are evident with a bit of effort and a little pruning.
My current lists are; Analysts, Antilles, Apple Related, Apps, Caribbean, Culture, News, Research, Researchers, Tech, and Tropical Weather.
In each of these lists is one or more Twitter accounts that are, in the majority, primarily tweeting on the topic (i.e., the list name) I’d like to read. They don’t need any explanation; I’m sure you can work out each context.
You don’t have to drink from the firehose; you can drink more sensibly.
Here’s some more information on them and how to set them up: https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/twitter-lists
Thanks for reading.
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