Managing the Chaos of Twitter

How to keep up with the tweets you want to read

et’s assume you know the basics about Twitter. You can tweet, you can add hashtags, you can tag your friends, and you can follow people. You’re hanging out in the world’s biggest, most freewheeling chatroom, and everything feels great.

At least, that’s how it starts. But here’s the problem. As you start to build followers, the feed of tweets that Twitter funnels into your timeline grows. And grows. Follow more than 100 people (a modest number for any twitter user), and you’ll get dozens of tweets a day. Cross 1,000, and the stream becomes a deluge.

This isn’t necessarily a problem. After all, Twitter isn’t like email, and no one expects you to read every tweet or pay attention to what’s going on all the time. But it is limiting. If you’re facing a torrent of tweets, it’s hard to make sure you see the content that’s important to you. It’s harder to engage with the people you really care about, which hurts your chances of getting their attention and reduces your ability to get your own voice heard.

Fortunately, there are several ways to deal with a Twitter overload. In this article, you’ll see four of the most effective approaches.

Muting: Silencing the spam

As you build your Following list, you’ll find that some tweeps (that’s shorthand for your Twitter peeps) talk more than others. Some people recycle old tweets and promote the same work over and over again. Some comment on the daily minutia of their lives without managing to keep you interested. And others attempt to fill the void of the universe by retweeting every tidbit of information they stumble across.

You can silence these offenders using a technique called muting. But there’s a catch — it’s an all or nothing operation. When you mute someone, you’ll miss out on everything they say, unless they tag you (in which case you’ll get a notification, as usual) or you go looking through their feed. The advantage is that you’re still following the person you’ve muted — and, for all they know, you’re still paying attention. That means no hurt feelings and less chance that they’ll unfollow you.

To mute someone, click the down arrow next to one of their tweets and choose Mute.

Unfortunately, there’s no option to mute temporarily — for example, give someone a one-month timeline timeout. It’s up to you to decide when to give a twitterer a second chance. If you review your Following list, you’ll see a red, crossed-out speaker next icon next to every person you’ve muted. Click that to unmute the person so you can see their tweets again.

Muting retweets only

If you like what someone has to say, but you’re overwhelmed by the number of retweets they’re making, there’s another option. You can choose to mute their retweets only. That way, you’re still in the loop for all their original thoughts.

To do this, find the offender in your Following list, or visit their profile page. Click the three dots (for more options) and choose Turn off Retweets.

Lists: Curating the people you follow

Muting is a drastic step. Often, you don’t want to completely silence a person you follow. You just need a way to control how you see their tweets, so you aren’t overwhelmed with noise all the time.

Lists give you a tool to organize the people you’re following into whatever categories make sense to you. For example, you can use this technique to keep a close eye on your favorite twitterers, while checking in on other people less frequently.

To make a list, start at your Twitter profile page, where you see the list of all the tweets you’ve made. At the top of the tweet list, where Twitter shows your overall statistics, click Lists. (Or, if you’re using the new Twitter layout, the Lists icon is on the left side of your timeline.)

This brings you to the Lists section, where you can see all the lists you’ve made so far (right now, that’s none). To create a list, click the Create new list button, which shows up in a column on the left or right, depending on the width of your browser window. (Or, if you’re using the new Twitter layout, it’s a tiny page-with-a-plus-sign icon.)

When you make a new list, you need to pick a list name. Use something that helps you remember how you’re grouping people. You might decide to organize by role (for example Friends, Family, Clients, Colleagues, Competitors), by topic (Writers, Coding, Travel Bloggers), or by a person’s Twitter status in relation to yourself (Frequent Retweeters, Influencers, High Priority).

Don’t worry about giving your list a description, because you’re making it for your own organization purposes only. But do make sure to click the Private option, because you don’t want anyone else to know how you’re classifying them. (Public lists play a different role. You can use them to share and distribute large numbers of contacts — for example, all the members of an organization you run.)

When you’re finished, click Save list to create your list.

Every list starts out empty. Filling a list is a bit of a chore. You can search for people from the Lists page, but it’s usually easier to go back to your Following section and add people there. When you see someone who belongs in one of your lists, click the three dots, choose Add or remove from lists, and then click the list you want to put them in.

Once you’ve slogged through the process of adding people to a list, you’re ready to enjoy the benefits. Head back to the Lists section, where you’ll see a link for each list you’ve made. Click one of the lists, and you’ll see timeline of tweets that includes only those people.

It’s easy to jump from one list to another on the Lists page. This gives you an effective way to focus on one small group of tweeters at a time. For example, you can check the list for your most important tweeters regularly, but shift your attention when you need to promote something, follow a different topic, or just socialize.

The only limitation (other than Twitter’s clunky list-creation process) is that you’re stuck seeing one list at a time. In the next section, you’ll see how to work around this shortcoming with TweetDeck.

TweetDeck: A smarter Twitter tool

There are plenty of tools for managing your social media presence and your Twitter account. Most of them come at a steep price. Some run into roadblocks when Twitter decides they violate the Twitter terms of service.

But TweetDeck isn’t like that. That’s because TweetDeck is owned by Twitter. It began it’s life as a miraculously useful tool for creating an organized Twitter dashboard. Less than two years later (and nearly a decade ago), Twitter scooped it up and made it the standard way to impose order on an unruly timeline.

Ordinary Twitter jams everything into one long list. The key idea behind TweetDeck is that life is better with multiple columns — and life is even better if you get to customize those columns to show the content you want.

TweetDeck uses the standard Twitter sign-in and works entirely in a web browser (no app required), whether you’re on a computer or mobile device. To try it out, you simply head to https://tweetdeck.twitter.com.

When you first visit TweetDeck you’ll see a page that’s carved into a few preset columns (including your timeline, notifications, and messages). Your first task is to customize these columns. Here’s the least you need to know:

  • To add a new column, click the + button on the left, and choose the type of column you want.
  • To hide a column, click the settings icon in the top-right corner of the column, and then choose Remove.
  • To move a column, click on the grip icon in the top-left corner of the column, and drag it left or right. TweetDeck rearranges your columns as you drag.

Once you’ve got these basic skills in hand, it’s easy to use lists with TweetDeck. To add a column for a list, click the + icon, choose List, and pick the list you want. Repeat the process until you can see all your lists at once, in separate columns. Then remove any column clutter that you don’t want.

Here’s an example of a TweetDeck display that combines a Home column with your full Twitter timeline and two list-specific columns (for the Writers and Clients lists):

TweetDeck remembers your customizations, so you’ll get the same column layout the next time you visit, in any browser (and on any device).

If Twitter is starting to feel less like a series of linked conversations, and more like a mob of people shouting at you from across a crowded room at a party, these techniques can help out. Give them a try! And stay tuned for the next article in our series, where you’ll learn the fine art of acquiring followers.

Teacher, coder, long-ago Microsoft MVP. Author of heavy books. Join Young Coder for a creative take on science and technology. Queries: matthew@prosetech.com

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