There's a lot of information, both useless and useful, on Twitter. When you get started on Twitter the shear amount of crap can be totally overwhelming.
Twitter's a lot like Tivo (Digital Video Recorders). It'll record everything and everyone you're interested in, and while this seems like a great idea, just like your Video Recorder, what was once a joy quickly becomes a chore. I've got dozens of shows on my recorder...I thought TV was supposed to be fun, now it's become a To-Do List. The same thing happens with Twitter. If you expect Twitter to be high signal and low noise, it's not the medium for you.
If you make Twitter into another list of crap to read, you will be sad. The sooner you realize that Twitter is just a list of crap, the happier you'll be.
Just let it flow over you like water on a duck's back. When you follow someone on Twitter, you're following the whole person. You might find out where @levarburton went to lunch that day. You might see pictures of me taking my kids to see Thomas the Tank Engine. You may see @BillyMays (RIP) last tweet as he gets off a plane. You can get news and opinions, pictures of planes in the Hudson, and find out where famous folks use the toilet. Truly thrilling.
Twitter is a lifestream and just as you'll miss stuff in life, you need to accept you'll miss stuff on Twitter.
Sometimes people will "unfollow" you (or me) and they'll tweet why. I have had a lot of people unfollow me because there's "not enough .NET content" in my tweets.
However, as @unclebobmartin says:
Twitter is not a single topic medium. If you follow someone you follow the whole person.
This statement might seem obvious, but it's not obvious to everyone. Uncle Bob and I don't agree on politics. That doesn't mean I'm going to unfollow him. I'm also not following him because I think I'll miss some deep insight on Software Architecture. I follow Uncle Bob because I like Uncle Bob. He is a full and complete person and he's interesting. When he stops being interesting, well...let's just hope for his sake, he stays interesting. ;)
I use a few tricks with Twitter to stay on to of things without them becoming stressful. That's the key. If Twitter stops being fun, consider Quitting Twitter rather than following everyone.
Twitter Rule #1 - Follow Liberally
Twitter without People isn't Fun. I'll use me as an example, because I'm on Twitter, but note that I'm not the point, just an example.
Sometimes someone will tweet that I've (personally) "filled their twitter timeline." Then I'll take a look at their Twitter account and notice that they are following maybe 7 people. Usually something like 6 friends, the me. This would be like going to a cocktail party with, well, 6 of your friends, and me. That would be obnoxious, or rather, _I_ would be obnoxious. No one would want to go to that party, it would be lame.
To have a real cocktail party, you need a lot more people. Forgive me as I quote myself (ya, I know):
It's a river of uselessfulness and truthiness. It's a permanent cocktail party where you know some folks, and don't know others. Some are famous, some are your friends. There's a the constant background of overheard conversations, except on Twitter, it's socially acceptable, nay, encouraged, to jump in. No need to say, "oh, I couldn't help but overhear, excuse me but..."
To really get something out of Twitter you need to follow at LEAST a hundred people of various backgrounds. Really mix it up. If you're really into just .NET and only want to see .NET tweets, I'll talk about how you can filter in a second.
Still, take a moment and drink this in. Follow liberally. You're following people, not topic experts. They'll tweet jokes and stupid stuff as often as they'll tweet code and useful tips. You'll need to follow a large swatch of people in order to get a wide and diverse experience on Twitter.
Some folks say that they can't find anyone interesting to follow. This is nonsense. Here's a tip. Find ONE interesting person, and see who THEY follow. Rinse, repeat. I've found 1000 interesting people this year. Turns out the world is full of them, and 0.1% of them are on Twitter.
Twitter Rule #2 - Use Search Effectively
Search is integrated into Twitter's website now, when it wasn't before, so that's useful, but I'm still surprised how few people notice that little search box. Make sure when you select a Twitter client that you select on that supports Search Columns. This is how you find info on topics when you're not necessarily interested in particular people.
For example, if you don't want to follow me, but you want to listen to conversations on ASP.NET MVC, make a search column with "ASP.NET MVC" in it.
I recommend these Twitter clients that effectively support search:
- TweetDeck - The original "deck" full screen client. The first thing you need to do after you install is go to the settings and turn off the "All Friends" notification as it'll drive you insane. The second thing is to setup some columns for topics you're interested in.
- bDule - A very nice client for Windows with a lot of of flexibility in how you can layout the columns. It also supports Facebook comments and likes.
- DestroyTwitter - The new kid on the block, it's very minimalist in style but supports many themes. It can be small and thin or be like TweetDeck and have columns.
I have columns in TweetDeck for Friends, Replies, Direct Messages, a search for "hanselman OR hansleman", a search for "Win7", a search for "asp.net", a search for "mvc," and a search for "diabetes." I also add searches for topics that I may find interesting that day or week, but then I'll delete them later. I had a Michael Jackson search for a few days, as an example.
Point is, make sure your Twitter Client supports search. Otherwise it's useless.
Twitter Rule/Tip #2a - Groups
Another way you can segment things is to use Groups. TweetDeck lets you put, for example, all your .NET people in one group and all your diabetics in another. This forces you to break up your party and assign labels to folks, but it's your party. That's another good thing to remember.
Twitter Rule #3 - Favorites as "Read Later"
When things are moving fast you often need a "read stuff later" button. While there is a service called Instapaper that is starting to get integration inside of some Twitter clients, it hardly has the broad support of a TwitPic or other 3rd party tool.
To solve this, I use "favorites" as my "read later." That means if I'm on my phone or my desktop and someone tweets something interesting or a link I don't have time to follow, I favorite it, then I came back later to read it. This simple technique has made things a little calmer for me when there's tweets coming in faster than I can read them. I just hit the little "star" icon in my twitter client that every client supports and I'll get to it later.
So, if you want to follow the Whole Person, follow me on Twitter. If not, just hang out on the blog, there's no hard feelings. :)
Also, consider reading my post on How To Twitter - First Steps and a Twitter Glossary
*Twitter Duck Image courtesy of Paul Söderholm