Using Twitter in the information (overload) age

As someone who does almost 100% of my business online, a need to filter the bombardment of info ranks highly when it comes to paying the bills.

information overload

“Unless you can concentrate on what you want to do and suppress distractions, it’s hard to accomplish anything, period.”

Since creating a profile in 2008, one of my distractions has been Twitter. I’ve used it for three things:

  1. To share articles of interest (mainly design-related) and personal thoughts
  2. To answer questions or reply to “@ mentions” from other Twitter users
  3. To search for up-to-date info on a specific topic

What I found myself doing in addition, however, and every time I logged-in, was reading a back-catalogue of tweets from the 100 or so accounts I had time to follow until I’d “caught-up,” just in case I missed something juicy related to the design profession.

I kept the follower-count to 100 or less for exactly the same reason Don Dodge talks about in his post: Twitter litter — do followers really follow you?

But the tweets included more than snippets about design — I’d be absorbing anything from foreign weather reports to chat about what’s on the lunch menu 5,000 miles away. Lyndon described this as a “natural urge to sit on your arse and be spoon-fed information.” I can understand the sentiment.

Is that the best use of my time? There’s already a ton of non-stop design news coming from my feed reader and my daily visits to other blogs. I’ll often find it hard enough keeping-up even without the added Twitter stream.

So to decrease distraction and (hopefully) work more efficiently, I’ve stopped following others on Twitter.

It’s not that there aren’t advantages to following other designers. But for me, with client projects, the non-stop email influx, maintaining three fairly regularly-updated blogs, and making sure I have time away from design, I’m trying this as a way to streamline my working day.

For the amazing people I was following (and those I never did) I hope you don’t take it personally. There’ll be a psychology behind Twitter that’s similar to Facebook: “You unfriended me. I’m not your friend.” (Not that you’re as fickle.) With never-ending days I’d follow hundreds. Thousands. And hey, my email address is always open.

Those three main Twitter uses won’t change — sharing resources, thoughts, replies, research — I’ll just be saving some time and focusing more on bill-paying projects.

If you want to follow/unfollow me, catch me here on Twitter.

Update: 01 July 2011
Twitter lists. The way forward: @DavidAirey/lists

26 responses

  1. Twitter can be a huge time-waster for me as well. Every six months or so, I go through and do a massive clean out of anyone who I either didn’t connect with or who doesn’t post helpful tweets.

    And no worries, I don’t unfollow people just because they unfollow/don’t follow me. I enjoy your tweets and links, so I’m still following.

  2. Agree with your thoughts on Twitter David, as do I agree with @jasonvana’s comments above.

    I find it very hard to keep up with the many sources of information online and having any sort of life as well! You really do have to choose your mediums that you focus on and give your time to, otherwise you will never really get anywhere. :)

  3. Thanks Jason. I’ve never seen the purpose of following tens of thousands of others, except for an attempt at inflating follower counts.

    Michelle, all the best with your site redesign.

  4. Agree, Twitter is a tool.

    We use it for:
    1. Asking questions to solve a problem we may have.
    2. Chatting to clients (potential and otherwise)
    3. Find out what’s going on.

    It can be a distraction. I try to log in only a few times a week. Collecting followers for the sake of it is pointless. It’s not a game!

  5. Twitter is like heaven to me (for many reasons, but I won’t go into them). I respect, understand and appreciate your post/decision. I guess when it goes from following 200 to 2,000 it gets a intense and overwhelming. Fortunately (and unfortunately), I don’t have that problem right now. :)
    Thanks for the post!

  6. I definitely agree with you! I follow over 8,000 people on twitter simply to make connections and talk to people. Its easier than spending a couple hours a week at networking events. And its the same as answering emails to me. But I have two lists that I mainly follow of people and don’t really pay attention to the bulk of my twitter feed. But I’m currently re-evaluating how I do my twitter account. I appreciate your post and fully support you.

  7. @David – I’m currently at 370 some, and that’s about my max. I’ve been thinking about doing an early clean out the past few weeks. There’s just too much to try and follow.

  8. Nice article and in agreement. I’ve never really used Twitter to it’s full potential. I mostly share links and ideas but really don’t interact as much as I should. I guess because it can get so overwhelming. Thanks for reminding us that it’s alright to unfollow the noise.

  9. I agree with your observations, David, and (having read this earlier in the morning) it made me think about my own Twitter feed/stream (FTR, I have a following/follower count of 625/470. Methinks I need to do a little spring cleaning soon).

    What I concluded was that it’s almost like a cocktail party. I find myself interacting regularly with a handful of folks, and “pop in” and occasionally chat with a lot of others. The rest just comes across as background noise that I sometimes perk up and listen every so often.

    No sure if that was the intended use, but it’s been working ok for me.

  10. What I have done is simply created a Private list with about 60 people on it. I then default the browser bookmark to that page. This way, I can focus on the peoples’ tweets I’m bothered about.

  11. I’ve noticed that most people with a lot of followers tend not to follow a lot of people. You’d either end up ignoring most of them or not getting anything done.

    I use Twitter (via Hootsuite) as an RSS reader of sorts. It offers the benefit of finding interesting articles and new websites that I might not have found on my own and then I retweet in case anyone else might find it interesting. Like Jon, I also haven’t fully explored interacting with others on Twitter but it’s probably something I should look into.

  12. Explain more about this E Mail Address thing you mention top :)

    I treat twitter now more as a stream or babbling brook. When you walk up to you favorite stream, you don’t run down the bank for all the water you “missed”. You just sit for a spell and what comes by in your time comes by. Maybe you do dig a bit and click on stream from a particular individual and see what has been going on. But the key is just relaxing. In the world we live in, it’s nigh impossible to really miss anything. If it’s important, you’ll hear about it.

    The rush now, for some reason, is to be “first” to find something. But why? Unless your revenue stream depends on being the first to find something in twitter, relax. I doubt for many people it does.

    I don’t understand the move away from RSS that’s been happening a bit. Yeah, it’s a bit techie. But I can go to anyone’s feed in Reader and see everything I’ve missed. If I’m in a David Airey mood, I can get my fill. It’s kind of like touching base. Yes, it’s not real time, but again – what is the real value of real time? Most of the time it’s just not important and is a distraction.

    I’m far more interested in cumulative information over instant information.

    To find out what’s really going on, I also use Google Alerts. I think David mentioned he uses that too. I also do news searches at Google News and save the RSS feed for that search to Reader. This puts me in control, as that wall of the Reader UI is intentional, and not something blinking at my face demanding attention that may or may not be worthwhile.

  13. Thanks David. I do have the same problem although I don’t have nearly as many followers. It is difficult trying to find time to read the constant bombardment of information from Twitter and RSS feeds. It’s impossible to keep up – so I tend not to and just dip in now and again.

  14. Asking questions is another good use, Lee. I’ve been helped a few times after getting stuck with something.

    Thanks for the understanding, Taryn, Timothy.

    Jon, it’s easier than ever to get caught-up in the noise. I already feel like I have more focus, even after just a couple of days.

    Rafael, Mark, glad you can see it as something to pop-into now and again. I didn’t make it easy for myself using the service every day and thinking I was missing something. If I was able to pay less attention to those I was following we’d not be having this chat.

    Andrew, I was tempted to follow more people (and there were tons more I was interested in) then create lists to filter the stream, but it adds a new level of content management I can do without right now — who to follow, who to filter, list categories, etc.

    Natasha, Hootsuite’s cropped-up in a few chats I’ve had. Not a tool I’ve used (or know much about). I’m one of the old-school Twitter users who sticks with the web interface, not wanting another IM-type application on my computer/phone.

    Doug, that’s right, I have Google Alerts set-up for “david airey,” “logo design love,” and “identity designed.” I catch them in Google Reader. Very useful, even though they add to my already-bloated subscriptions.

    I like your babbling brook approach, but I found myself almost needing to see what was said, having opted-in to follow who I did. I’ll happily tell you more about this email address thing if you explain about those David Airey moods you’re having.

  15. I know what you mean, I’m forever unfollowing on Twitter to try my hardest to keep my feeds relevant, on-topic and useful. Before you know it, hours can be wasted just sifting through hundreds of tweets looking for anything worthy of reading!

  16. David, I sympathise with your Twitter twitching – I too suffered the same problem, but have since seen the light. I still get bamboozled at many who have zillions of followers/friends on – I see the benefits in certain Social Media to certain individuals or companies, a subject I covered myself in a People as Brands post

    But I am thankful for Twitter, when you’re disciplined enough, it is a great tool.

  17. Love your honesty David. Between FB, Twitter and blogs, I think we all probably struggle to stay focused and on task. This stuff is really a time killer, despite all the benefits.

    I lost my smartphone this past weekend at a concert, went 5 days without one. It has been refreshing to say the least – being unplugged.

  18. I don’t know who said it… but he suggested that after 40 a man should read less and distill his own thoughts.

    The argument was that you have enough – right now – to do what you need to do.

    Reading more is simply procrastination.


  19. This is a really interesting topic; I have to agree with Mark Narusson – I find it overwhelming as some people are tweeting every couple of hours – so it becomes a full time practice following everyone, keeping tabs and connecting. I also dip in and out (much like facebook).

    Certainly I know of companies that find it invaluable (like Taryn A) – but not got to grips with it myself.

  20. (: I loved reading this particularly because I am a design student and I am currently trying to get my name out there better. I have a friend (another student) that I compete with (all friendly of course, we are very supportive of each other actually) and he has a website, Facebook, twitter, e-mail, etc… does everything like that to get his own name out.

    I personally can’t keep up with that. I focus mainly on my just website\blog and Flickr account. I push my design through word of mouth usually, I want people to keep up with me that are actually interested in me. I would rather 50 people follow me that genuinely care, than 1000 people that appear to care.

    I love your blogs (all three of them) and love how real you are with your readers and as a designer. Keep sharing and I will keep reading! Even if you don’t have time to read back!!

  21. Someone once said to me that it is a good idea to follow people back just incase they are a prospective client trying to send you a DM (can’t DM unless someone follows you back). This can lead to a huge follow list and a ton of noise in your Twitter stream.

    What I do is set up a few lists (clients, designers, celebs, local peeps) and have those lists as streams in Hootsuite. This way I can still be available to potential followers, but only really pay attention to those that I feel are worth the time.

  22. Thanks very much, Jessica. I appreciate that. And to everyone else for the comments.

    Peter, good advice. I need to force myself sometimes.

    Strange that after a couple of weeks I feel a bit disconnected (left out?) but I also have more time for client/personal projects. Pros and cons. It’s deciding what’s more important.

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