I’m changing how I use Twitter in 2014

I’m changing how I use Twitter. I’m going to give the details in this post along with the motivation. I started writing this because I believe that if you are going to start acting very differently in any social enviroment (online or off) you should at least give people warning. While writing it I found that it slightly turned into a statement of identity, which is interesting in its own right.

Here are the things that I get out of Twitter, that make Twitter useful and interesting to me:

  1. Gestalt Tracking: Twitter is big. *big* and by spending 20 minutes skimming down the tweets for the search string “piracy”, you can get a pretty good idea what the world in general might think about an issue. This isn’t so much about individuals, it’s about the emergent behavior, what people might kindly call ‘the voice of the people’ and what they might unkindly call ‘the voice of the mob’. For anyone who would like the world to be a certain way, I think it’s important to know where the world actually is.
  2. The avoidance of filter bubbles. Everyone should watch this TED talk and then it might be a little more clear why I am, for example, a devoted follower of such accounts as @RepubGirlProbz. If you are one of the hundred or so accounts I follow for the express purpose of avoiding filter bubbles then thank you – but I follow you because I don’t agree with you (at this present time, I’m open to persuasion) not because I do.
  3. Public engagement – the more of myself that I make public then the more likely it is I’ll be one personality to everyone, rather than five different personalities in five different social groups. I’d like to believe this happens normally, but where possible, I like to set up my life to be working on slightly more than hope…. 🙂

Here’s what I like to think I give back.

  1. Information, specifically regarding disability, technology, and particularly anything involved with both. I have a (genuinely) scientific background and I like to think I’m pretty good at digesting, collecting and rerouting information that is relevent for people in the fields that I care about. I’ve got a number of very personal connections to disability and the major reason that I believe something is relevent to people is that it gets an emotional reaction out of me.
  2. A commitment to try and raise the level of the debate, this means trying to avoid rabble rousing (I’ve been guilty of this in the past) in favour of rational and data-driven content. This doesn’t mean I don’t get angry any more, it means that I try to get angry precisely and that my anger is generally based on peer-reviewed publications… 🙂

I think it’s worked reasonably well, and that’s how I’ve spent 2013 at least.

Unfortunately there have also been some tensions in my approach to social media. Something that has been in conflict for a long time has been engagement. One of Twitter’s greatest strengths is that I can ask a question and get a dosen responses – but I also belive that Twitter is too limited a platform to consider any but the simplest questions. So there has been a natural conflict there.

The other problem is that I like to keep a very tidy twitter feed, and generally every few weeks I go back though my tweets and delete anything that isn’t directly informative. This is with the view that someone browsing my feed should find information rather than personality (I get a lot of RT’s from weeks or months ago that appears to support this). The problem with this, is that the engagement I do often vanishes and that’s probably annoying to the other half of the conversation….

(This is also in tension with point 2 about – if I’m regularly deleting 1/3rd of my tweets then I’m presenting a fairly revisionist version of myself.

So in the New Year (I’ve largely started already) I’m going to try and resolve these. Firstly, I’m going to wholeheartedly embrace engagement. There are a couple of changes here. Over the last year I’ve periodically gone on unfollowing rampages to try and keep the information flow fresh. People view unfollowing in all sorts of different ways on Twitter and it’s clearly not conducive to engagement. So I’ve been writing some code (which I shall post at a later date because this is already quite a long post) that will keep track of the twitter ID of everyone who replied to me or retweeted me – that way I should avoid any accidental unfollowing of that group of users.

So the two pledges here are:

  • I pledge no unfollowing of engaged users
  • I also pledge to reply at least once to everyone who messages me.

How am I going to resolve this with my nice clear Twitter feed? By using code. I’m going to write a bit of code that downloads and stores all of my tweets – then whenever I do a pruning of my feed I’ll also post a link to where people can find a record of the deleted tweets – that way I still get a nice clean twitter feed, but I remain accountable. (I plan to mainly remove time-relevent tweets rather than conversations – so chatting will stay but observations on last week’s Doctor Who are probably not worth keeping).

I’ll still be working hard to put thought decent information, but I’m going to try and bring engagement into equal focus. I’m interested to see if this will cause a change in how Twitter interacts with me rather than how I interact with it.

EDIT – although this post says ‘no unfollowing’ the code I wrote actually automatically follows engaged people regardless. Over the months this adding for followers started to put quite a strain on my timeline…




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