Thursday, 6 October 2016

Getting A Handle On Twitter By Using Lists

Originally published in the Sep/Oct edition of BIFHSGO's eNewsletter.

I bet you’ve been wondering how the heck some people follow SO many accounts on Twitter. You can barely keep up with the barrage of tweets from the 300 or so tweeps you do follow and you can’t even begin to imagine how celebrities can follow MILLIONS, right?

One way to combat that problem is to let go of being afraid to miss something. When I first began using Twitter - way back before Ashton Kutcher was the first tweeter to get 1 million followers - I used to “go back to the beginning” every morning and try to read through what all the people I was following had tweeted overnight. There was a TON of stuff to get through! Sometimes it wouldn’t even scroll all the way back to timestamps before my bedtime; frequently, I just ended up scanning good chunks of the history. It was cumbersome. Things fell off my To Do List. I felt pressured and anxious about keeping up and annoyed by people who posted “too much crap’.

The first thing I had to realize was that not everyone sleeps at the same time and, for most of the world, that is because they exist in alternate and sometimes drastically different time zones! Twitter is a global tool, it never sleeps!

Secondly, it’s impossible to follow everything that everyone posts. Even if you only follow 10 people, chances are someone will occasionally go on a bender and publish one tweet (or, even easier, one retweet!) every 30 seconds for hours on end. You probably won’t care about all of them, even if they’re from your celebrity crush. Chances are that you won’t be interested in every single tweet published by every single person you follow. Twitter is not meant to be read like a book; it’s meant to be scanned. Almost feels superfluous, wasteful or even shameful, doesn’t it?

Once I realized that Real Time is FAST, Real Time is NOW, that any given tweet has a lifespan of only about 18 minutes* (in other words, it’s not meant to be looked at after 18* minutes have passed) and that, if something is really important or exciting I won’t miss it because MANY people will be tweeting about it, not just a few and that any earth-shattering subject I want or need to know about will likely be talked about for longer than 18* minutes -- then I was able to relax and begin to enjoy Twitter the way it’s meant to be used. Twitter is a real-time tool that allows people to participate, share, comment and engage en masse from the four corners of the world, different boroughs of a city, or beside each other on the sofa. It is for the immediate dispersal of information. The 2011 Libyan Revolution (the organization of which Twitter is credited with) is a perfect though more serious example of Twitter’s purpose. An uprising is what the younger crowd would call “Hard Core” Live Tweeting.whereas Live Tweeting a genealogy conference would, perhaps, be considered “Soft Core” Live Tweeting.

[Of interest: The Truth About Twitter, Facebook and the Uprisings in the Arab World]

Important reminders, announcements and news stories will be covered by slower, more permanent forms of media and social media that one will have less chance of missing.

Another way to manage the mass influx of tweets is with Twitter Lists. You can create public or private lists of Tweeters (whether you follow them or not) to curate content into whatever groupings you desire (ie, genealogy topics, home location, research locations, repositories, friends, family, co-workers, societies, crafts, professionals, businesses, artists, etc, etc, etc). Then, instead of relying on your main feed which includes everything from everybody you follow, you can digest more manageable portions depending on your need, available time or particular interest by going directly to the appropriate list.

Twitter How-To Links
* RE: a tweet's lifespan is 18 minutes**
** CORRECTION NOTICE: In the Sep/Oct 2016 BIFHSGO eNewsletter, I used the number 12 in this article instead of the (correct) number 18 when talking about tweet lifespan. I think I have "number dysmorphia" sometimes... strange.

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