E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Winter

Over three years ago I wrote a blog entry over here about Twitter under the provocative heading: ‘Twitter is where conversations go to die’. It was a cathartic article I needed to get out of my system in order to re-find my love with that social networking tool. I wasn’t enjoying it much back in those days. Three years later, here I am again, writing about it, once more, but this time around with a different twist. I still love Twitter, as I wrote just recently. I use it every single day of the week, it’s my favourite personal learning network by far, but I am starting to question the value of connections over there. Why? Well, no-one seems to care anymore, apparently.

I have been on Twitter since early 2007 and I keep remembering fondly the time when people would eagerly connect with one another; when they would share lots of interesting tidbits just for the sake of adding further value into the network(s) and the overall conversation; when they would converse with one another and learn from each other (even from total strangers); when people didn’t have double agendas nor were just they tooting their own horn by blasting out marketing messages whole day long repeatedly. Over and over again, all over the place and time, because, you know, you need to get your message out, or so we are told. Essentially, yes, I am still missing the days when Twitter was The Pulse of the Planet: The Global Conversation. The place to be.

Still is today, in my opinion, but all of the things we cherished and loved about Twitter seemed to have been long gone and lost, and, probably, not returning back any time soon. Unless we do something about it. Twitter, on its own, it’s just one of the many hundreds of different digital tools within the Social Web. It’s our smart use of the tool that makes the difference, like in pretty much anything technology related. Always. So when you know it is no longer working out for you there are a few things you can do:

  1. Let inertia run its course and stick around just because everyone else is still in there anyway and continue on the path to get bored to death over time.
  2. Move on to the next shiny object where you think everyone else is hanging out usually (Nowadays, it’s Facebook, apparently #Meh)
  3. Or do something about it, break the chain, challenge the status quo and redefine a completely new user experience. See if it works and, if it does, stick around with it. Move on. 

About a month and a half ago I decided to go for #3 and see whether it would work or not. Indeed, over 6 weeks ago I decided to run #elsuahackstwitter. An experiment where I’d be challenging not only how I make good use of Twitter, but those around me as well. I decided to unfollow everyone. Yes, everyone. No exceptions. From one day to another. And instead of relying on a combination of Twitter Lists and my home timeline, which is what I have been doing for years already, I decided to be brave enough and see whether I could survive just with Twitter Lists and following zero people and witness, first hand, whether the conversations moved elsewhere. Or not. Eventually, I wanted to see how disruptive such bold move would be like on how we use Twitter today.

Why Did I Do It Then?

Essentially, I wanted to challenge our basic perception of how we use Twitter nowadays and whether it would make sense without it or not. Everyone has got followers and their own following, but what happens when your following is no longer there? When you decide to stop following everyone and question the purpose of that connection in the first place? Is it still worth it, is it just a vanity metric, is it an influence metric you can make good use of? Why do we follow people on Twitter in the first place? To show off anticipating reciprocation, perhaps because of what they share across or maybe because of the conversations they host? I had to run the experiment and see what the fuss was all about.

What if Twitter decided to drop off the count of both followers and following? Would you still make use of it, like you are doing today? Imagine if Twitter decided get rid of that vanity metric, so that we would focus more on the conversations themselves, i.e. on topics, hashtags, events, etc., etc., do you think you would still be making use of Twitter and enjoy the overall experience as much as you are doing nowadays? Or maybe not much really. That’s exactly what I wanted to try out, whether I could live without that ego centric metric we all seem to be very keen on nurturing to prove and validate our own so-called influence and take my Twitter experience on to a different level. That’s how #elsuahackstwitter got started over a month and a half ago and I must confess, after a few weeks have gone by, I am quite enjoying the results and the overall experience. Although not too sure about what everyone else would think for that matter!

What Has Actually Happened?

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, I can tell you. An emotional journey of sorts, testing how far I could tame my own ego, that one of others, my reactions, their reactions, our two-way conversations and see whether after all that I would still be able to survive and not want to come back to the old model of following and be followed.

Six weeks later things are back to normal. In fact, after the initial frenzy of interactions with a bunch of folks who wanted to know why I was doing such thing the craze started to fade away to the point where I am back to where I was before, but with zero following. Perhaps vast majority of people who still follow me on Twitter didn’t even notice a single bit the crack I tried to provoke in the system 😉 as plenty of people keep saying, you know, that no-one reads Twitter anymore anyway. It’s just the place where we go to broadcast our messages and toot our very own horn without hearing others’ opinions, thoughts and experiences, so why bother, right?

The thing is that, on its own, it’s transformed entirely the way not only I see Twitter as my own personal learning network, but also how I use it on a regular basis and, although I can’t tell for others, it’s helped me find a new way of making it more personal, more conversational, more topic driven (while still keeping in touch with people), in short, overall more engaging and much less stressful altogether. And that’s exactly what I wanted to achieve with this experiment of #elsuahackstwitter.

In order for me to be able to conduct this experiment successfully though I had to continue running a parallel one I eventually got started with a while ago already and with some very good results altogether. I had to open my Twitter Direct Messages to everyone. Yes, that is right, if I was going to stop following everyone sending a direct message without opening them up first would have been a challenge. So before I got things started with that I opened DMs to everyone and played with it over the course of a few weeks to see whether I would be constantly abused by this new capability with lots of spam from whoever.

And the results from that other bold move have been, if anything, rather surprising, because contrary to the perception from everyone else out there, I haven’t been spammed to the point where I’d be needing to turn it off. Currently, I am getting about 1 DM per week unsolicited from anyone whom I typically don’t even know. Very doable, if you ask me. And now that we no longer have the 140 character limitation for those DMs even all the better! I can now send DMs to folks without having to use multiple 1/N messages to get the overall message across. And it’s also working very well. Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t even come close to the 10k character we are allowed to share across in a direct message on Twitter so far, and I doubt I’d ever come close to it. 

What Have I Learned?

So, with all of that said, let’s do a quick recap of the overall experiment I have been running with #elsuahackstwitter:

  1. I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter and instead rely on three Public Twitter Lists (I will blog about them in a follow-up entry to explain what they are and why I picked up the names for them that I did)
  2. I opened up my Twitter Direct Messages, so everyone of the potential 300+ million Twitter users could send me a DM, if they so wish to.
  3. I love the now expanded 10k limit for direct messages and for a good simple reason: I am still doing #noemail every single day, I deleted my Facebook account over 5 years ago, I deleted my LinkedIn profile nearly 18 months ago, I am currently going through a hate relationship with Google Plus (As I have recently talked about), so I was running out of options to exchange messages longer than 140 characters. Yes, I know, I am weird, but who isn’t, right? heh

Anyway, over the course of the first few weeks, I took plenty of copious notes (on the side) about what I was learning along the way with this experiment. I have shared a good number of them already under the hashtag #elsuahackstwitter on Twitter itself. 45 in total, as of the last count, and there may well be some more coming up to round up on 50. We shall see. Since I am not too sure how long they would be there anyway, that is, on Twitter, I thought I would add them all to this blog entry as well. Each and everyone of them, why not? More than anything else to remind me of not only what I learned about it, but also how I (and others) felt about it as well.

I will probably just share a single one-liner, or two, hopefully, not too long, for each of them and, where needed, and for very specific reasons, I may be able to pick up some of them and expand them further in upcoming blog posts over the course of time to explain some more about them and why I wrote what I wrote in the moment.

So without much further ado, here is what I learned, over six weeks ago, from having unfollowed the 1220 people I was following on Twitter back in the day:

  1. People I used to follow back in the day started to follow me back again once I unfollowed them. I haven’t followed them back again, of course, so they are still in one of the three public lists I put together. I guess it highlights the power of sending signals across as social gestures 🙂
  2. Number of reciprocal unfollows was rather significant in the first three weeks (About 10% of those 1220 folks). Ouch! My ego hurt and a lot! Oh, yes!, it was also part of the experiment to figure out how my own ego will react from being brutally unfollowed the moment I did as well. Very emotional at first, but, lucky enough, it’s now dead, for good.
  3. Originally, I decided to create a Public List with all of those 1220 folks. In doing so I knew it would be sending out a notification (another social gesture), where I’d be pointing to a tweet which explained what I was doing. The unexpected result: A few folks (about 25) subscribed to the Public List itself. It felt weird.
  4. I knew I could unfollow everyone with a single click using a Chrome plugin, but, instead, I decided to unfollow everyone manually, one by one. Soon enough I was immersed on a superb trip down the memory lane of the folks I used to follow from over the years (I can highly recommend it, for sure!), and whom I am still in touch with, but also others where the contact was no more. I guess it was time to unfollow for good, I suppose. Life goes on, for all of us 🙂
  5. As mentioned above in #3, by creating that public list of those folks I used to follow, I was exposing my own timeline and making it public to everyone for the first time. Before, it was just too cumbersome to do so. Now people could take a sneak peek into what I am getting exposed to myself daily. And that is still happening today with the three public lists I created and that I will be talking about in a new blog entry.
  6. Ever since I started with this experiment, lots of reactions & intriguing conversations have come through. Plenty of folks seem to be rather interested in the experiment itself, what I may have learned and whether it will work, or not. That’s why during the first three weeks the engagement in Twitter was just phenomenal, till things settled back in on the fourth week and we are now, once more, back to normal.
  7. Apparently, adding people to Public Lists allows them to automate a response back to you. Who knew? Oh, yes, that deserves an Unfollow for good! That was my first reaction AND action. Pretty much like when you generate an auto DM response if I would start following someone. No, thanks! Not interested in interacting with bots, but with humans.
  8. Was it something I said? 🙂’ eventually came about with a smiley at the end. I knew, from other folks doing similar experiments that this reaction would come along. I was ready for it 🙂 Like I said, folks, it’s never been personal. At least, from me. It’s about finding a way to redefine how I use certain social tools. Nothing more, nothing less. And this time around Twitter was the chosen one. Not you, as individuals. 
  9. This is perhaps one of my favourite highlights from the whole experiment, the fact that I got exposed to a whole bunch of great memories while going through each unfollow manually. Remembering the when, the how, the why, the what for, the good fun. It’s amazing what 8 years of building your networks through Twitter can do to your brain. A highly recommended exercise for real!
  10. Apart from the initial rush of reactions from different people, there were a whole bunch of other folks who decided to use other social gestures to acknowledge what I was doing. Indeed, lots of those additional responses came by as Favourites from the original tweet to share a gesture of awareness, perhaps, even consent to the experiment. I surely loved the succinct method of engagement, as it confirmed the signal ‘Hi there, I know what you are doing, go ahead and enjoy it. It sounds interesting…’
  11. The word ‘friend’ also came up. And it was coming from a good friend of mine, too! ‘Yeah, you know, but we were friends all along, right? Right?’ Oh dear. No exceptions! 😀 (Yes, we will still be friends, as I know plenty of other places, whether offline and online, where I can find you, don’t worry!)
  12. First issue I bumped into, I still haven’t figured out just yet, is how to handle Private Twitter handles as Lists can’t follow their tweets 🙁 Apparently, you need to follow them, they need to approve your request and off you go, but with lists following people with private accounts is a dead end. So long, folks! Sad. Very sad, indeed. But, like I said, this was an exercise of no exceptions. Unfollow everyone.
  13. Something interesting I learned about setting up the right expectations, so things wouldn’t come up as a surprise: Creating a Public List to alert folks was a hit! A keeper! People were informed ahead of time of what I was about to start and became aware what was going on, without having to get asked multiple times what was going on …
  14. Some folks indicated they didn’t like being ‘an experiment’, after all. This was probably triggered by the name of the initial Public List I used: ‘Unfollowing Experiment‘. Lesson learned for next time around: avoid using the word ‘experiment‘ at all costs!
  15. Another favourite highlight and key learning is how, all along, it’s been a rather emotional experience for me, but also for some of the folks I used to follow. Somehow it feels like detaching one self from something, or someone. Will it come back after a while? I don’t know, but, originally, this was part of the experiment in terms of finding out for myself how much of my own ego was driving those Twitter interactions in the first place vs. everything else. It felt like being an orphan at first, for real! But then again you get to shake off that ego and move on to better things, i.e. the conversations. And I can now confirm that six weeks later, that emotional detach is no longer there. 
  16. Your Twitter home timeline becomes, all of a sudden, a weird thing on its own where only your own tweets will show along with recommendations to follow people who are already following you to entice you to build the network, again. One sided, really. Twitter needs to start getting their act together on Lists as it’s perhaps its most powerful, yet often ignored, capability. There is just so much potential that we haven’t discovered just yet about Lists…
  17. To my surprise and pure delight, there are already a number of people who are already doing exactly this very same thing of working with Twitter lists and zero following: Stephen Downes, a.k.a. @downes (See https://twitter.com/Downes/status/628575174309318656), Simon Calder, a.k.a. @simoncalder, as examples, etc., confirming that nowadays it’s very hard to be the very first one at doing something you think it’s new. There will always be someone way ahead of you, no matter what. And you know what is the best part? Well, it looks like for those folks it’s working out really well. Who knew?
  18. At the beginning, I was worried that several other systems I use on a regular basis to make the most out of Twitter would break, but so far I haven’t noticed any real impact from Nuzzle, Twitter’s email digest and bunch of other Twitter Tools, as they are based on my followers and not my following, apparently. Good news! Phew!
  19. If you are wondering about the number of new followers and whether it has started to decrease a little bit or not, I can definitely confirm your new followers count will drop off dramatically. As an example, overall, in the last six weeks I have had 236 new followers and 269 unfollows. It looks like if people notice you are not following anyone, you are not interested in conversing with anyone anymore and therefore only care about tooting your horn. Beep, wrong assumption. A quick check of the timeline, the Mentions and conversation threads will confirm whether you’re there for the broadcast or the engaging dialogue and overall conversation. I am much more interested in the latter, even if I decide not to follow anyone for that matter. The conversations will still flow along, if you care to dive in, that is… It just requires nowadays a bit more effort. That’s all. 
  20. An unintended (social) gesture I am re-discovering due to the experiment: using Favourites much more discretionarily as an opportunity to highlight ‘I’m here, listening, I haven’t gone away that far’. Eventually, showing I still care about what you tweet, no matter whether I’m following you or not. See where breaking off the mold was coming from? Who knew that Favourites could be used for that?
  21. Interestingly enough, plenty of people view Following as a personal touch, as a ‘connection’, even if they have never exchanged a single tweet with you! How weird is that? Seriously. When did it happen we all became just numbers in a counter?!?! Really sorry, but that’s not what, to me, makes up for a ‘connection’, if we have never exchanged a single tweet! Conversations are the new connections, I am afraid. That simple.
  22. Here is something that I wasn’t expecting either, and that I am finding fascinating to no end: those folks I know & have followed for a long long time haven’t said a single thing throughout all of these weeks about this experiment. Silence = consent? I don’t know. We are still conversing as much as we used to, although they all probably think I’m weirder than originally thought! Bless them for sticking around all along! 🙂
  23. Oh, and the so-called ‘Celebrities’ (those people with thousands of followers and following), as usual, will still keep ignoring you, just as ever, whether you follow them or not. It’s not their game. Their game is to keep bloating away their followers and following numbers even if they cannot longer even grasp what’s going on around them. But here is a little secret: they will never admit to it, but, they, too, make heavy use of Twitter Lists. It’s how they keep ignoring vast majority of what goes around while they focus on rather small niches. Off they go … Pretending is their currency, apparently. Not ours. 
  24. In case you are wondering what Twitter tools I am using to handle my Lists, so far the one that rules them all, at least, for me, is Tweetbot (On the Mac) or Tweetbot v2 & v3 (on my iPad & iPhone, respectively). You can make a single list your new home timeline and then work with the others as additional ‘sections / columns’ with the overall UI and quite like that approach, specially, when travelling on my iPhone. It’s like, all of a sudden, I have gone from a single timeline to three of them: one for each public list. I have said this many many times in the past, but it’s worth repeating: I love fragmentation. Helps me make better sense of the world around me, including Twitter, for that matter.
  25. It’s probably hard to believe, but using Public Lists makes conversations more organised and focused, therefore much more productive, and effective and overall much more engaging. To the point where two or three weeks into the experiment I started to question why go back then? One of the biggest issues with Twitter’s Following timeline is that it’s got a limit, imposed by the system, whereas with lists I am the one who sets the limit, helping me decide what goes and what doesn’t, what I read and what I don’t. Finally, the Personal Learning Network is defined by the end-user, not by the system.
  26. Roughly on the 4th day, after a few hectic days of full throttle, non stop, conversations, peace and quiet, finally, came back. Very much needed and appreciated, so I could catch up my breath and come back to business as usual 🙂 Here is the thing though, if you are going to start doing something similar, set aside plenty of time, because you will be spending that time having plenty of conversations to explain, and somehow justify, why you are doing that and what you expect to get out of it. Get ready! Be prepared for the adrenaline rush and constant beeps.
  27. Oh, remember the good old days when we used to blog on a more or less regular basis and we didn’t care much about vanity metrics, but about conversations and ideas we shared across? That’s what I want back. After all, Twitter is all about microblogging, right? It was never framed as micro-following (or be followed), so why keep bothering with it eventually?
  28. By focusing so much more on conversations nowadays, it means I have to get my own act together and become more effective in terms of what content I get to share. It’s no longer oversharing for the sake of oversharing, but sharing with intent, with a purpose, that one of starting a conversation, of sparking an idea through dialogue, not just sharing across to demonstrate my presence. It’s the main reason why I never cared about being on Twitter constantly, or automating my interactions, or just simply pretending I was constantly living there. Back then, I wasn’t, and I am not going to start now either!
  29. Another intriguing highlight from this experiment so far is how it is making me question more and more by the day whether I’m valued because of what I know and share across through conversations and interesting links or who I am: one more number in a follower / following list? Somehow, I keep wanting to fight the notion I am just another number. No, I am not. I am a human being with an eagerness to learn through dialogue, through conversation. Curiosity will never be replaced by a number. Not today, not ever.
  30. For the record, and perhaps I’m writing this down once and for all, emotional blackmail will never work on yours truly. Ever. The ‘Why did you unfollow me after all of this time we have been together? I would have never done that to you’ is never going to work, specially, if a couple of days later you end up being the one unfollowing me as punishment. I’d rather prefer to quit Twitter altogether (or whatever other social tool) and move on. Please, please, don’t play that game. It never ends well. That is not how you should build your social capital and your networks, regardless of the digital tool you make use of. 
  31. Moving on to the next highlight, but still, perhaps, somewhat related: What’s more valuable eventually from our ‘relationship’? A conversation where we both learn something new, or, at least, give it try, or my following you? If the latter, really? I mean, seriously? Convince me otherwise, please. Again, we are not numbers, we are people, human beings, thriving in dialogue and always keen on wanting to learn more and more by the day. 
  32. It’s been, if anything, a liberating experience altogether, because of tweets like this one:
  33. Or this other one: 

  34. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have realised I am now much more conscious and aware of my own use of social gestures, like Likes / Favourites, Add to Lists, Mentions, etc. etc. More engaging altogether. It helps me bring forward, time and time again, a specific purpose of what I want to get out of Twitter by not being in there just for the sake of it, but always try to add some additional value others may as well benefit from, not just myself. That, to me, is where the magic happens.
  35. This is definitely one of my favourite highlights from the whole lot. By having moved my interactions into Lists, Twitter has turned itself to be pretty much like Slack where a List becomes a channel. No vanity metrics, just conversations, just learning, just work. How many people do you follow, or follow you, in Slack? Exactly what I mean! Just perfect!
  36. Earlier on in this blog entry I mentioned what an emotional experience it has been altogether. One other thing I can add though is that it helped me learn, probably the hard way, how to let go of my ego from the vanity metric and think of Twitter as just another collaboration, conversation and learning tool, pretty much like Slack, blogs, face to face, etc. where vanity metrics are just non-existent. After letting my ego go, and be torn down to pieces, I feel I’m, finally, getting the better of me out there as I keep using Twitter more purposefully and with plenty more intent, that one of adding value to the overall dialogue without expecting anything in between. If it comes, it comes, if it doesn’t, that’s fine, too. Time for me to work harder on it. 
  37. Six weeks have now passed and after having adjusted to that new flow of timelines, to having let go of my ego forgetting about the vanity metrics and, frankly, after enjoying the overall Twitter user experience ever so much more, my initial gut feeling is there is a great chance I’m going to stick around with the exclusive use of Lists, although next step would be to create 3 different public lists and group people in there, so they can see how I see them based on perceptions of our interactions. Six weeks later, those public lists are already up and running, even though it was quite a challenge to come up with names that would be both relevant and non offending at the same time and, judging from the reactions from people, it looks like the choice of words was just right: Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From (In an upcoming blog post I will detail further how each of them is positioned against one another to build up my new Twitter timeline(s)) from scratch.
  38. I am getting close to the end of highlights and key things learned with this experiment and I think I am starting to come to terms with the fact that perhaps what I really wanted to do, all along, was to, eventually, disrupt not just my use of Twitter, but also everyone else’s of those whom I followed and see how we would all react collectively about something we might have never experienced ourselves, and see if it would have something to bring forward on to the table. For instance, a big question that keeps coming up in my mind is the following: imagine if Twitter would not have followers / following and not even show it, would you still use it daily? And if so, what’s stopping us from jumping forward and destroy Twitter’s elitism of super power users that keeps deterring new comers from jumping in and participating further along? We must make an effort in helping democratise the tool again by engaging in conversations and topics of interest vs. being purely driven pretty much by our very own bloated egos than anything else. 
  39. There have been tons of different reactions from folks over the course of last few weeks, so it’d be difficult to try to summarise them all. However, there is one in particular that pretty much nails it for me in terms of what I am trying to do. It comes from my very good friend Anne Marie McEwan (a.k.a. @smartco) who tweeted back in the day: ‘You are just paying attention to people in a different way’. And that is exactly right! Now, how many people can, actually, say that? When was the last time you read your entire timeline of wonderful tweets, insights, thoughts and ideas coming through? Yes, I know, I know, it’s just the river of news and we dip in and out as we may see fit, but, seriously, when was the last time you did that vs. just tooting your own horn and move on to the next thing;-)? And then we still wonder as to why people don’t read our tweets any more. Probably if we would make the effort to read theirs and engage accordingly, we may get some of that back as well… Who knows … 
  40. Here is another key learning that took me a while to digest and make some sense out of it: using Lists forces me to be more human, more conversational, focusing on people and what they share rather than just interactions, transactions, even, of tweets flying by. Somehow, the world of Twitter has stopped for me from pouring away like a firehose, to then re-gain a certain pause where I’m enjoying much more what people share across and have a better way of reacting accordingly adding my two cents worth of value, where I possibly can. Boy, I can assure you, if anything, how the massive quality of the conversation has hit a higher notch of awesomeness. Food for the brain and for the soul altogether! Just brilliant!
  41. Here’s another key insight shared across that describes pretty much the shift some of us have gone through while embarking on this new exciting journey: 

  42. Ohhh, and did I tell you how much people do appreciate being put in Lists whose names AND descriptions mean a whole lot more than just vague concepts, or over hyped buzzwords and lots of mumbo jumbo (i.e. gurus, ninjas, #socbiz, experts, etc. etc. )? Show them how you care and there is a great chance that they will be caring back in return. Just saying … 🙂
  43. Moving to Lists, if anything, has resulted in helping me focus so much more on Learning by Topic & than Learning by Following XYZ. Learning becomes more intentional and resourceful, as one idea sparks another, then another, and another one, and, before you know it, you are down a wonderfully spiral of no return that may help you achieve something you just didn’t expect all along from the beginning. Oh, yes, the magic wonders of serendipity, in case you are wondering out loud, are still pretty much intact, or, if anything, enhanced tremendously.
  44. Now, with all of this said, there is a bit of uncertainty, a rather mysterious one, but one of wonder and edginess. Why? Well, you no longer know for certain who is following you or not, who adds you into Lists or who isn’t, because people can very well add you to their public lists, or, to their private ones, which makes it even more interesting, as it results in embracing uncertainty by which the focus is the overall learning experience itself: Can I learn something from what you share when we both hit the conversation without knowing each other who is who and how we might be connected? I quite like that unexpected effect of conversations you never know where they will take you till you bump into them and dive right in. 
  45. And, finally, one final insight, which is perhaps the most rewarding so far, from what I can tell. In that exercise of becoming more observant of how people get to use Twitter around you, one can’t but notice, how, with learning by doing, after a short while, people start doing their own thing with lists, sort their following, conference speakers, attendees, folks they usually hang out with, etc. into lists. Proving, if anything, that walking the talk when trying to influence a change of sorts in other folks, actually, works! Each and every single time. How cool is that?!?

And here we are, coming close to the end of a rather long blog post that pretty much tries to explain what I have been up to last 6 weeks of running an experiment on Twitter that has certainly helped me gain new perspectives in terms of how I view certain social networking tools. Perhaps there is just one last question waiting for an answer at this point in time, I bet, from all of you: Will I go back and start following people on Twitter or will I stick around in this brave new world of human relationships and conversations rather than pure metrics and numbers? 

Well, if I judge by how much my own perception of Twitter, and how I make use of it on a daily basis (Remember, it’s still my number #1 social networking tool out there on the Social Web), has shifted for the better since I first got started with this experiment, I guess I can now conclude with these few words to try to answer that question: Yes, the Unfollowing Experiment is no longer an experiment. It’s my new reality. It’s how I plan to continue making use of Twitter from here onwards, more than anything because it helps me, tremendously, to up the game in working out loud, and therefore become more effective at what I do, and even more so than ever before (I will explain what I mean with this in a follow-up post) and, essentially, because it’s helped me understand how social networking is a whole lot more profound and soul feeding than just a meagre, worthless vanity metric. Twitter may well be the place where connections go to die. To me, Twitter is where a bloody good conversation (or two) just begins … 

Want to join me? 

Worth while sharing it along?
2 votes


  1. For anyone to be concerned about the number of followers, friends, contacts, etc. misses the point of networking entirely. It is not the quantity, rather the quality. It is not the title, rather the reciprocal contribution. It is not the frequency, rather the authenticity. “We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through.”

    1. Hi Dan, many thanks for dropping by and for the great contribution into the conversation! Way cool! That’s exactly the point I was trying to demonstrate with this no longer experiment but a new reality of exploring how social tools can be used perhaps in a smarter way. With the focus not so much on the followers, but on the following side of things.

      We keep getting distracted by those vanity metrics that make us go blind in terms of how we focus on that reciprocal contribution while we should focus, instead, on the overall quality of the conversation and dialogue for each and everyone of us to learn from. I bet you can be as authentic as it can get without having to follow or be followed in any given social networking tool and still enjoy it pretty much like everyone else if not even more so! At least, that’s what I have tried to prove the last 6 weeks since I got started with #elsuahackstwitter and the experience has been tremendous, more than anything else, because after 8 years of heavy, daily use of Twitter I’m now, finally, and at long last, capable of ‘seeing each other through’.

      Thanks again for the great feedback and for dropping by!

  2. Big Thank you for testing this and giving us such a great summary. There are so many ways to connect to people today – funny that “Blog Comments” are still lacking way behind all other methods, while they are the ones who are “handed over to the author” not any platform (for self display)
    I highly value your experience in my seek of a healthy handling of Social Media – and I will keep following for sure 😉

    1. Hi Harald, thanks much for dropping by and for the kind feedback comments as well! Indeed, there are so many ways to connect to people that we probably no longer need to justify our followers / following anymore. What’s the point of falling into that vanity metric if I still have your phone number, your IM credentials, your other social networking profiles, even your email address and can contact and reach out to you those other ways? It’s kind of pointless, really, in terms of how I see it how we keep focusing on such meaningless tactics when there is a whole world of awesomeness out there waiting to be explored through conversations and dialogue, pretty much like we have been doing for the last 21 years with blogs and their comments. Yes, it may well still be very primary, but it works.

      The conversation is there, always has, and in most cases, it’s that dialogue that makes the blog post even better. That’s what I keep missing from social networking tools like Twitter and I am glad to have started the experiment and put together this write-up to show and demonstrate how it’s change not only how I engage through social networking tools, but also myself as a person, which is perhaps a much more profound change than whatever I could have anticipated.

      I appreciate the kind feedback comments and I surely look forward to the next conversation in whatever the medium that will be taking place! I know where you live digitally speaking 😉 hehe

  3. Elsua that’s a great detailed analysis. I particularly appreciate your lead in keep experimenting and seeing what few folks are seeing.

    If I understand well what I read between the lines is the suggestion to all Twitter users to release the ‘follow’ trigger and organise more their reading and interactions in lists, hastags and specific users.

    Isn’t it the same principle that made you dropping the inbox that ruled everything towards a multiple and rich variety of social interactive tools?

    To me the learning point of #elsuahackstwitter is that from my honest low twitter usage I think I got inspired by you public lists. I feel I was looking less and less at my twitter stream mostly because more than half of it had zero useful information in it.

    So thanks for sharing and keep experimenting.

    1. Ciao Lele! Thanks ever so much for the superb feedback and for dropping by! I greatly appreciated the kind feedback and glad this blog entry was helpful to understand what I was up to with this particular experiment. You have understood it quite well, it’s essentially about whether there is an opportunity to define a new way of interacting with Twitter not necessarily focusing on those who you follow or who follows you, but, better dive into the conversations through the use of lists (and hashtags) based on topics, not necessarily just people, although they are also part of the mix 🙂

      It’s pretty similar to when I got started with #noemail more than anything else because I felt I was no longer getting much value on my single Twitter timeline and decided to provoke a change that would allow me to be in more of control of the flow of tweets at my own pace, not the systems. That way, through Lists, I can now feel pretty much like a true collaborative, networked environment where I dive in where / when I want to, and participate in multiple conversations I design myself through the creation of those lists. It’s more contextual and effective in terms of defining what I want to converse about, learn and apply to my day to day work.

      Glad the experiment may have helped you redefine a new way of working with Twitter for you. Let’s know how the new way works out for you and look forward to reading further along on it in your blog. Thanks a lot, once again, for the lovely feedback comments! Appreciated.

  4. Thanks for this, it’s very interesting to see the first analysis of the whole experiment. It’s inspired me to play around with lists more, even though I’m not ready to go the whole unfollow route.

    And I admit I did get a buzz when I saw you’d added me to one of your lists. (That ego thing again!)

    1. Hi Louise, thanks a million for dropping by and for the wonderful comments. I’m glad the experiment I have been conducting has inspired you to look into how you can make more effective use of Twitter Lists and see if it would work for you and everyone else as well. It was part of the purpose of the experiment to prove the potential of a feature that, to me, is one of the most self-empowering, yet, often ignored, capabilities from Twitter itself, where the end-user is back right at the centre of the interaction / engagement equation. I am not expecting folks to go to the extreme of 0 follows, but, at least, to play with some of the options, so it looks like that was achieved 🙂 heh

      RE: ego thing, I knew it! I have the very same thing every time someone adds me to a certain Twitter List (public) and what not, but more than just the vanity metric is that, depending on the theme, topic, naming of the list, etc., it adds a bit of extra (gentle) pressure to make up good for it, as to represent that list well enough in terms of both the purpose and intent of sharing tweets across that could match that naming. And I quite like it, because it helps me anticipate more signals than noise and that can only be a good thing in terms of how we connect, share and learn together, don’t you think?

      Again, thanks a lot for the feedback and glad you enjoyed reading through the article. Way cool!

  5. Thanks for sharing this initial analysis, I’ve been following the “experiment” and it’s inspired me to rethink how I use lists, and now I’ve signed up for slack as well.

    And I admit – I did feel a small buzz when I saw you’d added me to one list. (We all have egos!)

    Looking forward to seeing the experiment progress.

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