Over the last few weeks I have been asked several times about how are things moving further along with my experiment in Twitter around #0Following and since it has been a bit over a year ago when I last published an article explaining what that experiment was all about and what I was learning from it at the time, I think it’s probably a good time to do a bit of a follow-up today and explain what has happened in between. Of course, over the last few months there have been tons of things I have learned from that experiment itself, on top of what I wrote about in that specific blog entry, but there is one in particular that I enjoy the most and that is the fact that it is no longer an experiment per se, but essentially how I get the most out of Twitter itself nowadays: still heavily involved with #0Following by relying on Public Lists, but this time around with an additional twist. Let’s see it…
Indeed, while re-reading through ‘Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment’ I realised that everything I had written in that article is still pretty much accurate and rather relevant, a year later, going from the initial reasons as to why I got things started with it in the first place, to evaluating plenty of the things I have learned throughout that experiment now becoming a new reality ever since, in terms of how I get to use Twitter on a daily basis. So in case you may have missed it and if you are keen on reading further along how it all started and what kind of impact it has had so far in yours truly, that article would still be a really good start on this particular topic.
However, there has been a good number of new different things I have learned that I would want to include in this follow-up blog post, perhaps as an opportunity to reflect myself on how Twitter has managed to change some of my habits as well as myself, but also to share some additional insights with everyone out there who may be interested in pursuing a similar experiment and find out, beforehand, what to expect and maybe evaluate whether they should be jumping the shark, just like I did, or maybe not, just yet.
So I thought that for this particular follow-up I will go ahead and share a number of different new items I have learned about over the course of time, with a short blurb describing them as well, of course, and see where we will end up. One thing I can share with you all is that once I have seen the light of a much smarter way of using Twitter through public lists alone it’s rather tough to go back to anything else for that matter, so I haven’t. Now, mind you, this system of #0Following works for me, and not necessarily for all of you out there. So this blog post is not intended, at all, as an opportunity for me to convince you all about how you should use Twitter from here onwards. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity for me to showcase how else can Twitter be used for, eventually, and to judge for yourselves whether it’s a system that could work for you all or not. Nothing else. I know I am benefiting from it tremendously, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it would have the same effect with you, unless, of course, you give it a try for a good few weeks and then decide to stick around with it, if at all. For now, it’s just my overall user experience of how I get to use Twitter on a daily basis, so please do take this article with a pinch of salt or two as well. So, let’s go ahead and do it!
Here’s what else I have learned about my Twitter #0Following experiment for the last year or so:
- Open Direct Messages: By far, it’s one of my favourite capabilities from Twitter, as it allows everyone out there with a Twitter ID to reach out to me, via a direct message, without having to worry whether we follow each other or not. It just works, pretty much like some other traditional tools we have been using for decades, like *cough* email *cough*. So that need to follow someone so that they can send you a direct message is no longer there. It’s a window of opportunity into starting off a conversation without having to worry too much about additional quirks. It’s even easier than using email itself, because in order for me to send you one I would need to know your email address, whereas with Twitter I just need to know your name. From there onwards I can reach out and get the conversations going, whether through the public timelines or privately, through direct messages. Just fire away!
- I still use my main three public lists: Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From. What has changed over the course of the last few months though is that I have become more ruthless with that task known as Twitter Hygiene, so ever now and then, roughly about once a month, to be more precise, I go through each of the lists and I do a very thorough and exhaustive exercise of questioning (to myself) whether a certain contact should stay in that particular list or not, or whether I may need to move it out due to the lack of interactions over the course of time.
Yes, those three lists, as you may have noticed already, have got a proximity rule in terms of importance to me, in the exact same order I have mentioned above. So, over time, there is always a chance I may decide to move folks from one list to another, or drop them altogether!, if I sense they don’t fit there well anymore. It comes and goes, as I am pretty sure it happens with all of you who as well may be using Twitter extensively. For me though that housekeeping activity has become a regular habit and I like it a lot as it helps me make sense of why I add people at all to those lists in the first place and I keep questioning myself time and time again to ensure those lists as worth the effort following further along for my own learning activities.
- Which brings me into the next item; something that I noticed was not happening much before is that now that I’m adding people into those public lists I do get to check out every single new follower I may get as an opportunity for me to try to figure out where I can place them, whether in any of the three already existing public lists or maybe on a private one. This is something I have found really interesting as part of this initiative, because when asking people about where I should place them, whether Collaborators, Cooperators or People I Learn From, to help me better understand where our potential conversations may well take us, the usual response I get is this one: silence!
Ouch! Not very helpful. So I, eventually, decided to create a new private list (accessible only to me) that I call Weak Ties where I add those folks. Then I usually spend about a month observing, watching, reading, learning about what they tweet about and at that point if I don’t know exactly where I could place them in the 3 public lists I just drop them out altogether and never come back. That list has gotten pretty big over the course of months with over 200 people at the moment, but, like I said, it’s some kind of temporary home for those folks I just can’t figure out where to place them from the start. Yes, I know, it would help me tremendously if next time I ask that question again I would get an answer, but it doesn’t happen often enough, unfortunately. Yes, I can understand how some people may be a bit shy initially, but then again why follow someone on Twitter if you are not very willing to converse. Just to lurk around? Hummm … maybe we need to re-discover the power of a tweet to reach out and connect, don’t you think?
- People keep subscribing themselves to those public lists: This is perhaps one of the most rewarding things I have learned from this experiment the entire time, more than anything else, because, just like I mentioned back then, it gives me the perfect opportunity to expose my several timelines and allow others to benefit from those folks tweeting along, just as much as I do myself, which is pretty neat if you come to think about the effort and energy put together to curate those lists accordingly. Right at this moment, there are over 50 people subscribed to any of those three given public lists, and I am sure, as I get to tweak them further, there will be more folks coming along. Best perk of it all? It’s that it allows me to also be open to other people’s public lists and subscribe to them accordingly as another social gesture of gratitude for their time AND attention.
- The number of followers hasn’t changed much in over a year tanking in, pretty much, at 12,250 followers, confirming, once again, no-one ever reads Twitter anymore, nor checks it on a regular basis, because vast majority of people still haven’t unfollowed me accordingly after I unfollowed them. Either they may not have noticed, or they can’t be bothered, or both. What I find really really interesting from this statistical item is that those folks who I have followed before the longest time (in the years!) are the ones who are still there, while the more recent followers, as soon as they find out I don’t reciprocate, they just unfollow again and move on. Twitter has been there for over 10 years and it looks like some good old habits never die, do they? The power of knowing or the power of not knowing influenced both by our ability to be patient enough to stick around or not and see what we may have to offer each other.
I know some folks have suggested in the past that just like I decided to unfollow everyone, I should also make my Twitter account private, so those 12,250 people would drop out altogether as well and could start clean as well. I thought about it for a while and then I realise it wasn’t really going to work very well because the moment I make my Twitter account private, that’s the moment I am locking myself out, because in order for me to receive DMs I’d need to follow those folks back again and I would need to approve their following once more, becoming rather impractical over time. So at this point I just leave it down to people to unfollow as they may see fit. What has been really refreshing to see though is how the number of public lists I used to be part of has increased nicely month after month resulting in plenty of other folks giving it a try as well and see how it would work, although some of them haven’t jumped into the next level of unfollowing everyone, which is just fine. One step at a time, I suppose.
- Conversations are ever so much more relevant and meaningful: indeed, because, in a way, I’m forcing a hard stop when I trigger conversations starters based on what people tweet that may have piqued my interest. It’s a pretty intriguing phenomenon, because, if anything, it confirms how little people use Twitter nowadays to engage in conversations vs. just broadcasting further along their own marketing messages, before they move on to the next thing, whatever that may well be. I keep getting told, as a result, they find that dialogue rather engaging, but shocking at the same time since it’s been months, if not years!, when they last exchanged a round of tweets with someone else, which I guess is just the reaffirmation I needed to justify why I got things started with this experiment in the first place.
Conversations are our most powerful tools we have got at our disposal and when talking about nurturing and cultivating our social networks through conversations it just can’t get any better than that. Ask yourself, as a Twitter user, when was the last time you had a great conversation through Twitter longer than 5 tweets with someone else? For me, 3 days ago, and that’s because I have been offline during that time enjoying the long bank holiday weekend that just finished.
- One of the activities I have noticed that has increased tremendously over time with my use of Twitter using publics lists has been that one of active listening to what people tweet. I could spend entire days where I won’t share a single tweet across, and yet I would get to read every single tweet that comes through any of those publics lists. It’s fascinating being part of those global conversations, but without you speaking up, just watching and observing how people behave and say the things they say, listening with intent, learning something new, reflecting further along on what just happened, and, as a result, reuse it accordingly for additional conversations at a later time.
Right now, it’s one of my favourite Twitter activities: resist the urge to raise my voice with just another tweet and instead listen to what people have to say and venture into figuring out why people tweet what they tweet during those times of the day. It’s a fun exercise, I tell you, if anything, because it also helps you tame your own insatiable beast always rather keen on oversharing everything with everyone specially about topics you think you know better than everyone else! I tell you, I can highly recommend it. I’d say I’m spending probably a lot more time nowadays just listening than engaging myself in some kind of Twitterrhea as much as I used to.
- That’s also probably part of the reason why curation has become a huge thing for yours truly. The fact I’m reading a whole lot more tweets than ever before allows me to find tons of pretty interesting articles, blog posts, reports, white papers and whatever other kind of publication from those I follow through lists that I then share across in a private Slack space I have set up specifically for that purpose: acting as my Personal Knowledge Hub of interesting links and tweets I have bumped into over time that I would want to either re-read again or reuse elsewhere at a later time.
We are coming close to the end of the year and I have already over 19,000 items accumulated. That may explain as well why plenty of the blog posts I have written in the last few months have got such overall rich linking activity, compared to previous years. And that’s something I am enjoying quite a bit, as it allows me to explore plenty of content I wasn’t even aware of from before, even if people don’t check for pingbacks / trackbacks anymore (Oh, boy, I miss those good old days of blogging conversations back and forth, and you?).
- Because I now have an opportunity to read more tweets from people I add into my lists, it allows me to connect the dots much more effectively, so over time I have become a huge fan of Group Direct Messages to introduce people I am interested in learning more from and apply what is known as ‘closing of triangles’. Essentially, when I read tweets from a couple of people who are sharing similar stuff, but who may not know each other, I’m a whole lot more proactive nowadays in wanting to make those connections, i.e. connect the dots, as I have mentioned above, and get them together. As a result of such activity we get involved in rather intense (private) conversations of really excited and passionate people who are interested in similar topics and who would want to learn plenty more about them through that dialogue! As an opportunity to use Twitter this way, that is, a learning and networking tool, it’s just brilliant!
- No spam, even with open DMs: This is really refreshing, and quite a relief, frankly. If I judge by the huge amount of spam I used to get in the past from Twitter, never mind from other media tools, this is one of the things I am most grateful about. Here’s an example: when was the last time you followed someone and right away, within a matter of minutes, you get an auto-direct message from them asking you to either follow them in other media tools or perhaps check their Web sites. Hallo? Sounds familiar? Well, I bet it does! That doesn’t happen when you add people into lists heh
And that’s just an example, amongst several others. Somehow, ever since I started using lists exclusively I seem to have gone under the spam radar to the point of not seeing anything coming through at all. Nice!
- Resisting the urge to automation: Nowadays, you may have noticed how vast majority of folks who are using Twitter, specially, power users, have jumped the shark making use of automation to publish tweets at specific times within their own schedules, or share retweets of their own content to resurface again into everyone’s timelines, or just simply automate certain social gestures so that it helps them maintain a certain presence even though they may not be there anymore. I am pretty sure you may have experienced such automatisation of how people use Twitter, or perhaps you may be doing some of that yourself.
The thing is that with #0Following there isn’t a single chance for me to automate my Twitter presence, and I quite enjoy that. You only get me, with all of my own perfections and imperfections, but still me, the human being. No machines involved. It’s my opportunity to keep Twitter human, social, even more so when bots seem to have taken it by storm to the point where they are even more active than we are. In a way, if you come to think about it, there is a great chance than when you tweet along you may be interacting with bots and you may not know it, nor realise it, till it’s perhaps too late.
The thing I have learned with this particular initiative is that sometimes it is good not to be there, to show you are human and that you don’t live in Twitter 24x7x365, because there might be other much more important things to do than showing you are there, even when we all know you aren’t. For me, at least, it is down to when I tweet, I am there, it’s the real thing, no automation, just myself, and somehow I quite like that living in the moment feeling, even within Twitter. Now, wouldn’t it be great if Twitter would have an indicator of automated tweets, or an early sign you are about to engage with a bot just before that tweet goes out?
- No bullying, trolling or hate speech, specially, involving a certain footballer, come through anymore. Before, when I used to follow people and had open DMs, I used to have some of the least interesting, colourful, foul tweets one can imagine, to the point where I ended up in a frenzy of blocking people like never before. It was crazy! I don’t know what happened though afterwards, but ever since I starting using just public lists all of that vitriol is now gone. For good! In fact, I can’t remember a single tweet exchange in over 14 months that involved any kind of behaviour associated with bullying, trolling, hate speech and what not. Oh, boy, judging from all the news items you keep reading on this topic, isn’t that rather comforting or what? Knowing you are heading back to Twitter and all of that foul discourse is missing entirely from the different timelines you may be interested in at that point in time. W00t!
- Despite 14 months since I have embarked on this no longer an experiment but initiative as to why I use Twitter the way I use it today with public lists, I still find I need to justify and explain to people myself why I still do it, as almost everyone out there is rather surprised and intrigued about why I have been doing it for so long, beyond proving the point it can be done, to how I can be such an active AND interactive twitterer when I don’t follow anyone back.
That’s why I added in my Twitter bio a link to the blog post explaining the experiment in detail. That seems to have stopped people questioning or wondering why I’m doing this. I know now I should have included it right from the very beginning and it would have saved me tons of typing across the board here and there. All good now though, I have learned from that experience if I ever embark on a new experiment or initiative a link in my Twitter bio to explain things further along will always be helpful. Alas, you will run out of characters pretty soon! Yikes! Anyway, don’t think there will be many new changes coming along in this regard from yours truly, so it may take a while before I need to updated it again.
- More self-aware of how I use Likes (❤️) not just to like stuff, but love stuff that comes through my Twitter Lists, which is terrific, because it helps me amplify certain social gestures along the flair of caring for what people have got to say and share a token of my gratitude to compensate for that tweet exchange or interesting insight or relevant links shared across. The fact that Like then gets retweeted into my timeline is just an additional perk I appreciate quite a lot, if anything, because some times people find it a bit surprising altogether the kinds of things I ❤️.
- I mentioned on the original blog post how my favourite Twitter client to work with lists only was Tweetbot, either on iOS or Mac. Over a year later, that’s still the case. In fact, I am now in v4 of Tweetbot for iOS and I still think it’s the most powerful Twitter client for mobile out there in the market. And on the Mac, the desktop app is just as good! Another reason why I treasure Tweetbot a great deal is that it doesn’t have all of the new distracting capabilities from Twitter that don’t add up much overall into the value add of the whole microblogging concept, which is pretty neat, because it just helps me focus on the conversations themselves and ignore everything else.
Ohhh, and did I tell you about its wonderful Mute button capability? That one that allows you to mute, within the app itself, not only bullying people trolling you around, but their tweets, as well as hashtags, certain keywords and other Twitter services put in place? Gosh, I love that mute button, I tell you. It’s one of my favourite features by far! Seriously, if you are looking for a client that would help you tame the noise of unwanted people and their tweets, including Twitter services and hashtags, Tweetbot is as good as it gets, for real!
- (Web) Celebrities’ nonsense: Many months have now gone by and I still get a bit ticked off when people with thousands of followers and them following many other thousands more keep following, unfollowing, following and unfollowing you (and on and on and on) hoping to trick you to become another number to count for in their vanity metrics. My goodness! What a nuisance!
I am really sorry to write this, but I have started to develop that healthy habit of blocking those people and keeping them away from my timeline. If all you are looking for is my attention, I’m not going to give you such luxury. You will blocked the moment you engage in such ill behaviour. Besides all of that, I still find it really hard to believe they do anything else other than broadcasting their own marketing mumbo-jumbo about how cool they are for hanging out with the cool kids versus engaging with the @lonelyboy15s in different conversations. Time is precious AND is a finite resource, so I lost the ability to tolerate such behaviour of only caring about you and your numbers. No, thanks! Like I said, you will be blocked!
- That also means that, over time, I have become something I never expected that would happen in this day and age of me, me, me where vanity seems to have killed the social media star. Indeed, ever since I started up this experiment that then turned itself into how I use Twitter on a daily basis, I have found out I’m easily ignored out by everyone else, helping me go by days and days unnoticed, as if I didn’t exist and while I know plenty of people would feel uncomfortable with that feeling I’m loving it. Why? Well, a simple word really to explain it all: freedom. No attachments. No exceptions. No expectations.
I know that this may sound a bit too cold from my side, but, believe me, it isn’t. It’s just a confirmation that the most intimate conversations / dialogue have now moved on into niche networks, typically closed. I guess that’s what happens when we continue to live in a constant state of surveillance (and approval) created by everyone else. That’s why we have a tendency to find new, comforting havens where we can hang out at ease without having to pretend or watch what we say out there. Remember groupware back in the good old days? Does it ring a bell why there is just such a massive uptake for messaging or chatting apps or apps like Snap with a rather unique proposition around sharing private, ephemeral content? Yes, I know, it’s the Web we are building today, although it’s not much different than what it was 20 years ago as far as our habits and behaviours are concerned, except, perhaps, it’s a different cycle altogether proving we may not have learned much in the last two decades, and counting …
- An act of rebellion at its best! Something I didn’t think I needed back in the day when I got things started, but that over time it’s transformed itself into an opportunity for me to become, once again, an outlier, the weird one, the rebellious one (with or without a cause!) highlighting how there may well be other more effective and engaging ways of connecting, learning, collaborating and sharing our knowledge with others, but that we may not have discovered just yet. Pretty much like I did with #noemail, or when deleting my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, or when I decided to return back to blogging at the risk of spending a lot less time in media tools and see what would happen, while everyone else is heavily involved with becoming the new media,
- Refusing to become the media: Yes, while everyone is attempting to become the new media, as mentioned above, that is, the centre of attention with those 15 minutes of Internet fame, I keep running away from it like the plague. You know, I have been online on the Internet since early 1997 and over the course of those two decades I have learned many things, but one in particular got stuck in my head very very early on in the day and I still get to practise it every day: never ever talk online about politics, religion or sports.
And guess what’s happening in Twitter nowadays? Yes, I know, I once said that Twitter is the ‘Pulse of the Planet’ and, as such, it’s becoming indispensable, but then again if you look into what Twitter was, say, 5 or 10 years ago, you would notice how all of those three themes I have just mentioned above have taken over everything that made Twitter a shiny new star of what was possible to make this world a better place for everyone. And much to our collective regret, Twitter has become nowadays the shining star to showcase our many various different dysfunctions as a global society.
Twitter is currently mastering how dysfunctional our diverse cultures may well be, regardless of wherever you may well be in the world. And because we enjoy that morbid sense of ‘you are always wrong, while I am always right and I am going to prove it!’ Twitter itself refuses to do anything about it, because that’s where vast majority of its income comes from nowadays: our very own miserable and meandering experiences demeaning others.
Yes, I refuse to become the new media. I refuse to think that all of these media tools are only good at overexposing our own misbehaviours, ill conducts, foul speech, hatred and what not. In the case of Twitter, for instance, it’s not the once rather tolerant, inclusive, understanding, diverse, empathic and caring Twitter I used to know, which is why you would understand now why I am ruthless nowadays in building Twitter lists that have got other purposes beyond that hate speech. It’s the connecting, the reaching out, the learning, the working together, the collaborating effectively in changing this world that still pretty much tick for me when making use of all of these social media tools and this experiment of #0Following is my attempt to do something about it.
- No ego: This particular item may well be the actual big shocker from the entire experiment / initiative on its own so far, because that one died, for me, back in August last year when I first got things started with relying on public lists alone versus the vanity metrics of who follows you and who do you follow, instead. And, frankly, it’s probably the best things that could have ever happened, more than anything else because, when I use Twitter, the focus, at long last, is no longer me, me, me but the ‘we’. Over the course of time, I realised I was starting to care more, and become even more empathic, not only about those people who have been an integral part of the lists I use, but also about the interactions, conversations and content they were sharing across, which meant that, all of a sudden, I went slow. I paused. I reflected on how and why people have a tendency to behave the way they do online through tools like Twitter. There was no longer that frenzy of trying to keep up with stuff, instead, things slow down enough that you start reading more about what others are creating and sharing across, more than anything else as an opportunity to show your appreciation for how people in your lists use Twitter and how you would want to either amplify or augment what they are doing by contributing your two cents. That’s the power of social networks, in a nutshell, when you start caring more about them than about your self, understanding that, eventually, you become the network, the network becomes you. It is just like going back to Twitter circa 2006 – 2007. Remember those good old days? I miss them, too!
- And, finally, something else I have been noticing as of late that I couldn’t find an answer for, and still haven’t, just yet, to be frank, which is how this whole experiment / initiative on #0Following has now, finally, managed to burn out the potential flame of stardom I may have enjoyed from back in the day, if you know what I mean, taking me back into that wonderful place of oblivion where no-one cares anymore about you, really, either about who you are or what you do, again giving me the opportunity of enjoying a new freedom, a new clean start of deciding for myself how I would want to continue making use of social networking tools like Twitter for the next decade, as I am about to complete this one.
It’s as if all of a sudden the pressure to conform, to try to fit in, to try to please each and everyone, to keep feeding the poachers, the leeches, the takers, the selfish who only care about them and so forth is now a thing of the past. Phew! What a relief! In a way, this whole experiment now feels pretty much like a rebirth. Of what? I don’t know yet, but somehow it’s starting to feel like I am about to embark on another exciting adventure of exploration, of playful good fun, of active learning, of apprenticeship, of self-discovery, as to what do I want to do to make sense of these social networking tools, while I keep questioning whether it’s all still worth it, or whether it’s perhaps now a good time to move on and never walk back.
In short, if anything, this experiment has managed to, finally, make me question and challenge my own core beliefs (and my place within them) of what I once thought was going to help us all change this world to make it a better place through the use of social technologies not only just for me, or you, but for everyone else for that matter. Do I have the final answer to those questions? No, I don’t, but that’s what makes it all worth while to me, the uncertain path, the unknown journey, and what we learn about one another along the way, not necessarily the final destination, whatever that may well be…
Yes, I know, I do realise that this blog post may have come out a whole lot more intimate and rather poignant on its own than what I may have thought about at the beginning of it, but I suppose I needed it to come out, I needed to reflect about what I have been doing for the last 20 years since I first went online out there on the Internet, more than anything else as an indication of a potential new, clean start, with no baggage, no legacy, no ties, no additional explanations, no expectations, no nothing. Where to? I don’t know. 2017 will mark my 10th year anniversary using Twitter and I guess that’s what’s left for me to explore, whether it’s now a good time to move on to other things and leave everything behind, or whether it’s a good opportunity to stick around hoping things will turn out all right eventually.
They say that the Internet was born a few decades ago based on a couple of principles: trust and procrastination. Well, we might as well sit tight then and start working much harder so that none of those two break down, eventually, because, whether we realise it or not, whether we like to admit it or not, we may well be going through a time nowadays when we may need to start questioning ourselves for what do we want to do with the Open Social Web we once helped build back in the day but that, finally, got destroyed a great deal much to our regret and, most importantly, what can we do to make it happen, once again, and restore it to its fully glory. Because, you know, so far, we are failing big time, and I suspect that unless we all do something about it, no-one will. The final question that’s left out there for me to reflect upon and that keeps lingering around all over the place would be the following: are we up for the task to reclaim back the Open Social Web they once took away from us all?
I certainly know we can, will we though?