As part of revisiting my information diet, and prompted by this Twitter thread with Scott Jenson and Anil Dash, I embarked on a clean-up I had been putting off for a long time: A Twitter clean-up.
I used to clean up Twitter lists yearly or so, but at some point felt overwhelmed by the numbers. Now, with some solid advice by Anil here (2018) and here (2020), it was time to get to work.
The idea here was to be intentional about whose outputs I’d see by default. In other words, which accounts I followed still are in sync with what I do, with what I want and need out of Twitter?
I used a Glitch app called Tokimeki Unfollow (recommended by Anil in the first of the blog posts linked above), which is a super simple, if somewhat time-intense non-techy way to sort this out.
Going through the accounts I followed one by one in chronological order — starting at the very first accounts I ever followed back in March 2007 — I felt like I was engaging in time travel through past lives, careers and interests of mine.
Through these accounts I briefly glimpsed at the years I would spend a lot of time at early Web 2.0 conferences. Times I would get into a field like maker culture or the world of IoT. Months I would research digital journalism, or be involved in online election campaigning. I’d see whole networks unfold of the speakers of conferences I was curating at the time. I’d re-encounter accounts needed to use tech tools for managing information flow back in 2009, or those of businesses and initiatives long since discontinued. I saw at least one of a person who is long deceased, and many accounts of people who have left the platform years ago. Others were still active but I noticed I hadn’t talked to them in a decade.
I hit the “unfollow” button a lot. Every now and then I would also rediscover someone whose Tweets might have slipped by because they post rarely, or because Twitter’s algorithm wouldn’t surface them to me for some time of little direct interaction, or because they’re posting from an incompatible time zone. Those accounts were a true delight to find.
As I moved towards the present, I could feel my urge to hit “unfollow” grow weaker: These are account by people and organizations that have been more relevant to me more recently: None of this says anything about those accounts being “better” than the old ones, but as I grew into and out of certain interests and networks, so did they. Now, a lot of these former accounts have developed away from my interests, or my interests from them. It’s not a personal judgement in any way. Like a high school friendship, you can be friends, for real, for a long time, and then grow apart — no shame in that.
I also know that as I was hitting those “unfollow” or “keep” buttons a few thousand times, there were times where due to the interface and the unstoppable rhythm of hitting the “u” or “k” key I unfollowed a few accounts I would have liked to keep. I assume I unfollowed maybe a couple dozen folks by accident that way: I hope I’ll find or remember them again. That re-follow will be all the sweeter for it.
In the meantime, I can highly recommend it. Even now it’s already becoming clear that my Twitter feed is that much more signal than noise. And I still have a (private) list on Twitter of accounts that I deemed at one point or another worth reading. So if I ever feel like something’s missing, there’s always that list to go back to.
Until then, my Twitter stream is that much less busy, which feels about right as part of Project Clean Slate 2021.