Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dipping into the Twitter stream

Poor LurbyJo (also known as Eve Chick) jumped onto Twitter today and soon posted a message to all her followers:
So sick! I thought I'd come play something but reading all 149 tweets I'd missed tired me out. Back to bed. o7
I replied with:
@LurbyJo you jumped into the Twitter stream & tried to take it all in & it made you sick! Just enjoy the stream at the point you jumped in
She replied:
@Alexia_Morgan I can't. I feel so guilty if I don't read everything. WHAT IF SOMEONE SAYS SOMETHING TO ME AND IGNORE THEM!?
It made me think about a problem that's common to many Twitter users - too much information!

The messages, updates and communication coming to us via Twitter can be likened to a 'stream of information', or a Twitter stream. Imagine it as a stream of flowing information. It's always flowing, always moving on.

When you're following just a few people, it's very easy to keep up with their messages, because there's so few of them. You might be able to check once a day, or even once a week, and still be up to date with the conversations or updates occurring since you last checked.

But what about when you're following dozens, hundreds or even thousands of active people all sending their updates via Twitter? You simply can't keep up, and to even try will just drive you crazy!

How to make it easier

The first thing to do is to check whatever tool you're using (Twitter itself, or Twhirl, Tweetdeck, etc) to see if anyone has @replied or direct messaged you since you last checked. You can browse them, even reply to them if you want to. They've made the effort to personally address you or reply to you, so it's always a good idea to do them the courtesy of engaging in communication with them.

The second thing to do is to browse back through people's updates, but not very far. You don't need to browse back through the hundreds or even thousands of updates people have made since you last checked! You really don't.

Take a dip into the Twitter stream

When you jump into a stream, you don't try to swim all of it. You don't need to! It would be silly, if not downright stupid, to try and swim upstream as far as you could go in order to enjoy what the stream offers you.

Wherever you dip into the stream is where you need to be to enjoy it. That's all.

You can relax and enjoy it flowing past you, you can splash around a bit, and engage in communicating with people at that moment. Then you can pull yourself out when you've had enough, and you can go off and do other things.

When you next check Twitter, you can see the replies people have made to the messages you made when you last jumped into the stream, and you can engage them in return. Then you can jump into the stream again to see what people are saying in the moment, and for however long you want to participate, before you jump back out again.

This helps you avoid information overload. It helps you enjoy the experience more.

When people send an update to their Twitter, they're not personally addressing you - they're just throwing out 'stuff' about what they're doing or thinking. You don't need to see all of it! You only 'need' to see what they're throwing at YOU, and that's with the @replies they send to you. Everything else is just flotsam and jetsam, floating in the stream.

That's the interesting nature of Twitter and the Twitter stream. You don't have to be part of it at all times; you can just jump into it every now and again and participate with whatever is happening while you're there, before you jump out again.

That's how I do it. There's just too much going on to take it all in, so don't even try.


  1. Twitter seems to inspire folks to spew a lot of pointless, uninteresting crap or (WORSE!) statements that are way beyond TMI. My approach is to dealing with the Twitter flow is to treat it like a news ticker. I take a quick glance once in awhile, reply to a few of particular interest, and ignore the rest. The only thing I consistently try to read or respond to are private messages. Plus, I don't follow that many people--mainly EVE folks, a few friends, and a few authors and artists I like.

    I don't feel even a little bad about stopping following people (even EVE pals) who tweet stuff that in large part is of zero interest to me. I've been confronted by people for having stopped following them on Twitter (or their blogs). This is annoying but also amusing. Who takes the time to actually pay attention to something like that?! *shakes head*

  2. I had the "too much information!" today whilst playing left4dead. Killing zombies is not a good time to here spaz constantly buzz me.

    Being the happy go lucky kinda guy that I am... I soon got to swearing and turned the bloody thing off completely.

    I'm with Mynxee on the whole stop following. I have done it a few times and am quite happy to do it again. I do this because I enjoy seeing what others say so don't wish to just see @replies.

  3. Twitter is like a party where you pop in and join the current conversation without trying to find out what everyone was talking about an hour ago.


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