Signal and Noise on Twitter

The Internet is riddled with distractions. Baby animals, cats, gifs, memes, little face mitt, more cats… the list goes on and on. As someone who is constantly connected to the Internet for most of the day, you need to find a way to block out the crap and find the stuff that matters. In radio, there is a concept of the signal vs. noise ratio. This ratio measures the good from the bad, the meaningful from the pointless, the brain fulfilling from the brain melting.


Twitter is single handedly one of the most important tools I use every day. It’s where I learn, it’s where I can take breaks, it’s where I get my news both national, local, and hyper local. Twitter is where I connect with friends, colleagues, mentors, co-workers, and family. Twitter is where things happen. However, this river of information can quickly become polluted if you’re not careful.

Curating who you follow is a huge part of keeping yourself free of distraction during the day or keeping on task. If your Twitter feed is consumed by tweets about babies, airport rants, lunch pictures, or just unimportant rambles, it’s time to reconsider that user’s status in your “following” queue. Since my active participation in Twitter, I’ve kept my following count down to an even number, 100. This simple number forces me to continuously refine my timeline and make sure I’m effectively utilizing the time I spend on the social network.

Consider the case of Jeffery Zeldman. For a time, he was a simple choice for me to make. His career history and status in the web community is legendary, so why wouldn’t I follow him? Here’s why I stopped. In addition to tweeting about web happenings, Zeldman also tweets a lot about his personal life. From happenings with his family, his company or his travels, I’m really not interested. This isn’t to say that it’s not interesting to others, I’m sure it is, and in no way do I mean to be insulting, but I just don’t care. So the question is, is it worth following him and enduring those tweets, in order to get the stuff I actually care about? The answer is no… and the reason is simple. Let others do it.

The great thing about Twitter is lots of people do curate their timelines and following list, it’s one of the things that makes the social network so great. When it comes down to it, if Jeffery Zeldman or Ethan Marcotte says something that I need to know, chances are that one of my other follows will retweet it. So, instead of following the father of web standards or responsive web design, you can follow the small time WordPress developer who, in the trenches like you, will likely offer better insight into your day to day.

This idea of signal and noise isn’t new, hell, its what 37Signals calls their blog. This concept is really important to my day to day, and applying it to Twitter is just a small portion of its effect. Can you think of other things we curate or refine? What are your Twitter best practices for following/retweeting/etc?

posted in: Best Practices

  1. Tom Shakely

    Riffing: I think a corollary to this might be that younger people seem to be more likely to curate (to actively choose) their television experience as well. I’m thinking about how older folks generally seem more content to sit themselves in front of their TV and just watch straight through commercials, bad programming, etc. as a way to kill time. The fact that you’re talking about curation on Twitter, for example, implies that you’re also valuing your time pretty highly — which is the antithesis of a lot of the late 20th century approach toward mass media. Culturally we’re becoming perhaps less shaped by national media and more intentional in our engagement with it. This is bad in the sense that it breaks down some of the glue of a national culture (i.e., being able to go anywhere in the old days and speak to someone knowing they probably saw the same headlines in the same papers) but it’s also a great opportunity if it means lower quality media will stop paradoxically rising to the top.

  2. shannon

    I find my followers/following to be manageable in the low 600’s and I feel like it’s an amazing marketing tool and it would be cut short if I were to dwindle that down to the 100’s. I agree that it’s a great idea to follow your peers rather than pseudo celebrities and the important messages will end up being passed along with retweets and the like.

    PS. I really like these best practice posts you’ve been doing.

    PS. Dachshund?

  3. Brian

    I start to get bored or indifferent to twitter when the quantity of tweets gets too high. I agree, it is difficult to wade through them all. Limiting yourself to 100 is an interesting way to keep the noise down but I wonder if it could also limit the intended experience. I also find that I tweet less these days. I grabbed an account early on. Maybe its just twitter fatigue. I have one friend who has over 32,000 tweets and still going strong.

    PS – Dachshund.