My Information Existence

Throughout the day, as I come across interesting links, threads, articles, interviews and other things, I bookmark them, categorize them and into a vast cavern of information they go. All of this information serves as a sort of hyper-personalized search engine, but I’m the only person that has access to it. For over 15 years now, I’ve been collecting links to stuff that interests me. Some of them I read, some of them I skim, but most of them I stash away, only to reference later, if at all. To date I have 47,331 bookmarks, all of which represent me in some way. I feel like if someone or some machine wanted to really understand me, they would look at my bookmarks. 

This kind of all began in 2005 when I started using Delicious to bookmark and tag interesting things I came across on the web. To give you an idea of when that was, the second thing I bookmarked on June 14, 2005, was YouTube. 

My tagging has come a long way since 2005

I haven’t stopped bookmarking since. Yahoo! acquired Delicious and we all know what happened to companies acquired by Yahoo! in that era. Thankfully Pinboard, started by someone who worked on Delicious, came onto the scene in 2009. I exported all of my Delicious bookmarks and imported them into Pinboard, where they remain, but the service hasn’t kept up with my needs. As a result, I started using Raindrop about a year ago and have been really happy with the service. I have an IFTTT applet that pushes bookmarks from Raindrop to Pinboard for redundancy and because I like supporting Maciej.

Information Sources

Almost all of the information I consume comes from three main sources — RSS feeds, Twitter and email. RSS feeds have been, and continue to be, the dominant way I consume information. I use a service called Feedbin to store my RSS subscriptions and serve as a feed reader, for which I pay $50/year. There are “free” services and feed readers out there, but free is never really free and after Google Reader disappeared, it was a valuable lesson to us all that paying for things keeps them around. I use Feedbin in a browser tab when I’m using my laptop and on my iPad and iPhone, I use a $5 app called Reeder, which I like a lot. I currently have about 400 highly-curated sources, including popular websites, personal blogs, link blogs, Google searches and email newsletters. To give you an idea of what that means in terms of the volume of items several hundred feeds generate, I have just over 56,000 waiting to be consumed, tagged and saved. I will never get to most of them and I don’t care. 

Twitter is, perhaps, the most under-appreciated social network ever. I was one of the first few hundred people on Twitter and while my usage has increased over time, how I use it has changed massively. I’m a firm believer that the best way to use Twitter is to not follow anyone and instead use its Lists feature. I have a large-ish number of lists on all sorts of topics like breaking news, security and privacy, music, technology, IRL friends, Los Angeles, and so on. The greatest thing about it is you have access to the world’s experts in pretty much any field of interest you might have. When I come across a tweetstorm worthy of saving, I use a service called Threadreader to gather the tweets, save them to a Threadreader URL and then add a bookmark with tags to Raindrop. I generally bookmark the Threadreader URL as I find it easier to read than reading it natively on Twitter. Every time I heart a tweet, I have an IFTTT applet that saves it to Raindrop in a Twitter collection. 

Favorited for obvious reasons

Email has made a comeback since newsletters really started taking off. I don’t get a lot of newsletters in my email inbox. Most of the newsletters I subscribe to go directly to Feedbin. One of the coolest features is that you have an email address associated with your account, which you can use when you sign up for a newsletter. Hence, every time that newsletter is sent, it stays out of your inbox and can be read alongside everything else I read in Feedbin. Of the new newsletters that actually come to my inbox, I have a couple of link-heavy favorites. Dense Discovery is one of the most exquisitely curated newsletters out there. It definitely has a certain aesthetic and voice. I always look forward to saving it for when I know I can read through it entirely. I probably bookmark at least 60% of the links Kai sends. My other favorite is from Alexey Guzey and it’s called Guzey’s Best of Twitter, which is pretty self-explanatory.

How I Read

The two primary ways I read are on a web page in the Brave browser or in the Instapaper app. Brave is a Chromium browser, which means it’s based on Google Chrome, but you can think of it as a de-Googlefied version of Chrome that runs faster, behaves better and respects your privacy. The great thing is it can run Chrome extensions. One of the extensions I use to highlight quotes and passages on web pages is called Memex. I’m still trying to figure out how to integrate this into everything as there’s definitely some redundancy with Raindrop.io. Until I do, I’m fine doing a little extra copying and pasting. It’s a fairly extensible tool, so I’m guessing there is a simple way to integrate it, but I just haven’t had the time to explore this much.

Memex allows me to highlight things on web pages and save the text

I’ve used Instapaper since it launched in 2008. It really is the best, least distracting reading experience for articles. I’m able to save highlights as I read, similar to what Memex allows for. Articles are passively saved to my Instapaper through an IFTTT applet triggered when I save something to raindrop with the tag ‘toread’. I have nearly 13,000 articles saved to Instapaper and while it is somewhat of a black hole, I keep my subscription going because I really enjoy reading things more in Instapaper than I do on the web. 

Why Bother?

The big question is why do I spend all of this time and energy collecting and categorizing information. The boring answer is I enjoy learning and the ability to recall information that I don’t need to store in my own brain is magical. It also allows me to build and see relationships between disparate things through tagging. If I want to see all of the medical research on Parkinson’s Disease that I’ve come across, it’s simple. If I want to read over the latest research findings on COVID-19, I don’t have to use DuckDuckGo or Google. I look in Raindrop because I’m tracking it regularly. It really does feel like a superpower. Curators are the new creators, after all.

There is another, more existential reason I do all of this. It represents me in some way. It’s a piece of me. And while I’m currently the only one able to extract any value from the work I put into maintaining all this information, I’d like to figure out a way for it to be accessible to others as sort of a human-curated, micro search engine.

The Next Frontier

The next phase, which I’ve dabbled in a bit, is really turning more of this information into knowledge. The productivity space has become extremely interesting in the last couple of years. There is a new class of leaders building on the incredible foundation laid in the early aughts by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and a bunch of powerful new apps and tools. People like Conor White Sullivan, co-founder of Roam Research, Tiago Forte, founder of Forte Labs and creator of the Building A Second Brain course and Anne-Laure Le Cunff, founder of Ness Labs are people I learn from every day. I can’t remember a time when a piece of software changed my life the way Roam Research has. Tools like Readwise are changing the way people turn information into knowledge. It’s a great time to be swimming in a lot of information and I’m only just getting started with my ocean.

Enjoy Twitter More By Unfollowing Everyone

In this post I’m going to walk you through how to unfollow everyone and use Twitter Lists as a way to not only enjoy Twitter more, but to hopefully spend less time endlessly scrolling through your Home feed.

Since the pandemic began, I’ve tried to be more aware of my mental health. I spend a lot of time reading online and that has only increased since the pandemic started. Twitter has been the single most valuable resource available for keeping up with the progress being made on the pandemic. Twitter has allowed me (and the rest of the world) direct access to the scientific and medical community that are working on the pandemic. Because everyone in the world has that access, there’s also a lot of noise. It wasn’t long before I realized the noise was negatively impacting my mental health and short of quitting Twitter altogether, the fasted way to cut down on the noise was to unfollow everyone. On June 15 I did just that.

It’s a thing I have done on several occasions over the fourteen years I’ve been on Twitter. Every other time I did it, I would simply start over with a clean slate. This time was different. Over the past year I have been using Twitter Lists more frequently and figured I could unfollow everyone and switch to using lists exclusively. In a very short time, Twitter became an entirely different experience for me. I haven’t followed a single account since I unfollowed everyone, at least not in the traditional sense. I have, however, added a lot of accounts to the various lists I have.

Lists are an often overlooked and powerful feature that Twitter seems to under-emphasize. I don’t have much insight into the number of people that use lists or how they use them. I suspect it’s a small, nerdy cohort of people. I have a few public lists, but the vast majority of my own lists are private and they’re typically topics that reflect my interests or things I want to learn more about — productivity, COVID-19, technology, music, infosec, privacy, activism, etc. The best part of using lists is I see everything I want to see, in chronological order (if I choose), and almost nothing I don’t (including ads), unless I’m browsing the Home feed. This is how most people use Twitter and I think it’s how Twitter wants people to use its service.

The vast majority of people on Twitter are not going to take the time to curate and create lists, though to Twitter’s credit they make it pretty easy to build them. If you’re using Twitter in a browser, they even go so far as to suggest other people to add to your lists based on who is already on the list you are browsing.

Simply put, lists make the Twitter experience a lot better.

If you feel like Twitter isn’t working for you, find that it’s bringing up negative emotions and is otherwise having a negative impact on your mental health, I highly recommend unfollowing everyone and starting over with lists. Simply put, lists make the Twitter experience a lot better. I know the thought of unfollowing everyone can feel overwhelming. I’ve definitely felt that way too. I had moments of major hesitation, especially the first time I did it, but each time I hesitated less and this time I didn’t hesitate at all. I was so convinced lists were going to provide a better experience and they absolutely have. It has been so helpful, I decided to document how I did it so others could give it a try.

While it’s only two steps (with some sub-steps), I suggest reading all the way through the instructions, carving out some time for yourself and start working through the process. If you get stuck at any point, send me a DM and I’ll give you a hand.

Step 1: Make a list of accounts that make you feel good

I’m going to make some assumptions about your familiarity with Twitter Lists functionality. You may want to read through Twitter‘s easy-to-follow instructions in advance of starting this process.

Begin by creating a list that’s basically going to be your new Home feed. In my case, I call this list “Fresh Start”. Add people to this list that meet the following general guidelines:

  1. You generally feel something positive when you read their tweets.
  2. Most of their tweets do not contain commentary on news or current events (create a separate list for news).
  3. Most of their tweets are original and are not retweets (did you know you can disable retweets for individual accounts?).

Depending on the number of people you follow, this can be done pretty quickly or it can be done over time — come across a tweet that makes you feel good, add that account to your list. I always look at the accounts my favorite accounts follow.

Step 2: Unfollow everyone

This is a little nerdy and technical, but it’s easy if you follow the instructions step-by-step. I even made a screen recording you can watch before you start just so you know what to expect. This process should be done in a desktop browser and not on a mobile device.

  1. Open a browser tab and go to Jamie Mason’s unfollow.js project on Github. You’ll see a button that says “Raw” on the right side of the area that contains the code. Go ahead and click that button. You should just see the code in your browser now.
  2. Open a new browser tab and go to https://twitter.com/YOUR_USER_NAME/following where YOUR_USER_NAME is your actual user name on Twitter. For example, I would open a browser tab and go to https://twitter.com/bradbarrish/following.
  3. Once you’re viewing the accounts you follow, scroll down to the bottom. As you get to the bottom and you still have more followers, the page will keep loading more and more of the accounts you follow. Keep scrolling down until all of your followers are visible. Depending on the number of followers you have, this could take a little time and feel like a seemingly endless scroll. Stick with it. While you can technically skip this step, it will likely make the process more time consuming in the long run.
  4. Now that all of your followers are visible, open the developer console on your browser. How you do this is going to depend on your operating system and browser. Here’s a great article on how to do it on the three major browsers (Chrome, Firefox and Safari) on Windows and macOS. If you’ve never done this before, you might get concerned you’re going to break something. You won’t. If you skipped watching my screen recording, now would be a good time to watch, again, just so you know what to expect here.
  5. All right, you’re nearly done. Switch to the browser tab with Jamie’s code and select all (Command-A on macOS and Ctrl-A on Windows or just go to the Edit menu and select the menu option for ‘Select all’ if you’re not familiar with keyboard commands).
  6. Now that everything is selected (it should look like everything is highlighted, copy the code (Command-C on macOS, Ctrl-C on Windows or ‘Copy’ from the Edit menu).
  7. With the code copied to your clipboard, switch back to the tab that has all of your Twitter followers and click on the command line at the bottom of the developer console, paste the code (Command-V on macOS, Ctrl-V on Windows or ‘Paste’ from the Edit menu), press return on your keyboard and watch the magic happen. You may have to paste and run the code more than once, especially if you are following lots of people. Keep pasting and pressing return until everyone you follow is gone.

If you’re anything like me, it’s going to take some adjusting to not using the Home feed as your main way of interfacing with Twitter. Now is the time to start reflecting on your areas of interest so you can start creating lists for each of those interests. You can also follow public lists that other people create. When you create your own lists, you can determine if the list is public or private.

An easy starting point for your first list, aside from the one you created before you unfollowed everyone, is news. Even though I try to avoid news on Twitter, I do have a list that includes news publications, journalists, news networks and other accounts tracking current events and breaking news. It’s good to have a list that’s only for news because once you do, you can make a more conscious choice to look at news when you want and have much better control over the sources.

Congratulations, you’re now on your way to using Twitter better and hopefully being more happy doing so. My DMs are open, so if you have questions or any feedback, I’m @bradbarrish on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you. If you found this post helpful, I’d appreciate you sharing it on Twitter or elsewhere.

Thought the warm weather was going to help? Think again. Anyone want to predict what will happen when people are indoors more, say, in the fall or winter?

Selected Music From 2019

I put a playlist together that gathers some of my favorite music of the year. There’s always too much music to listen to, but I sure love trying. You can listen to this year’s playlist on Spotify or Apple Music. I put a lot of time and thought into the flow, so it would make me happy if you enjoyed it, at least once, in it’s intended sequence.

It’s always a bummer when good people leave a company, especially when you hired them and even saw them doing bigger and better things outside of the role you hired them into.