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.

How I’m Using Twitter Now

Last night I decided to start tweeting again.

While I never really left Twitter completely, I largely took a break from it for the last 8 months. Last year I started being much more conscious of how I use technology and as part of that, unfollowed nearly everyone and stopped actively engaging with people on the platform. Having the distance gave me the space to think about if and how I might start using it again. So of course I made a list of rules for myself.

  1. Don’t open Twitter because you’re bored. As far as I’m concerned, the same goes for any social media app (or any other app) you open when you’re bored.
  2. Don’t keep Twitter open in a browser tab. This is like keeping Twitter on the home screen of your phone.
  3. Use Tweetbot on your iPhone and don’t place it on the home screen. Tweetbot is the best designed Twitter app you will find (for iOS), it has a chronological feed and is a pleasure to use.
  4. Tweet with positive purpose. Pretty self-explanatory. Don’t be a dick.
  5. Don’t overthink your tweets. Twitter was and is, at least to me, a platform well-suited for ephemera. I use TweetDelete.net to automatically delete my tweets after several days. I’ve seen tweets become a liability. True intent loses to perceived intent. No Thanks.
  6. Be open. Be Accessible. Leave your DMs open and respond to people, unless it’s the stalker salesperson that already emailed me and hit me up on LinkedIn.
  7. Don’t retweet often and never retweet without your own perspective or context. It’s easy to retweet and that’s by design. Use it sparingly. Use your own voice.
  8. Don’t follow a lot of people, especially people that retweet more than they tweet. Caveat: if someone is both interesting and is a habitual retweeter, turn off their retweets. I currently follow 137 people. That’s quite a few people and I should probably follow even fewer.
  9. Don’t follow people that talk a lot about themselves, news or politics. The exception here is when big, important news events are happening. I don’t need daily commentary on the news. I will go to trusted news publications for that if and when I want it.
  10. Use lists for people, topics or industries that you might want to read sometimes, but don’t want to show up in your main feed. The List feature is such a wonderful and under-utilized feature (because it’s hidden). Most of my lists are private, but I have many.

Special thanks to Patrick for a good, early morning exchange about Twitter in the Sonos office this morning. It helped me get more clear about some of my rules.

Going Back To Blogging

Image by Christophe Benoit under a Creative Commons license

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I’m consuming and participating in social media. The thinking is also related to my efforts to pay closer attention to how much time I’m spending on my phone, but I’ll save that for another post. I was among the first users of Twitter in 2006 and until the last few years, I really enjoyed it. The 2016 election was a big turning point on so many fronts, but I felt and witnessed it most acutely on Twitter. Make no mistake, even before the election Twitter had been struggling with an insane amount of hate and harassment on the platform. Many of us expressed frustration that Twitter didn’t seem to care, or at the very least weren’t willing to move quickly to address the issue. It’s clear they prioritize growth over all else and removing people from the platform doesn’t serve their business needs. I don’t believe they’ll have much of a business for much longer. But I digress. To put it simply, I’m just not happy when I use Twitter anymore. It makes me miserable. No matter what lengths I go to, I find it increasingly difficult to avoid vitriolic political conversations, noisy retweeting and hot takes on everything that’s happening in the world, every minute it’s happening. That’s not how I want to spend my time.

I’ve tried many things to see if I could somehow find the Twitter I used to love, but it’s so clearly gone that I’ve all but given up. Over the last year or so I unfollowed nearly everyone, added people I care anything about into public and private lists and set my tweets to delete every 14 days. I’ve been using Twitter mostly to share links with the few thousand people that follow me, the vast majority of whom do not engage with anything I post, so why bother anymore? The way I look at it, whatever small amount of energy and effort I put into Twitter is energy I could be putting into something that is mine, on a platform I control, that will live on as long as I pay the domain registration and hosting bills.

Up until today, the last thing I posted of any substance here was almost three years ago. Back when I started blogging, there were no social networks. Blogging was very social for me. I was going though my email archives this week and thanks to my digital hoarding, I have all of my blog comments in my email. Reading through a few of them, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic. It was nostalgia for the community and the conversation. I miss it. I used to experience it on Twitter, but that’s long gone now. I love writing for many reasons and I’ve continued doing it mostly in the form of journals that I don’t share publicly. I do miss writing for the web though. I miss the healthy feedback loop. I miss the conversations that can come from sharing ideas with other people. I’ve been scared to leave Twitter. I’ve been even more scared to start publishing on my own domain again. The thing that has really been holding me back from blogging again is what Dan Cohen refers to as ambient humanity in his post, “Back to the Blog”.

Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but the quote above really resonated with me in a big way. There hasn’t been any sort of technical reason keeping me from getting back to my blog. I’ve actually kept the blog alive all this time, if for no other reason than having it serve as an archive. Over the last year, I consolidated posts from other blogs that have disappeared, migrated posts from Tumblr and made sure to keep my WordPress installation up to date. I’ve had my own domain for nearly twenty years and throughout many of those years I’ve been publishing and now I think it’s time to return. Even if no one reads it, it’s about investing in me.

“There’s no more urgent reason to write. you’ll not only improve your communication, you’ll learn to think more clearly as well. The person who most benefits from your writing might be you.” — Seth Godin

As I’ve been thinking about beginning to blog again, I’ve been exploring Micro.blog. It’s is one of the more interesting efforts I’ve seen lately and I’ll be cross-posting my short posts there. You’ll see a couple of them below this one. I think of these short posts the same way I used to think of tweets. If you’re on Micro.blog, feel free to follow me there. If you want to read everything I post, I suggest doing so via RSS. It’s no coincidence that RSS is seeing a resurgence. I’ll probably do an extensive write-up on how I use RSS soon. In the mean time, create an account on Feedly and add this site.

Sharing As A Parent (A Love Letter To Notabli)

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Throughout the nine months that Cassidy was developing in Laura’s womb, I gave a lot of thought to documenting her growth. Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to be an early adopter when it comes to technology and share quite a bit on social media. Every time I post something on Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram or wherever it’s a decision. When it comes to posting photos or anything about Cassidy I’m much more hesitant and private. I have some idea in my head about how I think social media will play out in the future and the implications of what we post online. I also know that once something is on the Internet, it can take on a life of its own and it’s extremely difficult or impossible to remove. I want to give Cassidy a choice. It doesn’t mean I won’t post things publicly, but I’ll continue to be thoughtful and deliberate about what I post. What I’ve posted privately with a small group of family and friends is another story entirely.

Shortly after Cassidy was born, my sister hilaryhess made me aware of an app called notabli that was being developed by a friend of hers in Vermont. The premise was that I could share photos, video, audio and journal entries privately. It was a closed network by parents, for parents and it wasn’t long before it became my primary tool for sharing everything about Cassidy with my family and some other friends who were also parents. It also wasn’t long before I reached out to jacksonlatka (co-founder) to see if there was something I could do to help. Over the last year I’ve provided him with feedback and advice and we’ve become friends. I really love what he and sensibleworld have created and whatever very minor part I played in getting their new 2.0 app out to the world makes me proud. You guys really did a terrific job.

If you are a parent, or know of one, let them know about Notabli.

BUS YOUR OWN TRAY: Let’s Talk About Unfollowing People.

BUS YOUR OWN TRAY: Let’s Talk About Unfollowing People.