Wish there was: Better way to figure out whom to follow on Twitter

Ugh. It’s still too hard to figure out who to follow on Twitter. 

I tend to spend my time online on crazy deep dives into some topic that interests me. You know, regular stuff: the history of violence on floor of the U.S. Congress, the latest breakthroughs in information extraction, the nutritional habits of Pete Carroll, etc. That’s right, just regular stuff.

You’d think that Twitter would be a great place to start. Lots of active communities, each geeking out about their particular issues of the day, with content packaged up into short sound bites and bookmark-able links.

But have you actually tried tapping into one of these communities? Not easy. 

The current SOP generally involves first finding a widely-adopted #hashtag or influencer — and then haphazardly following random folks from who follows them (or whom they’re following).

This invariably leaves you with a bunch of more tweets to sift through, with no real guarantee of quality or comprehensiveness. Yuck. And when your deep-dive is over? You’ve gotta either unfollow a bunch of folks — or live with a semi-permanent reminder that you once thought following Jacksonville Jags Twitter was going to be the height of hilarity one evening in September (#bortles).

And yes, I know — Twitter has the concept of lists for this very purpose, right? Well, have you seen what they’ve done to lists recently? Probably not. Especially given that they’re no longer available in Search results (not even under the confusing ‘Timelines’ sub-tab), and it takes at least three clicks to add a new tweep to a list: click into their profile, click the interstitial menu, click ‘add to list’, then click the list you want to add them to. Clearly not a well-loved feature.

In fact, I hate what they’ve done to lists so much that I’ve started creating alt accounts (like @hickl_nlp)  that I use to follow communities that I’m interested in — but that I don’t want to add to my main account’s follows.

So, what do I want?  

  • Make it easier to discover hashtags associated with a topic, event, or community. In this day of word embeddings and worldwide access to reasonably-priced annotations in practically any language/locale, we should be able to maintain a map between the top-n hashtags and the search terms that shoulld point to them. This could have a bunch of secondary benefits, as well: content creators would be more likely to use a preferred hashtag if they knew that Twitter’s Search was going to be driving newbies to their tweets.
  • Bring back lists in a real way. Make them searchable. Make it easy/fun/engage to collect handles for them. Or at the very least, save me from having to click 3-4x for each new person I want to add to the list.
  • Recognize that our followings should evolve as our interests do. Follower inertia is a real thing. I’ve got people I’ve followed for 6+ years on my rolls — not because I remember seeing a tweet from them recently, but because I don’t have time (or the heart) to remove them. Lists (or some kind of tagging system) could make this happen without overly complicating the interface. Got a list? You could check a box to have its tweets included in your main timeline (or not). Or better yet, you could to convert an entire list to full-time followers — or boot anyone with a certain tag (#duval) from the folks you follow.