I love Twitter. It’s the only place on the Internet where I can read the somewhat real-time thoughts of people I admire and like. Unfortunately, Twitter’s default user experience sucks. Here’s what I did to improve my Twitter experience.
Why default experiences suck
Twitter is an ad-driven business. They employ thousands of people to build an experience that ensures you stay on Twitter for a long time and click on lots of ads while you’re there. But if you want to curate your newsfeed so that you get what you want out of Twitter and not what some product manager decided you should want from Twitter, then read on.
Three reasons why Twitter’s default experience sucks
- “Likes” are very weak indicators of tweets that I might find interesting. Yet other people’s “liked” tweets take up such a big part of my timeline. There are a few reasons why “liked” tweets are annoying:
- First, people like tweets for all sorts of reasons: to promote causes they believe in, to support their friends, to indicate that they thought a tweet was funny, etc. But all of that signal is just noise on my timeline since I only really care about what ~20 of my close friends like and care about.
- Second, way more people “like” tweets instead of write tweets. (See the 1% rule, which posits that in Internet communities, 99% of users lurk while only 1% of users add content). Because “liking” a tweet is such low stakes, easy behavior, there’s no skin in the game for the person who liked the tweet. Thus, unlike retweets or actual tweets, they’re bad approximations for ideas the person actually would stand behind. (Like Ted Cruz, you can easily create plausible deniability by claiming you “mistakenly” liked a problematic tweet.)
- The timeline encourages positive reinforcement that quickly sucks you into echo chambers. I follow a lot my friends. A lot of my friends happen to work in tech. Before I know it, all of my suggested tweets and accounts to follow are from others who work in tech. Suddenly, my default timeline has become VC twitter. I don’t care that every VC has suddenly started using Clubhouse, thank you very much.
- The default experience is a distracting, mindless rabbit hole. Twitter encourages you to spend as much time as possible on their site in ways that are difficult to avoid. They’ve objectively built a very addicting experience. Even if you come to Twitter for a productive purpose, you’ll probably still be there hours later wondering how you let yourself get sucked into another Twitter rabbit hole.
Optimizing your Twitter experience
- Use Lists to only add people you want to see tweets from.
- Completely remove your default timeline by using Tweetdeck, which allows you to customize your Twitter experience. Some side benefits:
- Tweetdeck is ad-free, so you will no longer have Promoted Tweets clogging up your timeline.
- Tweets in Tweetdeck show up in reverse chronological order. This way, you don’t have to see what Twitter’s algorithms have decided are top tweets for you!
- In Tweetdeck, add the lists you’ve created in Step 1 as your default view instead of the timeline.
- Optional: Generously block and un-block keywords. I jump back and forth between how I feel on this one. Sometimes I think the mute feature will lead to a dystopian future rife with echo chambers. Other times I think the mute feature is great because then you don’t have to get annoyed by trolls or tweets you don’t care about.