There are many ways to use Twitter, and I’m not about to tell you that my way is the only way, or even the best way. But I have refined my usage and feel pretty confident that it’s an efficient way to use the service, particular if you enjoy reading tweets as much or more than writing them.
My particular workflow prioritizes a few elements. If your priorities align with mine, then I think you’ll get quite a bit of value out of this post.
- I’m interested in far more accounts than I can reasonably keep current on
- Some of the accounts I follow post timely information that I want to see ASAP
- For the accounts I follow that are higher-priority, I want to make sure I don’t miss any updates
Most Twitter users use the “stream of tweets” approach, that is to say that they dip into it here and there and read a few tweets, but make no effort to read all the tweets from any particular user as it’s just too overwhelming to try to do so. In fact, I think that’s how Twitter the company wants their users to use the service.
The benefit of the stream approach is simplicity: simply follow interesting Twitter accounts. The downside is a lack of control.
If—like me—you want to exert more control over your Twitter experience, the good news is that the tools to do so exist, and they’re really quite good. And don’t worry, it’s not really all that complicated.
What you’ll need
You’re going to need a few things to set this up properly. Basically, we’re going to make use of Twitter Lists, a free service called Tweet Marker, and some great Twitter clients that make good use of both of those things.
This is arguably the hardest step, which is that you’re going to need to think about the various Twitter accounts that you follow, and determine some high-level categories that you can group them into, then create Twitter Lists for those groupings. Don’t go crazy here, but do try to group them logically. Here are my groupings, for example:
Apps is for following the accounts of apps and services that I use, so that I get timely information when they release updates or new information about the product. Funny is for humorous accounts that I follow—for me this is a bit like the Sunday comics; light reading for when I feel like being amused. General is for accounts I follow that I’m interested in, but don’t care if I happen to miss some of their tweets. And Probation is for accounts that I think I might be interested in, but I’m not yet sure about.
So how do you move everything around? Though Twitter doesn’t offer any mass-editing tools for managing the accounts you follow, there’s a 3rd-party website called Tweetbe.at that is pretty powerful, and can make the act of reorganizing your Twitter follows pretty painless.
First, you need to go to https://twitter.com/#!/yourusername/lists to make your lists (replace “yourusername” with your actual user name). I prefer to use private lists, but whether you want other people to be able to browse your lists is up to you. Once the lists have been created, head right over to Tweetbe.at.
Once you connect Tweetbe.at with you Twitter account, it will show you a list of the accounts you currently follow, which they call your “Following” list. From there, it’s a simple matter to go through and check the box beside the names of accounts that you’d like to move into lists, then click the “Add or Remove From Lists” button, and do select the list name that you’d like to add them to. Wait a few moments, and it will report back that it has completed the action. Then in the blue top bar, click Lists, then the name of the list you just added the accounts to, then click the Refresh button on the top right of the page. If the account names you added to this list successfully show up, you are now safe to select them all and click the Unfollow button so that they no longer show up in your main Twitter feed.
Once this is complete, you’re all set to read the Twitter accounts you follow grouped as you’ve categorized them, simply by reading the lists you’ve set up.
We’re going to switch gears for a second here, but bear with me.
Tweet Marker is a web service that adds a form of place-marking to Twitter. Basically, if you have a Twitter client that supports it, you can turn on the Tweet Marker feature, and it will automatically mark your position in your Twitter feed any time you stop reading. But what’s even cooler than that is that when you start reading your feed again—from any client (on any device) that supports Tweet Marker—you will automatically jump right to where you left off. It’s almost magical, and it makes staying on top of every post easily doable, provided you’re following a reasonable number of accounts.
Tweet Marker also works in Twitter Lists, so you can safely ignore your “Funny” list for a few days, then sit down and catch up on all the hilarity when you have time. Or you can treat your lists as streams and dip into them occasionally, without feeling the pressure to read everything.
Twitter clients that support lists and Tweet Marker
For all of this to work well, you need a Twitter client that has both Tweet Marker support, and solid Twitter Lists support. Here are my favourites in descending order of preference. All of them can do the trick, but the ones at the top of each list do it most elegantly, in my opinion. There are others listed at Tweet Marker, but if I haven’t listed them it’s either because I haven’t tried them, or I tried them and found their functionality lacking in some way.
Noticeably absent from this list are any of the official Twitter apps. It’s unlikely that they will add support for a 3rd party service like Tweet Marker. Further, with the departure of Loren Brichter (the original developer behind Tweetie, which was purchased and became the official iPhone Twitter app), Twitter has already made some changes to the iPhone Twitter that have made it uglier and less elegant, so much so that they just released another new version to try to fix it up a bit. In my opinion you’re better off finding a Twitter client by a good 3rd party developer that is dedicated to serving their user’s needs rather than the needs of the venture capitalists looking to recover their investment.