Drink without drowning from the Twitter River

With some software, you can divide the Twitter River into drinkable streams (Image: River Itchen Weir by neilalderney123 on flickr CC)
With some software, you can divide the Twitter River into drinkable streams
(Image: River Itchen Weir by neilsingapore on flickr CC)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been participating in #etmooc, a massive open online course (MOOC) about educational technology and media. This is a cMOOC, where the goal is connecting people and building a community, as opposed to an xMOOC where you watch videos, do assignments and so on. And so, there is a lot of online community building occurring through Blackboard Collaborate, a Google+ community, hundreds of blogs and, my tool-of-choice, Twitter.

In addition to the the #etmooc backchannel that lights up during the live, Blackboard Collaborate sessions, there are weekly Twitter chat sessions #etmchat.

There are many new twitter users participating in #etmooc – getting on Twitter is part of the course. New users, suddenly surrounded by 100’s of like-minded folks, do a lot of following. And I see the same kind of tweet flowing by every few minutes: “I’m overwhelmed with tweets! How do I keep up?” I’ve been using Twitter for 3 or 4 years and I feel I’m getting pretty good at it. In response to these cries for help, I thought I’d share how I drink from the Twitter River without drowning.

Step 1: Get a program to access Twitter

Use something other than a web browser pointing to twitter.com to access your tweets. For a desktop or laptop, I highly recommend TweetDeck for your Windows laptop /desktop computer and the Hootsuite app for your iPhone, iPad or Android.   (If you’ve got a favorite solution for other hardware, I hope you’ll leave a comment below, thanks.)  These programs have something in common: columns. (Well, they’re called streams in Hootsuite. How fitting.). Columns are filters that take the gushing river of incoming tweets and break it into drinkable streams.

Screenshot of my iPhone on Hootsuite.

In both Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, you can have separate columns for

  • home feed – the full Twitter river of tweets from all people you follow
  • @mentions – never miss another tweet sent @you that flies by in your home feed
  • DMs – your private, direct messages are pulled aside so you don’t miss them
  • sent tweets – I like to have these handy so I can see who and what I’ve recently tweeted
  • any Twitter list you’ve created – you can put anyone you follow onto a list you’ve made up, like “#etmooc folks”, “education folks”, “hockey fans”, “conference attendees” and so on. These lists are part of your Twitter profile housed at twitter.com so both TweetDeck and Hootsuite can access them. That means if I add someone to a list while using TweetDeck, she’ll be on the list when I look at in Hootsuite.
  • any search term – this is very powerful because you can create a column that fishes from the Twitter River every tweet with a particular hashtag, like #etmooc, #etmchat or #thatfunnyhashtageveryoneistalkingabout

I have about a dozen columns in TweetDeck and Hootsuite that filter all my incoming tweets into easy-to-access streams.

The first 4 of the dozen or so columns I have in TweetDeck.
Four of the dozen or so columns I have in TweetDeck.

Step 2: Create a First list

Once you get going on Twitter, it’s hard to stop following people – they are all so damn interesting! Even with lists and #hashtag columns, there may still be hundreds of tweets flowing by. Sometimes it feels like you can’t jump out of a Twitter chat because you’ll miss something important. Here’s my next best piece of advice, a trick I learned from Derek Bruff @derekbruff.

Make a list called First (or something memorable) of the handful of people whose every tweet you feel you need to read. You don’t want to miss anything these people say. (It’s a good idea to make this list private – you don’t want any awkward conversations, “How come I’m not on your first list? Aren’t I important enough?”) Then open a TweetDeck column or a Hootsuite stream using your First list. Every time you go back online, you can quickly and completely read your First list. Jump out and jump back in? No problem, your First list has all the important tweets.

Enjoy your drink

Some software with columns and a First list will organize your incoming tweets and remove all the burden of keeping up. It makes following a chat like #etmchat simple because you don’t have to continually pick out the chat tweets from the rest of the river flowing by. Instead, you can devote all your cognitive load to participating in the chat and joining the community.

Do you have any other tips for wading through the Twitter River without drowning? Drop a comment below. Or tweet me at @polarisdotca – I’ll see it!

9 Replies to “Drink without drowning from the Twitter River”

  1. Thank you so much for the screenshot of your phone. During the weekly Wednesday chats I’m usually in a class where Twitter is blocked, like my classroom. I’ve been using the Twitter for Blackberry app and it’s simply no good for following and participating in chats. But when I saw your screenshot, I remembered I have the Hootsuite app on my phone. I use it often to post to Facebook pages, but have never used it for much more than that. I will being using it from now on to follow along. Thanks for sharing and showing me something useful that’s been right in front of me the whole time.

    1. Something missing from Hootsuite is seeing who RTs your tweets. I turn back to the native Twitter app for that because of the nice Interactions tab. I just upgraded to TweetDeck Blue (from Yellow) and I’m pleased to see TD Blue reports RTs, new followers and people who favorite your tweet. Great info for sparking conversations.

  2. Hi Peter.

    Thanks for sharing your tips.

    You’re absolutely right; the beginner Twitterers like me need to learn ‘filter-out’ strategies first. I found this post quite useful. I created the ‘first’ column on TweetDeck as you suggested and it works!

    Pls, do keep posting your tips 🙂

    1. Glad it helped, Max. Once I started using the First column, I no longer felt any anxiety that I was missing something important. I’m continually changing who’s on my First list as my interests meander.

  3. Good comments all. For me, creating and maintaining lists is so important. They really do help you segment your stream. For some reason I use them much more professionally than for my personal account. You might find this review for an iPad app called “Neatly” useful. Apparently it streamlines list creation. Haven’t tried it myself yet, but will pay the $2 to play with it. http://thenextweb.com/apps/2013/01/25/neatly/

  4. That’s a really good and useful post, Peter, thanks for posting it on my chronicle article

    I think mobile notifications help with keeping track of the stuff directed at us, but for everything else, i like your suggestions

    I am slightly concerned with using the first list when in a twitter chat coz it loses the serendipity of discovering someone new 🙂 but i also understand how it can help other ppl

    I personally only check my notifications on a daily basis (columns less often) so that’s even more exclusive in the sense of not talking to ppl who aren,t talking to me, so….

    1. Thank-you, Maha, for the terrific Prof Hacker piece in The Chronicle, Serendipitous Learning on Twitter.

      “Serendipity” is a great word for the connections we make on Twitter because it’s not just random. We work hard to build and maintain personal learning networks (PLNs), as Alec Couros @courosa calls them. We deliberately seek out diverse interactions, waiting patiently to grab hold of opportunities as they rush by.

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