Screw popularity. Just make yourself useful.

That's the killer lesson of Dave Winer's new apporach to noise-filtered tweeting. "Friends" and "followers" aren't what matter. If you want substance, you need useful inputs. Not volume. Not style. Not popularity. Those have their places, just not in your face when you're looking for useful and interesting stuff.

That's what I want out of Twitter. Not just to be the waist in an hourglass where a pile of god-knows-what flows from Following to Followers.

The situation with Twitter reminds me of that silly ad where Verizon workers follow around a cell phone customer like a herd of bison, led by one guy who says nothing. Hey, the customer doesn't need a shepherd with a flock of techies. He needs somebody to pick up the phone when he calls for support. Don't tell him to go to some website, or to "listen closely because our menu has changed", or to navigate a maze of choices, all intended to deflect the call to a recording rather than a human being with a relevant competency. As for "the network", all he wants is for the damn thing to work. (I've used them all, and Verizon's is the best in the U.S., no doubt about it. Brag on that, Verizon. Use real evidence. Hell, show somebody with an iPhone who can't find a service. That'll stick it to both Apple and AT&T.)

The result of Dave's work is a pared-down Twitter stream, reduced to people who Dave knows have substantive things to say. They're not just naming their socks or reporting that the light just changed. They carry news. They provide links. They make themselves useful.

My problem with Facebook, besides the fact that it's the freaking Borg, is that the Noise/Signal ratio there is, for me, about 600-to-1. Yesterday I found the first thing that made me want to stay there longer than the time it takes to leave. It was a gathering of folks from Hodskins Simone & Searls, the advertising and PR agency I co-founded and where I worked for most of the two decades it was in business (most of them quite successfully). That, to me, is a substance I'm interested in.

It's funny, but one of my best friends belongs to both Facebook and Twitter, and isn't interested in "friending" me with either because she uses both to communicate with her family, exclusively. That makes complete sense to me. It also shows how zygote-grade early all this stuff is, and now woefully inadequate the extant tools are. I mean, what my friend does with FB and Twitter are "social" in a way, but that hardly makes them global-grade "social networking" tools.

So, in the meantime, we need more hacks like Dave's. With (let's see...) 331 Following, 4,712. Followers and 806 Updates, Twitter is too much of a fire hose for me. I need to pare it down to just the substantive sources. Such as, um, this one here. :-)


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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Twitter is an amazing filter if you are careful who you follow

Karl Long's picture

I've found twitter to be a very useful communication tool and is quickly becoming my most efficient filter on the web. Better than digg, better than techmeme, better than my google reader. I've been very focused on building a network of people who are interested in similar topics and I've built a network that makes me more productive and makes me more informed.

Popularity is a red herring, follow people who will inspire, educate and inform. On twitter I like to say "you get the network you deserve" :)


NPN's picture

At least people are communicating, albeit on a caveman level: "Dook!" "Ugh." "Grok!" "Hnh." Now if they'd just expand their vocabularies and learn to converse....

alphakamp's picture

You coud hope on to one of the OpenMicroblogging formats. Such as There are many xmpp bots the allow you to 'track' keywords... oh wait twitter doesnt have supported 'IM' posting

Twitter as a silo

Doc Searls's picture


Lack of Twitter support for [fill in the blank] is typical of any silo. And, good as Twitter is, it's still a silo. At some point we'll get over that.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

I have a filtered feed

Hanan Cohen's picture


Following your twit "Is there a Twitter hack so I (or anybody) only see posts with links?"

I have made a small PHP programs that reads my twitter feed, shows me all the twitts of some people and twitts with links from all the rest.

Another benefit is that I collect all the twitts to my RSS reader, thus making them searchable.

Useful? Filtering?!

Dan Guy's picture

How does Dave dumping his friends' blogs onto Twitter make *less* noise? Couldn't he have just subscribed to those blogs' feeds in his favorite reed reader? I don't see the advantage to pushing it on to Twitter. And unless Dave has unfollowed everyone but his one custom aggregation feed, I don't see how there has been any paring down.

What's noise? What' signal?

Doc Searls's picture

The point is that Dave created a hack that works for him. He can create others. The tools are there. He can also make more. So can anybody, if they have the chops. (I don't, but I respect and rely on those who do.)

Paring down may be the wrong metaphor. But it helps to have ways to find relevant and useful information. Twitter is good for that, just not good enough. There's nothing wrong with finding ways to make it better.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

I still don't get it.

Dan Guy's picture

I still don't understand the point.

If he wanted to keep track of those people's blogs he could have just subscribed to them in the feed reader of his choice.

If he wanted it to look like Twitter he could have served up the feed on its own page. (Dave has plenty of experience creating river-of-news aggregators.)

What value does dumping them onto Twitter add?

Screw popularity

flip's picture

Twitter was developed with the single proposition "What are you doing?" In other words, "what am I doing". Me, I. Not you. Me!
Now if you want to interpret Twitter as some tool that has greater purpose than fueling my ego driven musings. Great! Just don't piss on my shoes while you try to figure out the noise/signal ratio. (what a waste of friggin time) (how do you like being marginalized?)
While you are drinking the kool-aid from Dave's pitcher "pared-down Twitter stream, reduced to people who Dave knows have substantive things to say" I am creating relationships. Relationships that on the surface may seem to you and Dave superficial but may in fact become substantive, as has been my experience.
So do me a favor and minimize your Tweetstream, stick your head in the electronic sand and get out of my way - you are clogging up the 'fast' lane.

Fitting shoe...! :-)

El Perro Loco's picture


Don't read this reply, It is not intended to you. I'm talking to Doc, the blogger, here.


Hi, Doc!

Don't mind flip. Looks like you hit an exposed nerve, there, if I understood his (her?) mumbling. Apparently, the shoe fit, and flip considers him/herself to be "noise". S/he feels the need to be accepted by the rest of the herd. S/he even calls Twitter contacts "relationships"! ROTFL!

Oh, the irony! Now *I* am generating noise, too... :-)

What Twitter is good for

Doc Searls's picture

If all Twitter did was fulfill the single "What are you doing" proposition, it wouldn't amount to much. What makes Twitter extra useful is that it is hackable. It is improvable. Things can be done with the tweet flow. You don't have to settle for just one tweet stream. You can choose to create multiple tweet streams for different purposes.

Maybe my headline and rant were over the top, but if you read closely you'll see that my point is about making Twitter more useful.

What I'm pissing on is pushing pushing popularity for its own sake, absent of other virtues. If that's where your shoes are, sorry I hit them.

Deepening relationships isn't a popularity game. I'm all for it. And I'm no different than other folks in posting the occasional notice of when I miss a plane or run late for something. There's no harm in that, and often some good. (I had a great experience using Twitter to find a restaurant at O'Hare last month.) But it helps to have some selectivity around what one wants, and when. What Dave's showing here is one hack, not Kool-Aid.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Thanks for the commentary.

James Pyles's picture

Thanks for the commentary. I'll try to create fewer tweets talking about naming my socks or the light values in and around my cubicle. Web pages, blogging, and finally twitter have all proven that a million chimpanzees, or people for that matter, won't necessarily reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare just because it's become easy to gain an audience.