Twitter Zen and The Art of Retweet Maintenance

I was feeling overwhelmed every time I opened Twitter but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. Nothing had changed, recently. I hadn’t added more follows — I try to keep that number around 350. The most frequent and active Tweeters I had already relegated to a list called "High Volume". All the companies, sites, and news, etc. were in a list called "Interesting". I have several mute filters in place for the things I don’t care about. I very carefully choose who I follow and regularly evaluate and curate that list. In other words, I thought I had done all of the "right" things but, still, my main timeline felt — well — like it was not mine.

It felt like I threw a party, invited specific people to it, but then all these other people I didn’t know showed up with them. They came and hogged the conversation, ate too much food, and kept me from being able to really hear and talk to the people I invited. Bad uninvited guests.

I was describing the problem to my friend Jason and he reminded me that he wrote up a post a little while back about how he keeps his Twitter sanity. He suggested a few things from it that he thought would help me. His is a very reasoned and well thought out strategy and you should do yourself a favor and take the time to read what he has to say. That said, I wanted to highlight one item in particular that made a HUGE difference for me:

Turn off retweets for everyone you follow the moment you begin following them.

Now, since I had not been doing so before and planned to not add any more followers, I had to turn off retweets from everyone I already followed. This seemed daunting and tedious at first until I realized the better strategy was this; every time someone retweeted something and I saw it in my timeline my next action would be to turn off retweets for the person retweeting. This made the process far more doable and immediately caught the most frequent retweeters. I should mention the interesting part of this choice is that turning off retweets does not turn off "quote" tweets — where the person sharing has something to add. It only eliminates straight no-value-added retweets.

Now, after working on doing this for the past couple of weeks, my main timeline feels like mine again. It’s a party of my invited guests and I’m truly interested in what they have to say.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the general point of a retweet. Sometimes, people just want to share something with no additional comment. The problem is that, if I wanted to hear from those people, what they think, or what they had to say I would follow them. I don’t. I follow who I want to follow and I want to hear what the people I follow have to say and, if they want to share something and have something to add when they share, that’s cool. Because then I’m hearing what they think about what they are sharing.

So, I’m now back to feeling a little less overwhelmed by Twitter largely thanks to this. Hopefully, it will help for a while.

As an aside, I feel like Twitter — much like Facebook — is increasingly a service that requires a bit too much fiddling with to make it useable. It now suffers from the same "go into settings and tweak this and do that and turn these off and download this app and it’ll be OK not great but OK" that Facebook long has. If I didn’t care what my friends were up to and thinking so much it’s hardly be worth the trouble. And, though I have not reached it yet, it is on the verge of becoming such a needy puppy that it won’t be worth it. I have such a complicated and conflicted relationship with it these days.

Just Ask

A few days ago, I walked into the bookstore that is just downstairs from one of my clients and asked the shop owner, "What have you read recently that you just loved?" I walked away with a book I know will make a great Mothers Day present for my wife, the first book of a series that sounds fantastic, and a half dozen other recommendations for future purchases.

Unsurprisingly, walking into a bookstore and asking the shopkeeper, "What do you just love?" Will put good books into your hands. "I love [name of book/genre/subject], what do you recommend?" does the same. This works in libraries too. Also, record stores. I’ve even seen it work in restaurants.

The other day, when out to lunch, I asked the server what the "Yum Yum" sauce on one of their specials tasted like. He attempted to describe it and I got the general idea but, without my asking, he went a step further and brought out a small sample of it. He knew that the best answer he could give was to let the sauce speak for itself. I didn’t end up getting the dish but I likely will next time (the sauce was good).

The point being that, in general, at many independent establishments the people who are there are experts at what they have, what’s good, and what you’ll likely enjoy. They love being asked for their opinion and a surprisingly few amount of people do so. So, take a chance next time you’re in one and ask questions. My bet is that you’ll be happy you did.

Our Prince

I was about ten years old when I first got turned on to the music of Prince. It was my next door neighbor, Michael Johnson, who got me into Prince. We were hanging out one day and he told me about this guy I just had to hear. He put on For You. It was funky and challenged many of my notions I had had up to that point about so many things.

But, it wasn’t just the music that hooked me. Michael told me that Prince was a local guy. Not just local to Minneapolis but local to South Minneapolis — our ‘hood. He graduated from Central High — just like my Dad had a few years before him. He grew up only about a mile away. I soon found out that just about everyone in the neighborhood had some direct connection to this kid — they knew him. They went to school with him or played basketball down at the park with him, or their sister dated him, or played in some basement band with him, or they just saw him around. This skinny kid with the giant afro who was either always in the music room or on the basketball court. This kid who in just a couple of more years would become known worldwide.

I became a big fan. A fan of the music and the little guy I heard so much about around where I lived. Later on, we moved away — to Iowa City, IA and then to New Haven, CT. Prince’s fame began to grow. First with Controversy then with 1999. No matter where I went, when I mentioned that I was from Minneapolis, people immediately brought up Prince. “Oh, where that Prince guy is from! ” or “Isn’t that where Prince is from?”. It worked the other way too. If someone gave me a somewhat quizzical look when I mentioned Minneapolis, all I would have to say was, “Where Prince is from…” and the recognition was immediate.

By the time I moved back to Minneapolis, Prince was a huge star. The whole world knew about him now. Purple Rain had just come out and his music was everywhere. His videos running every hour on MTV. And, in too many ways to count, he literally put the Minneapolis music scene on the map. And, there was so much happening here. The punk scene was exploding with great bands like Hüsker Dü and The Replacements. Prince himself was bringing up his friends with him like Morris Day and The Time. It was one of those magical times in the city when, every night, you could go out to a local club and hear a band or artist that now is a household name. Of course, Prince was bigger than all of them — a bonafide superstar now.

But Prince never left. He could have had houses all over the world or lived anywhere he wanted but he always called Minneapolis home. Almost everyone in Minneapolis and Saint Paul had a Prince story. He lived here. He worked here. He played here. He showed up and sat in with some local band, or was at some restaurant, or was buying fruit at the supermarket. No matter how famous he got, what levels of superstardom he achieved, he was always just Prince here in the city the world now knew. He was always around and everyone could tell you a personal story about him.

I say all of this not only to tell you the story of what Prince meant to me in a formative era in my life but so that you can understand the depth of the loss we are feeling here in this city — in his city. Imagine if New York City lost the Empire State Building, or Paris lost The Eiffel Tower… Well, we lost Prince. We lost the icon that the rest of the world knew us by. We lost the symbol that was our city to so much of the rest of the world. The thing that, no matter where you went beyond this place, all you had to do was say his name and people knew and respected where you came from.

He’s gone now, but just like the Empire State Building or The Eiffel Tower, people will not forget. There’s a great line in the in the musical Hamilton about the idea that we have no control over who lives or dies or tells our story. We don’t have control over any of that. But, what we can control is to make sure we become a part of a place, or a part of the people there, so that there are stories to tell should people wish to tell them. The better the stories we leave, the more likely people will be to tell them. Prince left a lot of stories to tell and we will be telling them here amongst each other and to the rest of the world for a long time to come. He left us some great stories.

(The photo above is the last known photo taken of him, riding his bike back to the office, just like normal.)

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