Gardening and Weeding on Social Networks

Whether we like it or not, some social networks are now tightly woven into the fabric of the web. As they have grown in importance, however, our experiences — while highly personalized — may not reflect exactly what’s relevant to us for a variety of reasons. First, we may have built up our social and interest graph with variables (such as “likes”) that are no longer true. Second, most of these services haven’t exactly made it easy to “clean up” our experiences. For me personally, given how much I use these, I felt it was a good time to spend a long afternoon, go into each service, and remove any weeds and do some digital trimming — sort of like gardening. Here’s what I did, and why:

  • Facebook: I am a Facebook fan and find it very useful. That said, I don’t visit it often. So, I removed the app from my phone – it was an unusable app. Next, I went into the site and removed 95% of the third-party apps I’d given permission to my Facebook account. After this, I un-liked 95% of the brands that were cluttering my feed with promotional (and irrelevant) information, and then began a process of unsubscribing and muting Facebook friends’ feeds that weren’t relevant. It takes some time. You have to dig into each year of “likes.” But, it feels so good, like pulling out weeds. I don’t like “unfriending” because it’s potentially awkward in real life. Now, I go to much more often, and lo and behold, actually see updates from my friends.
  • LinkedIn: This was also entirely my fault. Instead of using LinkedIn the way it was intended to be — people you’ve worked with and those you’d feel comfortable asking a favor of you — I instead used email uploaders to add more people, in the process muddying the experience. I removed connections by each letter (actually, LinkedIn makes this pretty easy) and I was embarrassed by how many names I didn’t recognize. I’ll continue to shave this down, but I’ve also found it to be useful as I’ve cleaned things up.
  • Twitter: This is trickier because (1) Twitter continues to grow in importance, especially in professional tech circles in and out of the Valley; and (2) it is my absolute #1 source of information. The first thing I did was to unsubscribe from nearly every company brand (including most startups) as well as from technology news feeds and aggregators, including TechCrunch’s, where I write. Instead, I chose to focus on following people that used Twitter to share links to news with their own commentary, spin, or point of view, and folks who would tweet about what they’re doing without sharing links or promoting. By settling on around 300 accounts to follow sprinkled across my interests (Valley, tech, NYC, India, politics), I felt more at ease that I could digest the stream and confident in the fact that those 300 accounts would act as a strong filter for me to get new information. If something bubbles up through my filter, then there’s a greater chance that I’ll actually pay attention.

The result of this digital gardening has been great. And, I should underscore that this was entirely brought on by me. I allowed too many things into my feeds and networks. But, at the time, there didn’t seem to be a cost. Now, there is, so it was worth it for me to invest a bit of time to clean things up. Hunter Walk has an interesting post (link) about this and how it relates to human tendencies to mess up social networks. I agree with him in general, but I also use these so often that I wanted to impose a bit of my own discipline moving forward.