Over the last month or two I’ve seen several discussions about how to decide who to follow and who not to, and to my mind they all make the process much more complicated than it needs to be. Now I realise different people use Twitter differently and want to get different things from it, and that what I do may not work for others, so feel free to ignore this, or at least add contradictory views in the comments…

I discover new people on Twitter by various means: personal recommendation, new followers, searching and others. In all cases, though, I really have just one rule I apply in trying to decide if I should follow them – are they interesting to me? That’s it. I don’t care who they are, what their bio says, what the profile pic is, whether not not they follow me. If following them will make my twitter stream more interesting I’ll do it. If it won’t, I don’t. To do that I look back through their past tweets. Sometimes it is hard to tell, and so sometimes I will follow and end up unfollowing a little while later. And sometimes I end up not following, only to “discover” the same person weeks or months later and follow them second time, wondering why I wasn’t already! The criterion is always the same, though.

And obviously, unfollowing is the exact same process. Sometimes people I previously found interesting no longer are. Maybe they’re tweeting different stuff, or maybe my interests have changed. I am reasonably tolerant of uninteresting stuff in my twitter stream – it is easy enough to skip over it – so I don’t unfollow often. Maybe I’ll have a prune twice a year at most. If I followed more people this might change.

One thing I’ve seen mentioned often in the various discussions that prompted this post is the desire to only follow people who follow back. I just don’t get that at all. Whether or not somebody follows me back makes no difference at all (to me) to how interesting their tweets are. There are plenty of people I follow who I find interesting and who are extremely unlikely to follow me back. My twitter stream would be much poorer if I unfollowed them all. Twitter’s follow mechanism is asymmetric on purpose. It is what makes Twitter much different in character from Facebook. It is a good thing. I’m not deluded enough to think that everyone should find my tweets interesting – sometimes even I don’t! I’d much rather people followed me because they enjoyed my tweets than because they felt obliged to.

I know this approach won’t work for everyone, but if you are puzzling over how to decide who to follow and who not to, this is a pretty simple decision mechanism – give it a go!

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