Now Trending On Twitter: Mass Unfollowing

It’s not something that will likely place on Twitter’s (largely redundant and abused) trending topics feature, but we’re now starting to see what I think will increasingly become a major focal point for all serious Twitter users over the next few weeks and months – network optimisation.

Robert Scoble is doing it. Chris Brogan is doing it (at the moment he’s no longer auto-following, but he’ll have to unfollow thousands to eliminate his spam problem). Jesse Stay is writing about it.

Now Trending On Twitter: Mass Unfollowing

Why? Because Twitter simply doesn’t work when you follow thousands and thousands of people. This kind of madness leads to:

  1. Direct message abuse (so much spam that using the system becomes folly)
  2. Too much noise in your stream, and because of this
  3. It’s too difficult to filter out the good stuff, which means
  4. You end up not actually following anybody at all

Groups and userlists in external apps like TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop help, but if you’re filtering your network down to a small number and focusing entirely on that, why are you even following the people who don’t make the cut?

Prepare yourself for the inevitable backlash – accusations of snobbery and arrogance and all that jazz – but following thousands and thousands of people is not, and never was, the future.

I like Jesse’s idea for a Facebook-esque feature on Twitter that lets users opt out of receiving any updates from a given application. You can unfollow a person, but that’s a fairly drastic step when it’s more of an issue with auto-messaging.

Last week I used an external application to ‘see’ what Scoble saw on Twitter, and believe me, it wasn’t pretty. I’m not shocked at what he’s done. I am surprised that he didn’t do it months ago.

Of course, not everybody will adopt this policy of mass unfollowing, even though it makes absolute sense. Those who can only get 20,000 followers because they follow 22,000 won’t do it. Spammers and mass-marketers won’t do it. And anyone who thinks the direct message system is a great way to provide you with a fantastic opportunity to buy their worthless crap isn’t going to risk losing your business with an unfollow, either.

For everybody else, it’s the intelligent decision. Here’s a tip: whatever your network size is now, try reducing your following number to (at most) 50 per cent of your followers. 25 per cent is better still. You’re not taking much of a risk as you can always follow people back later. (Of course, if they unfollowed you as soon as you unfollowed them, then it was the right thing to do.)

Now take a deep breath, and look around. Nice, isn’t it?