Actor and aspiring Silicon Valley tycoon Ashton Kutcher recently took the stage at the CTIA conference in Las Vegas to discuss the state of social media. During his Q&A, Kutcher made a reference to Facebook being the new religion as it facilitates greater trust among complete strangers. However, the thing that stood out for me was his unwarranted negative views on the progression of Twitter and what he sees as an unmanageable floodgate of information.
Mr. Kutcher commented that Twitter "used to be a personalized experience that I could share." He went on to lament that the "signal-to-noise" ratio on the microblogging network has gotten out of hand. He blames Twitter's noise problems on two developments: 1) the automatic retweet button that was first introduced in 2009, to which he commented, "it created a lot of noise in the system that hurt the experience." And 2) he feels that there are too many media brands using the platform badly: "I think the media f----d it up. There's a lot of people selling shit that I don't want in my feed."
The comments are curious in that Kutcher was an early celebrity booster of the service and still currently boasts more than 14 million followers (he even had his own Twitter app). So, he--more than most--should know how to tailor Twitter to fit his needs. He even goes on to admit, "Maybe I need to curate my feed better. When I first started using [Twitter], it felt like the democratization of media."
I have watched Twitter go through several changes as it exploded into the mainstream. And it seems as democratic and free as ever--if not better than at any point in its development.
To be sure, there certainly is a lot of "noise" in the system. However, to its credit, Twitter has given users the power to filter it out. To that end, here are three simple steps that Ashton--or anyone--can take to hone the signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter:
Step One: Stop following people who aren't interesting
Undeniably, there are Twitter feeds from celebrities and organizations that are pure junk: There are the rappers who tweet way too much and with nonsensical ALL CAPS explicates; celebrities who use their Twitter feed to drive home a political viewpoint to the point of absurdity; and then people who are just boring.
I don't want to rag on Ashton for the sake of ragging, but his Twitter feed, for example, is really boring. And that's why I stopped following him long ago. (To be fair, celebrity and Silicon Valley investor folk--both groups to which Kutcher can claim membership--have a vested interest in being boring so some off-hand comment won't be misinterpreted and come off as controversial or provocative, so boring is the accepted default.)
When it comes to Twitter, I enjoy following friends, family, and co-workers in addition to humorous trolls and celebrities who have gone absolutely insane. And that's just the point: Twitter makes it very easy to follow--or unfollow--feeds as they fit your needs. Try that sometime, Ashton.
Step Two: Use Lists
Twitter makes it very easy to create lists that can help your cloister your feeds by social circles or interest. If you just want to see what your friends are up to, you can place them in a list that won't be inundated with thought sneezes from all other corners of the Internet.
According to Ashton's Twitter page, he already follows lists curated by others and has even creating two of his own: "end slavery" and "kataysthq." So he already has shown the the ability to filter out the lingual debris from the important stuff.
Step Three: Block Re-Tweets
We all have people in our Twitter feeds who enjoy following, but who perhaps abuse that retweet button that Ashton complained about? Thankfully, Twitter gives users the option to turn off retweets for specific feeds (it's right under the pull-down menu on their page).
Twitter does not offer the option to turn off all retweets, but this is probably a good thing. For those of us without millions of followers, the retweets give us an opportunity to amplify our voices within the greater tweet-storm, facilitating the "democratization of media" as ideas are allowed to spread rapidly.
It's all in how you use it
I have no vested interest in defending a big social media entity that is more than capable of defending itself should it so choose. Twitter--like any social network--is simply a tool. And like a quality social tool, Twitter offers ways to make it your own. While the company's recent moves into video, music, or (inevitable) ad-focused campaigns may raise flags as to what the future may hold, for now Twitter has remained one of the most user-friendly networks, despite its embrace by the greater public. All you have to do is take some time to learn it.