Saturday, 19 October 2013

ETC: Art of the Unfollow

Pic by Errol of Debs and Errol
Intro: Back in September, I signed up for "Explore MTBoS", an eight week event connecting math educators online. This is the second post connected to that event. If this is your first time on my blog, welcome! For the record, I post about writing in addition to math teaching. I also have a second blog, "Taylor's Polynomials", a story about personified math. Find it here:

This week's mission comes from Justin Lanier (@j_lanier). It asked us to complete some "mini-missions" and then blog about a tweet, or reflect on one's use of Twitter.


Quick history! I already wrote a post about Why I Am On Twitter - initially, it was more personal than professional. In that post, you can read my first tweet (June 27/12) about BTTF, as well as see how invisible I was for two months of 200+ tweets. I've also previously spawned blog posts off a tweet (usually by @mpershan) - here's one on Pattern Sequencing.

This post isn't going
according to plan at all...
So, since that's already been done, I'm going to use this post (and Twitter) to explain the following phrase: Your plans will not always be successful. But first, the mini-missions I selected...

I kind of introduced myself through my serial link on Wednesday. I've retweeted MTBoS stuff before, hit the char limit, and make up many hashtags (just started a new one for my #AMVFridays). I responded to a Lisa Henry (@lmhenry9) tweet about #WhyMTBoS, and she was giving a Friday talk, so I claim she's a guru. On Saturday, I replied to a couple tweets on #MTBoS. Something outside my comfort zone? Tweeting at three people who follow me. I rarely, if EVER, initiate... only respond. (Anyone noticed that?)

Okay, back to the above phrase, as well as the title of this post. Back in my post about cliques, I said 280 was my upper limit on twitter follows. I didn't think I could handle a larger volume, the way some people cut off around 100. Yet I still added people - merely dropped others. Let's delve deeper.


As I've found new people to follow, I've unfollowed more than 20 others since August. They've probably been unaware, because I've generally been adhering to two criteria:
1) They weren't following me.
2) I was still following someone who was following them.

The first criteria sounds petty, but it was more like it's easier to "break contact" with someone who had never really been aware of my presence. More to the point, it wasn't a full break thanks to the second criteria. What this meant was:
1) I'd still get to see any key tweets, because they'd likely be retweeted by those other people.
2) My feed wouldn't be as bogged down by @-conversations between two people I follow, because I wasn't following one of them.

In terms of dropping people who are in another "circle", I think there's an additional connection with my post about cliques. Not sure I can articulate it. Suffice to say, I've even unfollowed some "Twitter Math Camp" tweeps in favour of people I've never met. In my mind, a couple questions would naturally follow on your part:

1) What was the criteria for adding someone new?
Sometimes, the fact that they added me, and I noticed similar interests (but I'm notoriously bad for checking who's following me). More often, a comment directed at me, or a #FF from someone I knew. More rarely, if I caught a RT, checked, and thought they were really cool.

Had to remove the corkscrew to get that in there.

In all cases, I would first check THEIR following: Only a couple hundred followers? I'm in. More than that, and I'm scrolling through the feed to see if it's really worth being "2,047" onto the bandwagon. Too many tweets per day, and I'm reticent. I'll probably see their key RTs again, after all.

2) That seems really haphazard, doesn't it?
Yeah, that's kind of me. But I like that's it's personal choice. There's things out there that auto-unfollow - I'm not on board with that. Some of my best friends are eggs. My wife is an egg. This way I can make exceptions - I even admit that I gave Dan Meyer a free pass on unfollows, because he was my first math follow, and on some level I don't want to pluck out the root. Friends who don't follow back also get a free pass. (Uh, don't think too hard about that one.) No computer algorithm can predict me!

3) But you went over 280 today. Why have you stopped balancing follow and unfollow?
To be blunt, I ran out of people who met both criteria. So if I STILL want to add people, I either have to unfollow followers... or go over 280. I chose the latter. Which returns me to the above phrase in bold:

Your plans will not always be successful.

Be it online or in the class, what works for you one year may not work the next year. What DIDN'T work last month might work this time. People change. People are different. People can be annoying that way.

In conclusion, if you find you're getting overwhelmed by Twitter, maybe unfollowing a few people will help. In that vein, maybe my system will even help. Ironically, this means some of you might unfollow me, because I'm not following you! (You'll miss my web serial that way though. I'm serious, no one retweets that stuff except @MorganBallantin. Sigh.) Alternatively, go to the comments and poke holes in my theory, that works too!

I also like an analogy used by Sam Shah... just because you buy a magazine, doesn't mean you're obligated to read every article. So, just because you follow someone on Twitter, doesn't mean you're obligated to read everything they tweet. We all have lives. They'll understand.

Because people can also be awesome that way. Particularly in the MTBoS (Math Twitter Blog O's Phere).


  1. Greg! Interesting ideas about twitter - I occasionally go through and unfollow based on a more flexible criteria "Did their tweets interest me or did the just spam up my feed!" Hope term is going well for you!


    1. Fair point! I suppose I don't follow at all unless I've at least glanced over their feed, so I'm more reticent to unfollow. I'm not sure if that's unwillingness to acknowledge my own error after the fact, or because I figure it's just a bad week for that person, and it will improve... or a bit of both.

  2. Hi Greg, it was very interesting to read your thought process about unfollowing. I don't have a Twitter limit, but occasionally will go through and unfollow people who I've never interacted with and who are not following me, too. Hopefully no one takes it personally because I think we all just have to do what works for us!

    1. Thanks for the personal account there - nice that you don't set a limit. I also think there is a bit of a dichotomy... I doubt I would take it personally, and yet I feel like other people would if the situation was reversed. Dunno why. The mind is a weird place.

  3. Very entertaining--thanks for making me smile. I only recently started unfollowing people, and I always fear that they have installed some kind of special app which notifies them whenever someone unfollows them. But life is too short to worry about that kind of thing.

    Sandra @sandrasoupmaker

    1. It makes me happy that I made someone smile! Thanks for letting me know! Yeah, there's an app for everything these days, but if they've got that app installed, that itself feels like grounds for an unfollow... or intervention of some sort. Life IS too short.