Yesterday I was discussing my recent malaise over everything new in the social/mobile web with Reed and he assured me that I was in fact crazy not to feel more excited now about the opportunities for doing amazing stuff between all of the platform expansion taking place in mobile, social, and cloud stuff than say five years ago.
Because we'd gotten together to chat about Twitter— a service which had excited me incredibly back in 2007 when I started using it in earnest— I decided to start a bit of housecleaning there. Having initially been thrilled in its potential as a universal bus for human sentiment, I've grown to dread loading up Twitter over the last year mostly due to my own mishandling of the friend/follower thing. In effect I've been spent the last year treating it as a glorified high school cafeteria; reciprocating on any follow requests that I've gotten and pimping out my Twitter handle at every speaking opportunity (I've been under the misguided impression that this is what you are supposed to do as a VC). It got bad enough in fact that I wrote myself a cron job that would rip through my inbox looking for new follow emails and follow people back based on some very crude heuristics (follower count >= 100 && no spammy stop words in their last 10 tweets).
The result? In the pubsub medium of Twitter where spam was supposed to be hard/nearly impossible, I'd managed to follow over 2,000 marketing droids, self-promotional big mouths, and navel-gazing positivity Moonbeams that had absolutely obliterated the signal-to-noise ratio in my Twitter stream.
So I went looking for online tools that would right this wrong and get me closer to a Dunbar number of followers that might reintroduce some meaningful signal. Of the 5 of so tools that floated to the top of my Google searches, I found ManageFlitter to be the best of the lot— helping you look for clear signs of spammy accounts in your follower list and providing crude bulk unfollow tools. That said, ManageFlitter only took me down about 400 noisy accounts, leaving me with a huge manual mess to sort through (due I think in part to their freemium business tactics). And sadly Twitter itself makes it obnoxiously difficult to drop people en masse, first through a very cumbersome interface for manually unfollowing and then through a really crummy set of API limits (350 calls/hour— what is this 1995?)
In the end, I ended up with a webapp that let me quickly pare down the 2,000 odd followers to 99— all people that I know well enough to have a beer with and who've now brought me back to the world of useful Twitter signal (amazin how well things like Flipboard work in this case). The API time limit kind of sucked and made the process take most of the day but at least it is possible (compare it for instance, to bulk deleting Pandora stations for a really sucky experience).
The exercise has made me wonder how many of these social experiences are being ruined for those of us who fall prey to the "shouting room" popularity contest dynamic. I wonder in fact if I might like Facebook better without the ~500 "friends" I've got yaking about daily deals, or find LinkedIn to be more than simply an extension of organic Google results. Conversely I worry about how long Instagram & Foursquare will keep their magic working for me as they begin to cross into the mainstream.
In the meanwhile, I've got Reed to thank for helping me recapture a little of that social discovery Internet magic in my life.