Curating my Mastodon timeline

What did I use Twitter for? More to kill time rather than anything useful. I realized I had a problem.

I followed friends I’d met in real life or online. Many were members of the Apple community in one way or another — Apple administrators, co-workers, developers, folks who worked at Apple. I followed other accounts related to my areas of interests like books — authors, bookstores, publishers. And I followed various local news sources that were interested in getting me to their websites or local community accounts that weren’t very active or useful.

Ultimately, who I choose to follow generates my timeline, which is just a series of their posts. My timeline is very personal to me, and I have the freedom to completely curate my timeline at Mastodon as opposed to Twitter or Facebook. They applied algorithms to influence who-knows-how-much of what I saw.

As I’m transitioning to Mastodon, I’m making an effort to use the platform purposefully rather than throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. I want to get value from what I read there. To get that value I’m practicing mindfulness as I put together my list of follows.

That requires curation or choosing who I’ll follow with some guidelines I’ve set for myself.

Follow with intent

One way I find people to follow is seeing who followed me. But I won’t follow someone back just to be polite. Without intent, I may follow someone with interests (professional, political or otherwise) that don’t interest me. I may choose not to follow now, but if we’re truly in similar social circles, I’ll cross their path again when someone boosts or mentions them. That’s a great time for me to revisit whether I want to follow.

How do I choose who to follow? I have a few things I’ll check.

Review profiles

I pay attention to someone who’s just followed me because we may already have something in common. The first thing I’ll do is review their profile. If it’s empty, sparse or simply flippant, that’s probably not someone who’s interested in creating and sharing content. Maybe they’re lurking, which is fine. But it’s a sign for me to pass.

Check for verification

Verification on Mastodon isn’t true verification. It’s more of a heads up that a website in the profile is truly associated with that person. Only they (or someone they can influence) can add the required information Mastodon uses for verification to a website. A verified website signals to me this person is part of the broader community and actively participating.

Read introductions

Mastodon has a tradition of asking new community members to introduce themselves. This is beyond what’s included in the profile and an opportunity to give everyone else a chance to find and follow them. They should include the #Introduction tag and pin the post so that it appears just below their profile. Lack of an introduction is a sign someone hasn’t been paying attention to community etiquette.

Browse posts

This is one of the easiest ways for me to learn if I want to follow someone. If I see more boosts than posts or nothing but boosts of other accounts, that person isn’t there to create and share content. Boosting everyone else’s interesting post doesn’t make that person interesting to me.

Block accounts

I feel most anyone who asks their followers to boost their posts is participating in a personal popularity contest. (Like someone trying to start a meme.) And anyone who boosts them is likely showing me something I don’t care about. I won’t necessarily block the person I’m following, but I will block the person asking for boosts. Seeing them once means I might see them again doing the same thing.

I’ll also block someone who makes an incendiary statement without providing evidence or context. I may or may not disagree with their opinion, but they have 500 characters to defend that opinion and should use their opportunity wisely.

Follow a few hashtags

Mastodon offers multiple ways for me to find follows. Instead of searching for people with a similar interest, I can follow an interest and people come to me. Following too many hashtags is overwhelming, but a few at a time make for some diverse reading. At the moment I’m following:

  • #BlackTwitter
  • #Introduction
  • #Journalism
  • #MastoBooks
  • #NoteTaking
  • #Time Management

Some of these hashtags are really busy, and some may not display a post for days. The #Introduction hashtag is one of my favorites because the few who do post introductions have usually taken time and care to craft what they want to say about themselves.

Filter noise

Noise is content I don’t want to see. Someone recently started a theme called “Six books to get to know me” and added multiple hashtags including the #MastoBooks tag I follow. It quickly generated a lot of noise in my timeline as people posted their own lists of six books. To reduce the noise, I tried a few filters like “Six books” and “6 books” until settling on “to get to know me”. Very effective!

And if I determine the noise is just temporary, Mastodon’s filter feature allows me to expire the filter up to one week from now.

Some of the community members, like book authors or bloggers, have a high boost rate compared to the content they create. That’s because they’re trying to actively work their social media presence to keep themselves visible in your timeline. It’s easy to boost and treat that like content. Disabling them from boosting manages that problem.

Keep follows small and lean

I won’t treat my follow list like a bottomless junk drawer. I’ll continually curate it as I lose interest in what people are saying or find hashtags that are more specific with a better signal to noise ratio. I want to appreciate reading every post in my timeline. To do that I need to filter, concentrate and minimize my follows to reduce the number of posts I see.

I’m not worried about missing something. I’m sure I’m missing a lot. But I’d rather spend my time on Mastodon well instead of squandering it like I often did with Twitter.

Cull the herd

Finally, I want to be proactive with my follow list. That means checking it from time to time to see who’s been overly active (maybe an indication of a low signal to noise ratio) and who’s been inactive (no noise but no content). Mastodon has a great feature to see a list of my follows, followers, mutual followers, and the ability to sort by activity. I’ll likely check this quarterly to reduce my follow list — again, treating those who don’t post much as noise in my list.