Social media can be a treasure trove of exciting conversations, people, and networks, but it can quickly become overwhelming or dull — especially if you have a trigger-happy-follow habit! Your friends, family, or the accounts you really value can be drowned out by the noise.
Recently featured on TechCrunch, Prune Your Follows can help us get back to what really matters by culling those accounts you don’t use or appreciate. The web application was started by Norwegian developer, Benedicte “Queen” Raae of queen.raae.codes. It links with your Twitter account and offers various ways of filtering through the people you follow.
We spoke to Queen Raae to find out more:
Q: Following too many accounts on Twitter or any social media can either be intense or just uninspiring if you find yourself yawning through your feed. Prune Your Follows helps to solve this. Can you speak a bit about this social media overload we often experience?
A: When we launched on Product Hunt our tagline was, ‘Does your feed bring you joy?’. [Before creating the app], I spoke to some people about the downsides of following vast numbers of people on Twitter. With the newer algorithm, your home feed is based not only on the people you follow but also people they follow. It also prioritises people who are popular or who Tweet the most. [And this was irritating because] I was only following some of these accounts to keep an eye on them. I might not be super interested in their content. And my feed started becoming a place I didn’t want to be.
Q: Do you think we need to regain control over our focus in this online ‘attention economy’ where everyone is trying to pique our interest all the time?
I’m very much in favour of ‘Marie Condo-ing’ your feed. If a post or account doesn’t give you anything positive, you are allowed to unfollow that person. Even if that person [is harmless]. There are so many reasons why content might not make you feel great. And it might 100% be because of your own issues, [like maybe you’re jealous, or you dislike certain content or something]. But that is still a valid reason to unfollow somebody.
We should take this much more seriously and ask ourselves, “[After seeing that post, I’m feeling worse than before. Why is that? Maybe I need to be more mindful and unfollow people that don’t bring joy into my life.” Because with social media, you’re trying to take a break. And a break should make you feel better, not worse.
Q: I read an article in The Atlantic about how social media has changed. It used to be quite personal, but now most content or posts are geared towards people you don’t know. This can be useful for professional reasons like networking or connecting with communities across the globe, but there is the potential downside of it becoming far removed from its original purpose.
A: I miss seeing my friends’ photos on Facebook. [This was during a time] when we were following a manageable number of people and got to see more of their private lives and got to know them. It used to be like that on Twitter, too.
On the other hand, I still get that on Twitter [in a different way]. Like I have co-workers. They’re not actual co-workers, but as long as I keep the conversation with this online circle of people, I feel like I’m part of a community. And it’s a net positive in my life.
Some of the best networking I’ve done has been on Twitter, where I get to know the individual more personally. I probably don’t know everything about them because it’s the internet, but I’ve seen photos of their garden, or I’ve talked to them about our summer plans. And then we’ve met at conferences and made more of a personal connection there.
But, of course, social media can quickly become a negative experience if there’s too much of what you don’t want on your feed, and too little of what you actually want to see, [whatever that may be].
Q: According to a Scientific American article, information overload on social media can make us vulnerable to fake news because we default to our cognitive biases when overwhelmed by too much information.
On the other hand, people have spoken about the dangers of social media ‘echo chambers’, which can also strengthen biases. It seems there’s a delicate balance between opening up to new sources of information and avoiding information overload by taking in too many sources or following too many accounts. Can you speak to that issue at all in relation to what Prune Your Follows does?
A: Prune Your Follows could help with this. Someone told me that after using the tool, they were comfortable following more people because they knew it would be easier to unfollow accounts [if it got too overwhelming]. So maybe you’ll be more likely to follow people outside your bubble. On the other hand, if you know you’ll struggle to unfollow people, you might be more restrictive and limit your worldview.
Q: What was your original inspiration for creating this side project?
A: I have about 3000 followers on Twitter, and if you’re in that range, you’re not allowed to follow more than 5000 people. I’ve been on the platform for 14 or 15 years, and I kind of just followed people uncritically. I’ve had different interests and followed many people in one direction and then another.
A year or so ago, I wanted to follow people in my industry, but I wasn’t allowed to follow any more accounts. And if you view who you’re following, it’s just a very long list that seems infinite. Plus, I think the people you’ve followed most recently appear at the top. So, it’s challenging to figure out who to unfollow.
After making my tool, I found people I followed fourteen years ago that haven’t tweeted anything in years. But to find those people that you could ‘prune’ was tough because they were at the bottom of this gigantic list. And infinitely scrolling through like 5000 people is a [real] job.
So, I created the app as a side project. Then we pitched it to a new database company, Xata, and became ‘early adopters’ of their technology. This means that we use their software to build the app in public so that they can get a bit of publicity. But they can also get an actual use case. We can test their technology using real customers and then give them feedback about bugs or potential improvements. We call this our ‘Professional Early Adopter service’.
Q: How does Prune Your Follows work? How does it help you to decide who or what to unfollow?
A: It’s a web application that uses the Twitter API. [An API is a type of software interface which allows programs to be built on or function using other programs]. So the Twitter API lets Prune Your Follows offer services using Twitter’s data.
Prune Your Follows lets you log in via Twitter, and then we import everyone you follow. You’ll then see them in the application, and you can start filtering.
We have a few filter options. Firstly, you can see inactive people who haven’t posted in a while. Then, on the other hand, you can also see users who post too often [and might be cramping up your feed].
The other two filters show you people who are either very popular or unpopular. [I found this helpful because people] usually become more boring the more popular they become. And if they are very unpopular, they are unlikely to post great content.
Of course, this isn’t always the case. But in the tech space, you get people who become very popular, and instead of posting interesting niche content, they end up posting clichés. [And because they’re popular, their interaction with other users is also more likely to dominate the top of your feed.]
Prune Your follows also enables you to search through people’s Twitter bios, descriptions, usernames, names, and locations, which is currently not possible through the platform itself. Twitter only lets users search through Tweets. So, for example, I’m not interested in discussions around Crypto and Web3. Using the app, I can find people who use these terms in their Twitter bios, and then unfollow them.
Q: How have users reacted to the app? Has there been a positive response? I’m sure some people have wondered where this app has been their whole life.
A: Definitely. One guy was like, ‘Oh, I just did this manually. Why did I not know about this tool?!’. There’s been some really [positive responses]. It’s my most successful side project in terms of both usage and interest. We’ve got 900 users now, and we’ve facilitated over 25 000 unfollows.
People are also keen for more. There have been a lot of requests for other filters. Many people want to see the accounts that don’t follow them back.
Q: What has been most challenging in creating and implementing the app?
A: Twitter has many API limits. We can only facilitate 50 unfollows per person per 24 hours. This means people have to keep coming back to do more. And this isn’t just [the case] with the API; there would also be a limit if you did it manually. You’re just not allowed to unfollow more than a certain number of people, and I think it’s the same for following people.
They do this to avoid mass following and then unfollowing. Because one of the plays on Twitter is people will follow you to make you follow them back, and then they will unfollow you again. It’s a limit [put in place] so that a bot can’t follow a thousand people and then unfollow them the next day.
A hard limit also stops us from facilitating more than 500 unfollows across all users every 24 hours. And there’s a limit on importing followers. After we got into TechCrunch, some very popular people tried to use the tool, and some are following about 30 000 people. And that’s when you start hitting the API limit on that endpoint.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you have had to learn while creating this side project?
A: A woman keeps retweeting the same Tweet: “Do not build your house on somebody else’s lawn”. I learnt this lesson before starting Prune Your Follows, which is why we didn’t build this as a proper SaaS that we wanted to monetise. We sold it as a learning project, meaning Xata is paying us to do this as a [practical use of their software]. It’s not my make-it or break-it project. And this is because the app is 100% connected to Twitter, and they can do whatever they want at any time.
If you want to create your own SaaS business, then you need to be mindful of [building your app on another app that already exists]. It’s okay to do it, but you can’t spend all your time [on it] and put all your eggs in that one basket. Because the lawn might change or move, or there might not be a lawn anymore, and you’ll have nothing. I’ve had several side projects, and some have closed because the company I built it on has [changed or gone under].
Your ideas could also be stolen, which often happens. There will be a great Shopify extension, and then Shopify will go and make it themselves because they know which plugins are the most popular. The company controls the marketplace and knows the numbers, so it’s easy for them to reproduce the most successful features offered by other apps.
Q: What are your plans for the app?
A: Because of the Twitter API limits, our next step for Prune Your follows is to implement ‘queues’. [The idea would be to] put all unfollows in a line and then limit how many we process every 24 hours. So we can say, ‘You can unfollow a hundred and fifty people, but we will process [the request] over the next five days together with everyone else.’ And then one way to monetise would be to give you a priority in the queue, so if you don’t pay, then it might take slightly longer. But for this project, the main goal isn’t to monetise. It is to learn and explore Xata and other technologies.
Q: Twitter has recently introduced a scaled price plan to its API system, though you can still access some of its API services for free. How will this affect Prune Your Follows?
A: I don’t mind paying for services. But it depends. We’re more price sensitive because we’re not making money off of it. Twitter has given us (as in all of us dependent on the API) next to no information: We don’t know if we’ll still be eligible for the free plan or will have to upgrade to the new $100-a-month plan. The latter would be unfeasible for us without a solid monetization plan.
Like most technology, social media is what you make of it. It can be a powerful tool for connecting with others and informing yourself about diverse topics. But it can also be overstimulating or bland if you don’t intentionally curate your feed and experience. Prune Your Follows reminds us that we are ultimately in control of our feeds and that you need to take action if you don’t enjoy a particular account or content. With it, you can cull and mould your online encounters so that they really feel worth your time.