The Solution Can Not be “Just Follow Fewer People”

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 3 min read
The Solution Can Not be “Just Follow Fewer People”

I posted a picture like the one above earlier today and commented on the anxiety it caused me. The responses pretty much across the board were that I should follow fewer people. Some people suggested I just give up and skip to the end.

Now some of these were shared in jest, and I mean nothing bad at those who suggested that was the solution, but it strikes me because this is a common response whenever I mention that I have too much of anything on iOS, and these folks are not wrong, this is the only solution to this problem.

Another issue that brings this up for me is when I express my love for how Android handles notifications. I feel like I can always keep up on what is happening in my life in seconds, while iOS’s notification system is more of a “miss it and you’ll never see it again” thing for me.

Again, the response is stop getting so many notifications.

The final example for now is email. I like an email app with a “priority” inbox, one that tries tp put my most important emails front and center. Some people don’t like this because it betrays the almighty chronological feed of emails. The solution: unsubscribe from some emails.

I get people have different preferences, but this “follow fewer people” or the fascinating “get fewer emails” suggestions just don’t square with me. Yes, I follow a few hundred people on Twitter, and yes I get a lot of emails at work, and yes I get more notifications than most on my phone, but that doesn’t mean that my needs as a user don’t matter. That’s doubly true when there are alternatives out there that do not have these same problems for an “outlier” like me, and I think I finally know how to sum it up briefly.

The difference between Tweetbot, iOS notifications, & classic email inboxes and Twitter, Android notifications, & Outlook all comes down to organization. The systems that work for me take preemptive steps to present information in a logical way. The systems that don’t work for me are the ones that just look at 100 messages and spit them out with no sense of order.

Maybe I could follow fewer people on Twitter, but I genuinely like basically everyone I follow and like to see things from all of them. I don’t see every single tweet from everyone I follow right now, but Twitter has some pretty great logic that shows me the most interesting things from those people when I open the app. For example, someone I follow got hired at Apple a few weeks ago. Twitter made sure I saw the tweet the moment I opened the app because it got tons of interactions and was probably worth seeing. If I used Tweetbot I would have needed to make sure I read all 1,000+ tweets in my timeline so I wouldn’t miss it.

The same goes for my phone notifications. I use Signal for messaging some of my friends with Android phones and it’s on the second page of my iPhone. I can’t tell you how many times I completely miss messages for hours because I missed the notification and never saw it again. This never happened on Android because these messages were displayed in a more intelligent way.

And for work, well, it’s not really up to me how many emails I get per day.

Ultimately what I’m saying is that suggesting someone follow fewer people, get fewer notifications, or just unsubscribe from some emails is not particularly compelling: it’s more an admission that a piece of software doesn’t scale.