Twitter’s half-truth about its app settings

Bill Bennett, a local technology journalist I respect, tweeted a CNN Business article about Twitter’s overzealous algorithm.

That article quoted a Twitter spokesperson:

… We will continue to work to improve our efforts here, and people always have the option of turning off our curation if they just want to see content from the people they follow.

This quote is sketchy and only half-true.

The other half-truth, which this Twitter spokesperson did not say, is that although you can turn off curation, on the phone app Twitter turns it back on within a few days without your consent. The settings on my web app are untouched though, which is likely what this well-meaning spokesperson has quoted.

If you really want to improve your efforts here, Twitter, stop changing your users’ app settings and start respecting their preferences.

And definitely educate your spokesperson with your phone app’s hidden features as well, so they can share accurate information about your platform.

Twitter is changing my timeline preferences

Recently I wrote about how I reduced the noise on my Twitter timeline by changing the default timeline preference from top tweets to the latest tweets.

Since then I noticed that from time to time my timeline preference is falling back to top tweets without my intervention. But I wasn’t totally sure because I did not think Twitter may be overriding my preferences. Today I realized it is indeed the case!

As shown in the following screenshot of the iOS app on my phone, Twitter is overzealously overriding my timeline preference to what it wants me to see.

Twitter screenshot showing its overzealousness with changing my preferences.
Twitter is changing my preference 🙁

Every time Twitter does this to me, I have to tap the star icon at the top right and change the preference to latest tweets.

This is my first-hand experience of a social network’s aggressiveness towards its users. I still stand Twitter because I often find useful information on it via the cool people I follow. But when the time comes, I don’t think twice to leave the platform. Until then, I will put up with this nuisance.

How to quickly add tasks to your to-do app

The usual workflow to add tasks to any to-do app involves loosely a few steps:

  • Find the app on the computer
  • Open the app
  • Find the Inbox folder
  • Click the Add task button
  • Type the task name
  • Hit Enter to add task

These manual steps of adding tasks are way better than not having a to-do system in the first place. But the problem with manually adding tasks is the number of steps it involves. The six steps I listed above don’t even include deciding the project of the task, priority, due date, labels et al. The basic six manual steps are hard to do (and hence easier to skip) especially when we are busy doing other things. This often meant, I missed adding some tasks or had to distract myself from my current task and take a detour to my to-do app just to add the tasks.

This has been my biggest problem with how I used Wunderlist. Until I discovered Zapier early last year.

Zapier is a tool that allows you to connect apps you use every day to automate tasks and save time.

After seeing some of my colleagues use Zapier for automating some work tasks, I got curious and started exploring it. This lead me to learn about zaps.

A Zap is a specific link between two services you’ve connected on Zapier.

Zapier provides a ton of app integration ideas. You can start from here: https://zapier.com/apps/integrations/ and explore some integration ideas depending on the apps and services you use.

My recent move from Wunderlist to Todoist wasn’t complete until I have also moved some Todoist zaps on which I rely a lot for work and personal life.

For work I use the following Zaps:

  1. Add new starred emails to Todoist as tasks (so when I just star a Gmail, it appears as a task in my Todoist with the link to the email for the context)
  2. Add new starred Slack messages to Todoist as tasks (so I just star a Slack message, and the message would appear in my Todoist with the link to the Slack message)
  3. I use Alfred a lot. So I setup Zapier for Alfred workflow which allows me to add tasks to my Todoist from the Alfred window.
  4. Unrelated to Todoist, but I also set up an Alfred workflow to add events to my work calendar right from the Alfred window, through a Zap in the background.

I also have a version of all the above zaps (except the Slack to Todoist zap) to work with my personal email, calendar and Todoist lists.

All these zaps allow me to add tasks to Todoist or calendars without having to stop what I am doing and without leaving the keyboard.

Regardless of which apps you use, there are a ton of zaps and Alfred workflows that offer myriad options. But a word of caution though: too many options means often we end up using none! After experiencing this for a long time, I optimized my workflows for simplicity and inexpensiveness in terms of both my money and cognitive energy. This means, I use Zapier’s Free plan which allows me to have only 5 zaps, and each of those zaps can only connect two apps. And I can use only 100 tasks per month. This seems to be sufficient for my needs and is working pretty well for me.

Likewise, if you use Alfred, you will find many sophisticated workflows that allow you to set tasks labels, priorities and other details right from Alfred window. While these options are good, it also means I need to learn those options and remember them. This often requires mental bandwidth and energy. This mostly lead me to stress and confusion and as a result, uselessness. So again, I optimized for simplicity and just use a basic workflow that sends whatever I write in Alfred window to Todoist’s Inbox from where I will triage later, so I don’t have to remember much or leave what I am doing. This works well for me rather than trying to use complicated workflows that require me to learn and remember their options.

How to declutter your Twitter timeline

I recently changed my Twitter iPhone app from Tweetbot 3 to the default Twitter iOS app.

Twitter for iOS app is largely good. But I noticed that my Twitter timeline both in the browser and iPhone app got noisy than they should be for the fifty people I follow. This is making me spend (not waste) more time than I would like to spend on Twitter. The clutter also means the actual tweets from the people I follow, the tweets I would love to see, are buried in the noise. This made me feel like I am missing important tweets.

I only ever wanted to see the tweets from the people I very carefully and deliberately choose to follow, in the order they are tweeted. Nothing more.

On a deeper look, I noticed that Twitter is not just showing me the tweets from the people I follow, but also the tweets liked (marked ♥️) by the people I follow as well as the conversations the people I follow are having with other people I don’t follow.

This has been a great revelation for me! This is my first-hand experience of Twitter’s aggressiveness and setting the defaults that work better for Twitter but cleverly wrapped as what I likely care about most.

For many weeks I thought there is no way around it and felt like I have to live with it. But having had enough, this week I decided to check if there is a way to declutter my timeline. I poked around the settings on my Twitter account and found this gem (in the red box) at https://twitter.com/settings/account:

Turn off best / top Tweets in Twitter web app.

Clicking the blue Learn more link took me to What’s in your Home timeline page on which I found this:

You can choose between viewing the top Tweets first or the latest Tweets first in your timeline (Twitter for iOS and Android only). Top Tweets are ones you are likely to care about most, and we choose them based on accounts you interact with most, Tweets you engage with, and much more. You can find instructions on how to toggle between the two timeline views below.


So instead of showing me what I want to see (latest Tweets), Twitter is showing what it wants me to see (top Tweets)!

At the end of the same help page, I also found the instructions to turn off Top Tweets in the iOS and Android apps.

Turn off best / top Tweets in Twitter mobile apps.

So changing the Twitter’s default settings by turning off Show the best Tweets first in the browser and toggling to latest Tweets in the iOS app made my twitter timeline much cleaner and calmer in both the places I check my tweets.

Barring these little annoyances, Twitter is the only social network I use and find really helpful by being deliberate about who I choose to follow, and override some of its default settings I mentioned in this post.