I’ve been using Twitter for about a year now, and it has grown on me, both as a way to find interesting news and information and as another way to disseminate it. It annoys me when I see pieces like this one, in which the writer complains about the content on Twitter being inane, for people too lazy to read, or, in this particular case, so utterly fake.

Are the examples the writer gives to back up his claims legit? Sure. But that’s akin to someone pointing to the inane portions of the Internet and saying there’s nothing good on the Web, or someone pointing to the harlequin romance novels section as evidence that bookstores offer nothing but crap. Like any medium, there are plenty of crap on Twitter, but there are also a lot of good stuff, too. You just need to know where to look, the same way that you know when you walk into a bookstore to stay away from the trashy romance section and head straight toward whichever section you’re interested in. However, the way Twitter is set up, it’s kind of like heading into a bookstore where the books are all mixed up and scattered about, with little signage within the store itself to tell you where to find the best-sellers and classics.

Hey, if you don’t like Twitter because you’re just not into the concept of sharing or social media, that’s totally fine. To each their own. But if you don’t like Twitter because you feel like there’s nothing of substance on there, then your disdain is unwarranted because you’re just not looking in the right places. So here are a few ways that I’ve found to be effective in locating the good and avoiding the crap on Twitter:

  • Pick topics that you’re interested in, and look for people who tweet about them: I’ve found that Twitter often works best as a tool for immersing yourself in a particular topic. For instance, being a former journalist, one of my interests is obviously journalism, and I’ve tailored my Twitter feed to include a large number of good sources who share insights and links to interesting pieces about that topic. I’m literally flooded by a deluge of information about journalism through my Twitter feed every day. The same with my other interests, such as zoos, photography, and traveling. And it’s much easier to find good Twitter sources if you’re searching by what they are tweeting about rather than who they are. Until I realized that, I didn’t really get the appeal of Twitter either because I just didn’t know whom to follow.

  • Be sure to check out the people followed by the people you follow.
  • Whom do the followed follow? Be sure to check out whom the people you follow are following, and the people who send tweets to the people you follow (to find people who are sending tweets to JaneDoe, search on Twitter for “@JaneDoe”). Also, look at their Twitter lists. These are great ways to find people who share a particular common interest. It’s like a trail of breadcrumbs that can lead you to good sources.
  • Follow RTs to the source: RT on Twitter means retweet — retransmitting something originally tweeted by someone else. When retransmitting, it’s common courtesy to put RT and then the user name of whoever originally tweeted it. If you find a retweeted link or insight interesting, following it back to the originating source and see if they’re worth following.
  • Use Twitter directories such as WeFollow: You can search for topics that interest you and see who in each category has the most followers. Depending on the category, the ones with the most followers may not necessarily have the best, or even good, Twitter feeds, but it’s a starting point. Pick some of those accounts, and repeat the steps outlined in the previous bullet points. Again, this is searching for Twitter users based on what they are tweeting about rather than who they are, which gives you a much better chance of finding useful feeds.
  • Do your favorite bloggers have Twitter accounts? Go on their blogs and look for links to their Twitter feeds.
  • When all else fail, Google: Just go to Google and search for “[topic of interest] on Twitter”. You’ll be surprised how often that turns up something interesting. Aside from turning up individual tweets, the Google search could also find lists of good Twitterers compiled by others. That’s how I found a comprehensive list of zoos that are on Twitter that otherwise would have taken me a long time to track down.
  • DON’T FOLLOW CELEBRITIES: The only “celebrity” I follow on Twitter is William Shatner, and that’s just because I’m a Star Trek geek. I’ve found a lot of celebrity Twitter feeds to be of the inane, narcissistic, “here’s what I had for lunch” type that critics of Twitter mock. They’re also more likely to have ghostwriters penning their tweets. I guess when you can get legions of followers just based on who you are and not what you tweet, there really isn’t much motivation to tweet stuff of substance, especially when the mundane, everyday details of a celebrity’s life is probably what the people who follow them are after.  If you’re looking for more substance, however, look for non-celebrities who mindcast instead of lifecast.
  • Followers come and go: Tweak your feed to suit your needs. For instance, I’m planning a trip to England, so I went and looked for people who tweet about traveling in England and followed some of them while organizing the others into a Twitter list. When my trip is over, chances are I’ll just go ahead and stop following them or paying attention to the list.
  • Quality counts, but so does quantity: Obviously, you should follow only Twitter accounts that offer content that interests you. However, if you’re only following a handful of people, chances are your Twitter feed won’t be all that interesting to look at. It wasn’t until I was following about 100 accounts that my feed began being consistently interesting. It only makes sense: A lot of people contributing to a feed beats a few people contributing to a feed, and since you get to decide who contributes to your feed, you can cut out the crap and distill the feed into something where a high percentage of what comes across is substantial and interesting. Most of the people in my feed send only a few tweets a day, and not a single one of those feeds are interesting all the time, but when put together, they form a steady stream of interesting information, insights, and links.