If you're thinking about how to streamline using Twitter, Vladis Krebs offers excellent advice in "So Many People, So Little Time." He recommends using social network theory to design your Twitter following strategy. (Following = people whose Tweets you read.) It boils down to following the few to find the many!
OrgNet, Vladis Krebs
It isn't about following thousands and thousands of friends on Twitter. We don't have the time or brain cells for that. Don't just pick an arbitrary number and start pruning. It isn't about finding a small number of people who have large networks either. It's about finding people who are connected to different social circles and following them. (Of course you have to be interested in what information or conversations they are sharing Twitter, too). Identifying these people or what Krebs calls "nodes" is core of social network analysis.
And you need to build some redundancy in your network so you have a few multiple paths to people and ideas of interest to you.
He explains why this approach is efficient:
Because I have chosen them carefully, I want to actually read the tweets of the people I follow. A small part of my "following network" is always in churn, but the number of people I follow on Twitter never exceeds 100 [currently I follow about 70]. Those who follow thousands of people readily admit that they can not read the fire hose of tweets they get every day.
Strategically I am building a small, yet efficient, group that reaches out into the many diverse information pools I am interested in. I know I am finding good people to follow on Twitter by the number of great exchanges that emerge on many topics. Think before you follow, use your time and ties wisely!
This is a shift from earlier debates about the optimal number of people to follow on Twitter and social conventions. There was considerable discussion about the following to friends ratio (the number of people whose tweets you read compared to the number of people who read your tweets) and whether you should follow everyone who follows you. This can create a lot of noise as Louis Gray points out.
There were some early tools to analyze these ratios, including Twitter Ratio which also describes some Twitter user patterns based on this ratio which are more humorous than anything else. Twitter use behavior is evolving. A few months back, Tim O'Reilly made this observation.
Some Twitter tools, like Tweetdeck, help you group your followers into smaller subgroups. But the tool and process I'd love to see is something that lets you create a social networking visual of your friends and followers on Twitter and helps you understand the results.
If you have a large number of followers because you auto follow or by accident, you don't need a tool manage it. Apply a little social networking theory and think before you follow. Ask yourself, if you were stuck on desert island and could only follow 150 people, who would you choose?
How do you choose people to follow on Twitter? How many people do you follow and why? How do you manage it? What value do you get?