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Page history last edited by Tantek 7 years, 6 months ago

Communication Filters

short URL: http://ttk.me/w/CommunicationFilters


Communication methods, in addition to CommunicationProtocols which indicate preferences for both directions of communciation, require filtering in order to maximize signal, and minimize noise.


These notes are a brief overview of thoughts and analyses logged and documented over the past several years while using one or more of the following services.


Key words and phrases: IM, instant messaging, etiquette, policy, protocol, social network policy



work in progress

Like the CommunicationProtocols, this is very much a work in progress and is subject to a lot of updating and revising as I figure things out. There will likely be mistakes (that will hopefully be recognized and corrected as soon as possible).

asynchronous implementation

While I'm trying to write down my thoughts on filters before implementing them, sometimes it may take a while for me to do so, and other times, I may experiment with adds/drops before writing down (or even figuring out) reasons for doing so.


think act positive

Keeping the above disclaimers in mind, try not to reason too strictly by the below, and certainly avoid reasoning by process of elimination. Rather, when you don't understand some thing or action, try to InterpretPositively.


If something related to these CommunicationFilters bothers you, I encourage you to contact me directly (per CommunicationProtocols) and just ask about it. Actually, that's a good general rule for what to do if something I do upsets you or confuses you. Certainly private direct contact is way better than public passive aggressive indirect contact.



Specifically, maximize:

  • signal to noise ratio
  • positivity
  • usability
  • efficiency
  • some minimal general availability to enable new contact



general filters


These are general filters for adding/dropping that apply to more than one of the specific methods / sites below.


  • nice people that I meet
  • people that are going to be visiting my house, are visiting my house
  • nice neighbors
  • people in cities that I am going to visit, am visiting
  • people attending conferences I am going to, am attending
  • highly recommended friends of close friends
  • genuinely overwhelmingly positive people



  • people that tend to have a bit too much negativity
  • people that have been passive aggressive and/or make public personal attacks (e.g. namecalling, repeated use of logical fallacies in arguments) at least twice within a two week period. Everybody makes mistakes, and for now I am setting that threshold at one bad day per two weeks, as even the best of us have bad days which make us say things we would otherwise know not to say (or think).
  • people that work for companies that thrive on spreading negativity (like the defunct online site VW).



  • abusers and Trolls (both respectable and simple time wasters) one at a time.
  • bad parodies
  • people that make things up and/or otherwise cast false negative aspersions on me or anyone else I know




My 2009 themeword is focus and in order to do so, one must filter = say no. Thus I'm going to filter out certain topics / implied tasks. Think of it as controlled deliberate failure as opposed to chaotic accidental failure. In the interest of transparency and perhaps helping others focus as well, I'm documenting here.

  • "You have been tagged" memes.


telephone filters

Phones and phone numbers are particularly problematic because they typically depend on not one but *two* single points of failure. A single service provider, and a single physical device. Thus I'm minimizing my use of a "phone number", as tweeted. I'm only adding a very limited set of folks to my phone number:


  • emergency contacts
  • family
  • close neighbors
  • a few close friends (for emergency contact, or a few of those I interact with several times a week.)


instant messaging filters

In addition to the general filters above, I've found these specific filters for instant messaging clients, which differ between different systems.



My AIM is available on my ContactCard

  • keep it open in general when available for brief chats.
  • often offline when en route or in the evenings



My Gtalk is deliberately undisclosed (guessable, but please use your best judgment, perhaps using the below, before adding me).


I have Google Talk clients on both my laptop and BlackBerry, and due to both the everpresent interruptibility and the limited user interface of Google Talk for BlackBerry (list view, no groups = the fewer people in your buddy list, the easier to use the application), I am limiting this to a much smaller subset than my AIM buddy list.


  • family, close neighbors, very close friends (for emergency contact)
  • people I'm advising or mentoring (or have recently)
  • people I IM with frequently, at least several times a week (whether for work, personal reasons etc.)
  • frequent climbing buddies
  • contacts related to conferences before, during, and just after conferences (for prep, sync-up, and follow-up)
  • people I'm actively working on projects with (e.g. on specific microformats tasks).
  • emergency press contacts
  • people I met recently
  • tech support for critical web services


Once in a while dropping folks who I don't need to have on my GTalk, AIM is good enough:

  • people I haven't IM'd with in a month or more
  • people not in my local city who I don't IM with very often.


As much of the above is quite dynamic, e.g. when I travel, it won't be unusual for there to be a lot of flux, and I may even add/delete the same person multiple times over the course of weeks or months.


If I do happen to drop you, please don't take offense, as in most cases it merely reflects that at this point in time we just don't seem to be communicating that frequently, which very well may change in the future.



frequently used sites



I prefer to allow any Flickr user to comment/tag/note my photos as I think it encourages better/more community participation.


  • People I've met
  • People who take nice photos (often found through friends' favorites).


  • can't remember the last time I dropped someone from Flickr.

Blocking (in addition to the general filters at the top)

  • people with generic icons that favorite photos primarily of porn and favorite photos I've taken of friends. No problems with porn collections, just don't include my friends in them.
  • creepy commenters/taggers/noters.



Since my Twitter has similar constraints to GTalk (flat list of contacts to direct message, both on the Web and in TwitterBerry), I'm applying criteria similar to GTalk, with a few more filters.


Reading on the web instead. I'm moving to reading more and more folks (especially those that are particularly prolific tweeters) once in a while by simply going directly to their Twitter profile page, rather than subscribing/following their tweets in realtime. So just because I drop someone doesn't mean I'm no longer reading them. It may just mean that I prefer to read them in batches on the web rather than as part of a semi-real-time stream where their frequent tweeting may (likely is) drowning out the less frequent tweets from everybody else I'm following. In many/most cases we've already exchanged AIM/gtalk ids and/or mobile #s so there is no dependence on Twitter direct messages to get in direct touch.



  • people that are really good filters/editors (e.g. @timoreilly)
  • event/service based accounts while I am attending said events (mostly temporary, sometimes I might keep them on for year-round info, e.g. @sxsw)
  • people who frequently twitter about microformats
  • a few public figures (e.g. @algore)
  • some folks just so we can direct message (cheaper than txt messaging internationally)

Likely to drop:

  • people that lack a URL on their Twitter profile
  • in a timezone more than 3 hours away, or more than 2 hours driving distance away, and mostly a social contact (also likely to re-add once we're in the same city again)
  • people who use icons of their pets for their icons (consider making an account for your pet instead!)
  • people who use icons of their baby for their icons (I know you think it's cute, but frankly it just doesn't seem right.)
  • people who use cartoony icons that aren't representative enough of them (and thus we're probably just acquaintances anyway).
  • people that *often* tweet non-ironically about astrology (or other mythology worship). Occasional mentions (of even stuff like OMG, or "use the force" etc.) I have *no* problems with. But several tweets in a row, and it's like, enough already. Blame it on Mercury if you like.
  • have never met and I can't remember why I added you
  • have never met (or I forgot?) and you @-reply a lot to people I don't know (and maybe I can't remember why I added you)
  • was a temporary add so we could direct message a while ago
  • have not updated in over a month
  • still have a default icon
  • not humanoid
  • not following me and none of your most recent tweets on your profile page sounded interesting
  • fictitious figures (I know, they're fun to follow for a while, but tend to be a source of noise).
  • you @-reply and/or retweet more than you tweet original content
  • you republish *from* FriendFeed


  • people who's name I and my address book can't recognize, and their icon doesn't look like them - as Twittered 2008-02-08
  • people who are not within 2 hour driving distance, AND
    • twitter inane stuff OR
    • never twitter anything topical to me
  • people I haven't been in touch with for a few months, and who rarely tweet about topics I have any interest in (like nothing on their twitter home page).
  • people who are way too emotional or full of drama in most of their tweets
  • people who seem to tweet primarily to draw attention to themselves in a juvenile sort of "look at me! look at me!" way
    • as Thor said: "I'm old fashioned. Generally, I believe a person's interestingness is inversely related to how much they talk about themselves." (retweeted)
  • people who are emotionally immature, unstable, drama amplifiers
  • people who are frequently passive aggressive (once in a while is just annoying/disappointing, but probably not worth dropping someone over)
  • one half of a couple when the couple often (re)tweets the same things
  • people who mostly just retweet things from other people I follow
  • people that are big sports fans - I really don't care about organized sports, so most of your tweets will probably be noise to me - sorry.
  • *primarily* (as in, some is ok, but nearly all the time is too much for me) superficial sensory/entertainment/materialistic/self-image obsessed tweeters. i.e. people that tweet mostly about
    • food, beer, wine, coffee (EXCEPTION: if it is health focused, e.g. deliberate healthy home cooking, that's a plus)
      • that they're going to consume, they're consuming, they've consumed
    • movies, bands
      • that they're going to see, that they've seen
    • music
      • that they are going to listen to, that they've just listened to (use last.fm instead)
    • clothes, shoes
      • that they're going to wear, they just bought, that they're wearing



Adding people I've met and/or trust to attend private events I organize.

Dropping people I don't feel comfortable with at private events.



At this point it's worth re-iterating and perhaps re-phrasing some of the disclaimers above.


There are LOTS of reasons people add/follow/unfollow/drop, and everybody has their own complex set of reasons, so it is nearly impossible to reason by process of elimination. My filters may or may not work for you, and you might have filters that work better for you.


And despite best attempts at documenting a set of conscious filters, it's inevitable that sufficiently complex systems will produce unexpected results, not to mention, the larger the system, the more likely there are to be mistakes. Like open source though, perhaps by publishing this code of a sort, there's a higher chance that bugs are found and pointed out.


So if you see me (or anyone) drop you on Twitter (or any service), it is better to assume confusion and not knowing something, than to attempt to reach a tenuous at best negative conclusion. Get comfortable with uncertainty, and then just gather data over time to fill in the gaps rather than prematurely filling them with pessimism.


I'm still fine tuning all of this of course, so as a result, if you've met me, don't be surprised if you see some amount of add/drop turnover. Remember you can (nearly) always reach me thru AIM and if you have my cell, you can text me as well (see CommunicationProtocols for more).



(to be documented)




  • Only add people I've met and who I'm ok with knowing where I might be.


  • If the thought of a person randomly showing up where I checked in makes me too uncomfortable, then I unfriend. A little uncomfortable is ok for me, since partly I assume that's from introversion (not knowing them well enough, yet), and partly I see it as pushing my own boundaries/limits.


See also Ariel Waldman's writeup on location based services, specifically her excellent analysis/outline of Dodgeball's key design elements.



Still figuring out who to add or not. Haven't dropped anyone IIRC.

More to be written up.


rare or experimental use


Treating it as an iteration of LinkedIn - assuming anything posted is likely public, not private.


  • People I've met that seem non-creepy.


  • People that are creepy to any of my friends. 



Just experimenting a bit with this one. I've added a few folks from my (far out of date) blogroll but haven't really developed a set of concrete add/drop criteria. I don't like the way FriendFeed seems to suck in your data and not provide easy to access permalinks to the originals. Feels a bit parasitic. They do provide an interesting example of a hybrid activity stream aggregation. Worth some study.



I've been asked the following question(s), not about my own Twitter behaviors (which I've tried to roughly document above), but more often others' behaviors, and thought it was worth documenting some of the answers.


Why did they drop me from their Twitter?

AKA: Why did so and so who I thought was a friend, drop me from their Twitter?

Here are some possible answers:

  • You twitter too much (too frequently) for their taste, so they decided to simply stop following you, rather than asking you to chill out, or tweet less often etc. They likely don't want to impose on your tweeting style, so they are doing the more polite thing by simply not following you.
  • You Twitter too much about topics they don't care about. e.g. maybe: food, drinking, debating with yourself (AKA navel gazing), how everything is super awesome of full of suck (AKA excessive bipolar tweeting).
  • You tweet too emo. You tweet about being really happy, or really upset. (another form of bipolar tweeting).
  • They live in a different city than you do and so maybe they've decided to only follow you when you're in the same city.
  • They are only following 50/100/200/300/400 people and there happen to be other people they'd rather be following than you in that small subset.


Others Communication Filters




Offline Sites

Inactive sites - their filters kept here for purely informative purposes in case there is a similar site in the future.



Adding people I've met or who post interesting things.

Dropping people who simply repost from blip.fm/FriendFeed/ping.fm/Twitter using one of those multiposting clients.



Prefer to only add folks I've met, with perhaps exceptions made for folks highly recommended by good friends, and who I'm ok with knowing where I might be.



Only add people I've met and who I'm ok with knowing where I might be.


Return to CommunicationProtocols \ FrontPage.


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