Picking your Subscriptions, aka “Friends,” Wisely on FriendFeed

If you are on any social network, you have at one time or another asked yourself (and probably still constantly ask yourself) Who do I follow? If someone follows me, do I auto follow them back? What is the proper etiquette?

With A LOT of clatter going on within FriendFeed right now on how much noise people are seeing in their stream, I thought I would address how I have handled these questions.

Getting Started

When you first join FriendFeed, finding who to subscribe to is a bit daunting. Hopefully, if you are just joining, or thinking about joining, you have heard about FriendFeed through one or more people. I found out about FriendFeed through Thomas Hawk. So naturally, the first person I subscribed to was Thomas Hawk. I already new I had similar interest as Thomas because I have seen what he writes about on his blog, Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection. Through that single subscription, I watched friends of Thomas’s (aka Friends of Friends – the beauty of FriendFeed) start popping up. I became acquainted with a few of his subscriptions and soon subscribed to them myself. The more people I subscribed to, the more people I started seeing through Friends of Friends.

Eventually I was participating more and more. The more you participate, the more likely someone (the potential is endless through Friends of Friends) will notice you and decide to subscribe to you. At first, it is very tempting to subscribe to them automatically. After all, it is the nice thing to do and you want to thank them for subscribing to you, right? Well, I quickly learned, that this behavior can cause your FriendFeed stream to become very noisy.

There are many ways to handle the noise. Chris Baskind has a thread on FriendFeed as I write this, asking users to share how they handle the noise on FriendFeed. I am not going to go into details on all possible ways to reduce the noise, but rather explicitly discuss how I pick my subscriptions to minimize the noise.

How I handle who I subscribe to

When I get a new subscription, I view that person’s FriendFeed stream. I take a look at the following things:

  1. What services they have feeding into FriendFeed – If a user only has Twitter, Ping.fm, and Google Reader, the chances are the data flowing through their feed is not going to be what I want to see. However, since I love looking at new pictures and discovering new photographers, if the user is feeding in Flickr, Zooomr and SmugMug, the chances are a lot higher I will be interested.
  2. What are they actually posting – After checking out their services, I won’t disqualify them immediately, but rather look at what data is actually flowing through those services. In the first example, if the person is sharing some very interesting (to my taste) things in Google Reader, I might be inclined to subscribe. In the second example, if the pictures the person is feeding do not fit my taste, I’ll be less inclined to subscribe.
  3. How active are they – After reviewing their feed for content, I’ll take a look at how many comments and likes they have in the past week. I like following users who are active and participate (that’s what being part of a social network is all about), but not overly active. Someone who likes every last thing they see will cause too much noise (in my opinion).
  4. What does their activity look like – Finally, I look at what they are commenting and liking and read a few of their comments. If this person is liking and commenting on things I find interesting, then it is likely they will bring some of their friends to my feed and introduce me to some new content.
  5. With all that complete, I then flip a coin to decide if I will follow them 🙂

Every week (or so) I go through who is subscribed to me and look for names that look familiar (people who have been participating on my threads as well as friends of friends). If their name jumps at me, I’ll review their feed again with the above steps.

This process has worked pretty well for me so far. I am subscribed to 144 people and find that I am able to manage my feed reasonably well. As I approach and pass the 150 mark (because that is where I feel things might get a bit crazy), I will be paying closer attention and possibly become more stringent on who I subscribe to.

Do you have a technique for picking your subscriptions more wisely?

Till next time..


The process I described above is specifically for FriendFeed. I handle my contacts and subscriptions very differently for Twitter, Flickr and other social networks.

I do not think there should be a set etiquette on any social network. You have your reasons for joining a social network and you have the right to manage your friends, contacts and subscriptions however you want.

There have been a few discussions already about some of what I have talked about above. To name a few:

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Categorized: The Social Web