How to Find and Follow the Best Twitter Users

I hit a Twitter landmark today. As I write this, I'm following precisely 1,000 people. It's taken me more than three years to get to this point. I've tried various strategies to decide who to follow. Let me tell you about the methods I'm using now, which seem to be working well.

I started on Twitter three years ago because it had been recommended to me strongly by a couple of people I knew from real life and Second Life. So they were the first people I followed.

I looked through the lists of people they were following -- you can find a link to that information on the top right of all users' Twitter pages. I followed the people I knew. I also followed a few people on those lists whom I knew by reputation, and who just looked interesting. There weren't any famous people on Twitter back then, so that wasn't an option.

I still think this the best way to get started on Twitter: Follow people you actually know from real life, or through interaction on other Internet communities. They'll be glad to see you on Twitter and welcome you cheerfully. You'll get involved in conversations right away.

Go through the lists of people your friends are following. Follow anybody from those lists who looks interesting to you.

I'm intentionally not defining the word "interesting" here. Don't overthink it, look over the person's picture and bio and recent tweets and go with your gut.

I'm not a big fan of the Twitter Suggested User List, or tools like Mr. Tweet that purport to automatically find people for you to follow. Nor am I a fan of Twitter directories like Twellow or Twibes. If you only follow people on those lists, you end up following a lot of strangers and celebrities. They don't know who the heck you are, they won't interact with you, you'll find Twitter boring, and you'll walk away.

If you start out by including at least a few people you actually know from real life in your Twitter list, then Twitter will seem warmer and more lively. Otherwise, you're just listening to strangers yammering.

I'm not telling you not to follow strangers and celebrities. You can, and should, follow strangers and celebrities if that sounds interesting to you. But strangers and celebrities shouldn't be the only people you follow.

Some of the celebrities I follow: Wil Wheaton, @wilw, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation and who has gone on to a career as a blogger, podcaster, writer, and actor. He's very funny, some of his tweets are like micro-essays.

The British character actor and writer Stephen Fry, @stephenfry, packs more elegance in a single 140-character tweet than I can put in a rambling blog post like this one.

The actress Alyssa Milano, @Alyssa_Milano, is surprisingly smart and natural at Twitter; she tweets out headlines, links to tech news, jokes, comments, and converses with her followers just like anybody else on Twitter does; I'd follow her even if I'd never heard of her. Plus, every one of her tweets comes with a picture of Alyssa Milano.

And of course I follow movie director, writer and actor Kevin Smith.

I also follow a few headline services, to keep up with what's going on in world, local and technology news. I follow 10News of San Diego; @BreakingNews, a global breaking news service; @Computerworld of course, and more.

Some other ways I find new people to follow:

I follow just about anyone who addresses a tweet to me in an @mention. I don't necessarily follow people who just retweet me, though.

When I meet people in real life, Twitter usually comes into the conversation. Twitter is in the news nowadays, it's part of smalltalk, like sports and the weather. If I find out the other person is on Twitter, I follow them. Usually I take out my cell phone and do it right then and there, letting them know what I'm doing.

I follow business associates.

I sometimes follow interesting people I see speak at events, or who write interestingly on the Internet.

I follow some of my favorite book authors.

I follow many of the people who follow me. I have Twitter configured to send me an e-mail anytime I get a new follower, and I look over those messages a few times a week. I filter those messages through the free Topify service, which adds additional information to the e-mails, such as the most recent tweets the person sent.

Some days, when I'm busy, I just look at my new-follower notifications and see if there are any names I recognize. Last week, I saw the name of one of my best friends from high school. I liked that. Mostly, the names are strangers to me, and I don't follow them back.

When I have a little more time, I look over profiles of my new followers as they come in. The most important thing I look at is the list of most recent tweets. If I see a tweet asking everybody to Digg something, I don't follow that person. I hate that kind of begging. I'll put up with it from people I know and like for other reasons, but if that's the first thing I see you do, then I'm not interested in talking to you anymore.

And in the time since I started writing this essay I followed three more people.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter