With so many people drinking from the Twitter fire hose, it's no wonder that some people have suggested that it can replace the soon-to-be defunct Google Reader. But that vision is based on the mistaken idea that Twitter, at its heart, is a news medium.
I believe there's a better way to use Twitter: as a relationship medium, one that helps you find, connect, and converse with people. Being the first with a nugget of industry gossip is nice, but creating, nourishing and sustaining meaningful working relationships is far more fundamental to your professional success and career development.
And with thoughtful use, Twitter can help support those relationships. Instead of the self-organized sphere of Google Reader, you can use Twitter as a system where others do the filtering for you: a network you've assembled that is telling you to "check this out," or better yet, "read this, and here's why it matters to you."
As I describe in Work Smarter with Twitter and HootSuite, published today by Harvard Business Review Press, the key to making effective, satisfying use of Twitter is to keep your attention focused on the people who matter most to you. You do that by using Twitter lists to organize your tweets, giving each list a name that prompts you to think about how you want to relate to each set of people you follow. A multi-column Twitter client like HootSuite (one of the world's most popular Twitter clients) can help you focus on your lists rather than your home feed, so you're much less likely to get overwhelmed. (Full disclosure: My employer, Vision Critical, built a survey app that plugs into HootSuite.)
Ironically, the book's prescription for using Twitter and HootSuite also calls for using Google Reader to keep your own Twitter feed populated with news and links that will be useful to the people you care about; the book went to (digital) press before Google made its announcement. While much of the value of Reader can't be replicated by the Twitter/HootSuite combo, when it comes to keeping your own Twitter presence lively, the combination of Twitter lists and a multi-column Twitter app can do the job.
Here's how to set up HootSuite so that you can use it to find share-able news:
Organize the people you follow into Twitter lists; you don't have to put everyone into a list, just the people you most want to attend to. Name each list in a way that reminds you of what you want from each set of people and relationships: "Learn," "Collaborate," "Laugh," "Inspire," and so forth.
Create a "Lists" tab in HootSuite. Set up each of the lists you've just created in a separate HootSuite column. If set up well, you'll use this tab to focus your attention on the relationships that matter, instead of getting lost in your home feed.
Create a dedicated "News" tab in HootSuite. Add people to it that you want to learn from or be informed by. Then set up search and keyword columns ("streams", in HootSpeak) to track news and links in your field. For example, the #MRX hashtag is used by people who tweet about market research, so I have a HootSuite column setup that includes any tweet with the keyword #MRX. I also have a column set up to track news about information overload, powered by the search string "overload (digital OR email OR information OR "social media")."
Subscribe to RSS feeds from within HootSuite. While HootSuite has a built-in RSS feed tool, it's designed for people who want to automatically tweet out their own blog posts. If you want to use HootSuite to subscribe to RSS feeds from other people, you're better off using the RSS app, available for free from the HootSuite App Directory. Use it to subscribe to the RSS feeds of Google News and Google blog searches, constructing your search queries so they reflect the specific topic or niche you want to cover in your own Twitter feed.
Filter your "News" streams to show only links. The lists and keywords searches you've set up in your News tab will likely include a lot of tweets that don't link to share-able news items. To narrow those feeds down so that they only show you link-bearing tweets, use the "filter by" option in HootSuite (in the top-right of each column, under the down-pointing arrow) and enter a slash ("/"); it will filter the column so it only shows you tweets that include the slash that is part of virtually any shared link. Now your column will consist almost entirely of links.
Share valuable links by posting them on Twitter yourself. If you're planning to tweet or share a link that came to you through someone else's Twitter feed, it's polite to acknowledge the source of the link. If you're using their tweet verbatim, acknowledge it as a retweet (beginning with RT @theirusernameI); if you're writing your own tweet to share a link you discovered through someone else, thank them by finishing your tweet with HT @theirusername [as in "hat tip"] or via @theirusername.
Even if you're not ready to make the leap to HootSuite, or set up custom columns, setting up a few Twitter lists can help you focus your online interaction on the people who matter most to you professionally, and focus your attention on the links they recommend. (You can also follow lists other people have curated by searching for lists on listatlas.com. It's the best replacement I've found for Listorious, which also closed since I submitted my manuscript!) Beyond HootSuite's own mobile apps, a tablet-oriented news reading app can give you a magazine-like way to read the news shared by your Twitter friends; in the case of the popular Flipboard app, you can even browse the latest news from specific Twitter lists.
None of these workarounds have dried my tears over the impending death of Google Reader, but they have shown me a silver lining. Every time a beloved web service closes, it gives us the opportunity to rethink the way we work and to reallocate our attention to what really matters. And if the term "social web" is to mean anything, what matters will always be not the information itself, but the people behind it.