For the last few years, I’ve chosen one weekend day a year to undertake what I’ve come to call a Feeds Reboot. I try to systematically go through every subscription, every follow, every algorithmically or chronologically generated thing I see on social platforms, streaming services, and news apps, and reset or at least review the way it works. I can’t recommend this enough.
Every time I do a Feeds Reboot, I notice a huge uptick in how interesting and relevant I suddenly find the internet. Does it then spend the next 364 days slowly degrading back into a morass from which I will try and extricate myself next year? Yep! But I’m still making progress.
The point of a Feeds Reboot is to be more intentional about the internet. It’s not the same as a privacy audit, which is also a good thing to do every year; rather, it’s a way to change what you see online. Odds are, some of what’s in your feeds — the creators on YouTube, the out-there old friends on Facebook, the inescapable dance crazes on your TikTok For You page — is the result of something you commented on, liked, or just happened to watch many months or years ago. The reboot gives you a chance to start fresh, to declare to the internet that you are no longer the person you once were, and to take more control over the algorithms that run so much of your life.
My process has gotten more complicated over time and now includes three steps: the Following Audit, the Mass Archive, and a more complicated step I’ve come to call the Feeds Reboot Pro Max.
The Following Audit is tedious but really simple: just assess everything you follow everywhere. Go through your following list on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram, look at all the sources you follow on RSS, check all your Discord memberships, look at all the newsletters you get, scroll through your podcast subscriptions, and check all the bands you follow on Spotify to make sure you still care. Don’t worry about adding better stuff since that tends to happen naturally over time. Just delete everything you don’t want, and make sure you’re only signed up for stuff you actually care about.
The next step is the Mass Archive, which is exactly what it sounds like. Do you have a million emails in your inbox? Do you have a read-it-later app chock-full of stuff you haven’t gotten to yet? How many unviewed Snaps do you have in your list? There’s only one way forward: get rid of all of it. You can delete it all if you’re feeling chaotic or just make a folder called “Archive” and dump everything in. That way it’ll all still be there if you need it… but you won’t. That’s the point.
If you just do those two things, you’ll notice almost immediately that your online life feels more relevant and less overloaded. It always takes the longest the first time since you have a lifetime of feed choices to look at; every year after that is much quicker.
The Feeds Reboot Pro Max is the next step in taking control of your algorithms. It involves looking into how various social algorithms already understand what you like and care about and tweaking them whenever possible.
Not every app lets you do this — TikTok, for instance, won’t give you any control at all over what you see. But some apps do offer more fine-grained control over the algorithm. I’ve included the steps for their mobile apps, though you can sometimes get to the same information in a browser. (And, with YouTube and Facebook in particular, it’s much easier to do some bulk actions on a laptop.) Here they are, in no particular order:
- Go to your Library tab, then select View All above your watch history. Scroll back through everything you’ve watched, hit the three-dot button on the right side, and select Remove from watch history to also take it out of your recommendation pool.
- Or go nuclear: go to Settings, then History & privacy, and just click Clear watch history to wipe the whole thing and start over.
- You can also click on Manage all activity and tell YouTube (and other Google services) to purge all your activity after a certain period of time. I have mine set to 18 months, but you can also choose three months or three years of data for Google to keep around.