For the past few years, I’ve chosen one weekend day a year to undertake what I call a stream reboot. I try to systematically go through every subscription, every follow, every algorithmically generated or chronologically generated thing I see on social platforms, streaming services and news apps, and reset or at least review how it works. I can’t recommend it enough.
Every time I do a stream restart, I notice a huge uptick in interest and relevance that I suddenly find on the internet. Does it then spend the next 364 days slowly degrading into a quagmire that I will try to extricate myself from next year? Yeah! But I’m still making progress.
The point of a stream restart is to be more intentional on the internet. This is 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. Chances are that some of what’s in your feeds — the creators on YouTube, the old friends on Facebook, the inescapable dancing freaks on your TikTok For You page — are the result of something you commented, liked or happened to you. watch several months or years ago. Rebooting gives you a chance to start fresh, declare to the internet that you’re no longer the person you used to be, and gain more control over the algorithms that run so much of your life.
My process has gotten more complicated over time and now has three steps: next audit, mass archive, and a more complicated step that I call restarting Pro Max streams.
Tracking auditing is tedious but really simple: just assess everything you track everywhere. Browse your following list on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, check all the sources you follow on RSS, check all your Discord memberships, check all the newsletters you receive, scroll through your podcast subscriptions and check all the groups you follow . on Spotify to make sure you always care. Don’t worry about adding better stuff, as that tends to happen naturally over time. Just delete anything you don’t want and make sure you’re only signing up for the things you really care about.
Next up 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-later app full of stuff you haven’t seen yet? How many unwatched Snaps do you have in your list? There’s only one way forward: get rid of it all. You can delete everything if you feel chaotic or just create a folder called “Archive” and empty everything. That way, everything will still be there if you need it…but you won’t. That’s the point.
If you do just these two things, you’ll almost immediately notice that your online life seems more relevant and less cluttered. It always takes longer the first time because you have a lifetime of food choices to consider; each year after it is much faster.
The Feeds Reboot Pro Max is the next step in taking control of your algorithms. This involves looking at how various social algorithms already understand what you like and what interests you and adjusting them whenever possible.
Not all apps allow you to do this – TikTok, for example, won’t give you any control over what you see. But some apps offer finer control over the algorithm. I’ve included the steps for their mobile apps, although sometimes you can access the same information in a browser. (And, with YouTube and Facebook in particular, it’s much easier to perform bulk actions on a laptop.) Here they are, in no particular order:
- Go to your Library tab, then select See everything above your watch history. Scroll through all you’ve watched, tap the three-dot button on the right side and select Delete from watch history to also remove it from your recommendation group.
- Or go nuclear: go to Settingsthen History and Privacyand just click Clear watch history to wipe it all off and start over.
- You can also click Manage all activities and tell YouTube (and other Google services) to purge all your activity after a certain amount of time. I have mine set to 18 months, but you can also choose three months or three years of data that Google will retain.
- Go to Settingsthen Adsso what Advertising topics to display a list of all categories that advertisers can use to contact you. If you see one you don’t want, tap it and select Show less.
- Go to your profile, tap Next at the top right, and press the Less interacted with Category. Unfollow anything you no longer want.
- Go to Settings and Privacy > Settings and select Your time on Facebook. Hit See Settings below Get more from your timethen touch Newsfeed preferences, and add or remove people from your favorites and unfollow lists to control how often they appear in your feed. (Unfollowing people without deleting them remains an underrated tactic on Facebook.)
- Go to Settings and Privacy > Settingslook for Permissionsand select Advertising preferences. Select Advertising topics at the top of the page, and you can see and edit all the topics that Facebook shows advertisers you’re in. (This list mirrors Instagram’s, by the way, so you should only need to edit it in one place.)
- Go to Settings > Privacy & Securityselect Content you see, and review both the Topics and Interests Twitter has for you. Unfollow the ones you don’t want anymore and choose the suggested topics that seem most interesting to you.
- Go to Settings and privacy > Advertising datathen select Categories of interest. You’ll be presented with whatever LinkedIn thinks you care about, and you can opt out of anything you’re not interested in.
- Most streaming services have a feature – usually under a phrase like “Watch History” or in the menu where you manage your Continue Watching section – that lets you control what the service uses to inform your recommendations. I would do this on all of your services more than once a year.
- In Netflix, for example, it only works on the web: under your profile picture, go to your Account, find your profile picture in Profile and Parental Controlsthen select Viewing activity. Click on the Hidden icon next to anything you’d rather not show in your viewing history or inform your recommendations in the future.
Some people I’ve spoken to over the years recommend a more scorched version of a stream restart. They say you should just periodically unsubscribe from everyone and naturally rebuild all your feeds in the future. Seems overkill to me, but the goal is the same. Modern life is ruled by flows and algorithms, and if you don’t take care of your inputs, you’ll end up hating the outputs.
The real responsibility here should lie with the platforms themselves to make this process simpler and more transparent – to tell you more about what they know and allow you to change it. Facebook is probably the model here: much of its information is buried deep in the settings menus, but you can see and edit everything from your search history to a detailed list of everything you care about for the platform. form.
Until then, there is the restart of flows. It’s a great weekend project for a long weekend like this.