I have complicated feelings about the apparent imminent demise of Twitter in the hands of a reckless owner.
The last web 2.0 bubble bursting
In a way, Twitter was the last living, breathing link to the original dream of web 2.0 that I grew up through. I came of age as the blogosphere peaked. That was how I learned how to internet. It was how I learned the skills I took into my career.
What Twitter evolved into over the past 16 years was already some way off the idealistic vision held in the mid-noughties. Recent events suggest any remaining belief in that vision has evaporated.
I originally used Twitter as an appendage to my blog. After a few years where Twitter struggled to find relevance, it became a place where first celebrities, then journalists and politicians went to communicate. The Twittersphere accelerated past the blogosphere, and thoughtful long-form publishing made way for bite-sized attention seeking.
Some of us kept our blogs going. But that started feeling like being the last loser in the kitchen at the party, not taking the hint that it was time to move on. The party was now on Twitter.
For a long time I posted prolifically on Twitter. But gradually my activity decreased as my distaste set in for what social media had become.
The way I used Twitter totally changed over the years. In the early days, I followed fellow bloggers, locals, Formula 1 nerds and politics geeks. I now follow very few of those people on my main account.
In common with other major social media platforms that struggled to become viable businesses, Twitter had to chase advertisers. In doing so, they had to increase engagement. To do this they built addictive patterns, and developed algorithms that amplified inflammatory views.
Ironically, this has been the undoing of social media in the end. Because, despite being the thing that drove clicks, the amplification of harmful views has also scared advertisers off. This paradox has effectively ended social media as a viable business.
Toxicity on Twitter
Moreover, Twitter seems to have skewed debate as a whole. The prevalence of hate has led social media to become a largely distasteful place. Social media has played a key role in events like the election of Donald Trump as US president, brexit, Russian disinformation campaigns, the rise of transphobia, and who know’s what next?
As events like this became more and more frequent, I began to implement rules to keep control of my Twitter timeline. This gradually transformed the way I used it, and my reason for using it.
I tried not to unfollow anyone merely for tweeting an opinion I disagreed with. But I did not think twice about unfollowing people who pushed obnoxious views — snappy and devoid of context — into my timeline. This included bloggers I’d been reading for around a decade.
Such publications weren’t so problematic to me when they stood or fell in the relatively meritocratic blogosphere, where you only saw a blog post if you looked for it or followed a hyperlink to it. But when algorithms started putting the more extreme views in front of other people who hadn’t asked for them (and at the expense of more reasonable, but less engaging, views!), I had to send my own signal that I disapproved.
As time went on, I came to adopt more and more rules, in my attempt to dial down the hot takes. Anyone who dogmatically pushed a predictable point of view without providing evidence was gone.
Excitable Scottish nationalists were gone. FBPEs were out (despite the fact that I was pro-EU). Centrist dads were generally purged, even though I am one. I unfollowed all blue ticks unless I had a personal association with them. I also deleted most media figures and journalists, who were also in the game of grabbing clicks. I adopted a zero tolerance policy for anyone responsible for inserting racism or transphobia into my timeline.
I currently probably only follow around half of the people I have ever followed. In the end, I saw almost nothing about politics. But my experience was undoubtedly better for it.
Making Twitter work for me
Over time, I came to use Twitter more and more as a way of keeping up with fellow practitioners of user experience and related disciplines. For me, Twitter came to be like a less sanctimonious LinkedIn.
Moreover, despite all the issues, and all the people I ended up unfollowing, Twitter has been more influential than anything else (even blogging) in shaping my perspective for the better. Twitter has allowed me to learn so much, exposing me to diverse viewpoints from a range of people I would probably never have discovered any other way. Twitter has helped me learn about myself. I will be forever thankful for that.
I have always attempted to keep tabs on the web presences of people I follow on Twitter. If they have an RSS feed, I subscribe to it. If Twitter disappears, I will endeavour to continue to seek out the valuable diverse views I have come to rely on Twitter for.
For a long time, I have not posted much on Twitter myself. But I read it almost every day, normally multiple times a day.
Long after I stopped using Facebook, Instagram and other social media websites, Twitter has been my go-to place to find out what’s going on in the world.
In short, Twitter was hard work to use. But it was worth the effort. With most people having abandoned blogging (at least in the original sense of carrying out daily discourse), it was the last remaining option for people who like reading.
Other social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok of course won’t fill the space. I generally can’t abide videos. I’m a reader and a writer. Although Twitter embraced videos (as all platforms have had to), its core still thrived on text.
Hoping that people will return to blogging is hopeless.
So what next?
I’ll probably still use Twitter for as long as it’s practical to do so.
I will try Mastodon
I will try Mastodon, the place many people are turning to in advance of Twitter’s apparent implosion. Unfortunately I don’t have high hopes. The concept and the sign-up process is ridiculously confusing.
(It reminds me of trying to work with IndieWeb concepts. It seems like a great idea at first, but then you’re immediately slammed over the head with weird jargon and incomprehensible rules. I’ve been an avid web user for decades, I’ve built my own blogs. My profession is to work on the web. If I can’t understand it, there’s no real point in pretending that normal people might.)
Nevertheless, you can find my Mastodon profile here:
Duncan Stephen on Mastodon: @email@example.com
In the meantime, my blog will keep going, as it has done for nearly 20 years. My primary online presence has always been my website.
If you wish to follow me, please subscribe to my RSS feed using a service such as Feedly. Or subscribe to receive email updates.
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