Breaking Up with Twitter

Yes, I’m already on Mastodon. I knew I joined back in 2016 when it was clear Jack had no idea where to take Twit­ter next. Mastodon is fun now that more peo­ple are join­ing. I don’t hate that it’s hard to find peo­ple; that was part of the fun of Twit­ter orig­i­nal­ly. What’s bet­ter is that it’s 2023, not 2008.

My approach to Mastodon is sim­ple: how can I rebuild the expe­ri­ence I had with ear­ly Twit­ter, focused on smart peo­ple I actu­al­ly know who might even be local to me and sec­ond­ly, musi­cians and music crit­ics I enjoy.

This expe­ri­ence has been chas­ten­ing. I com­mit­ted unrea­son­able hours to relent­less­ly refresh­ing Twit­ter. Now that I’ve quit cold turkey, I’m embar­rassed I did­n’t do it soon­er. More embar­rass­ing is the recog­ni­tion of all the paraso­cial rela­tion­ships I built as an out­growth of my career.

Pro­fes­sion­al­ly, it has­n’t made a dif­fer­ence. There are oth­er tools to let me know if some­thing is hap­pen­ing at work. I don’t need to be on the bleed­ing edge of break­ing news — for every­thing — around the clock. What I’ve been able to gath­er from peers is much the same as my expe­ri­ence: Twit­ter has long been a low-per­for­mance social plat­form for most brands, espe­cial­ly those that don’t have a cus­tomer ser­vice function. 

How many brands start­ed chas­ing their “Dunk in the Dark” moment 10 years ago and it nev­er hap­pened for them? My viral tweet is lit­er­al­ly about tak­ing down a Christ­mas tree! Why did this seem so vital for so long?

Remapping My Digital Footprint

Twit­ter’s volatil­i­ty has me rethink­ing every­thing. Words like “inten­tion­al­i­ty” spring to mind, but also, I don’t need to be on the plat­form quite as much as I have been since 2008. It’s offer­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rethink how I show up online and where I choose to cre­ate and con­sume con­tent. Not the first time, cer­tain­ly not the last, but one of those, you know, inflec­tion points that gives you a moment to pause and reflect.

Have I been doing it wrong the whole time? Maybe I have.

I’ll unpack that. I just logged into Feed­ly for the first time since Google Read­er shut down in 2013. It was like open­ing a bunker that closed the moment the war end­ed. There were blog posts wait­ing for me from cor­po­rate sites I used to fol­low for work and thou­sands of unread music and tech news items from near­ly a decade ago. It was rev­e­la­to­ry. It was the web we lost!

Flash for­ward a decade. We’ve been con­tend­ing with algo­rith­mic feeds at every turn. Even a glimpse of a pure­ly chrono­log­i­cal time­line made me thing: what if I just go back? I can’t pre­tend any­one will fol­low suit, but how can I make my own expe­ri­ence of the web better?

For starters, I’m going to sub­scribe to Feed­ly. I’m using Dis­cord to keep in touch with com­mu­ni­ties I’m part of on Twit­ter that are dis­pers­ing. I’m play­ing with Red­dit more inten­tion­al­ly. I’m lov­ing Patre­on and Mix­cloud and pod­casts. I’m obsessed with Tik­Tok. I just edit­ed way back on Insta­gram fol­lows and pro­duced a bet­ter expe­ri­ence. And I’ve joined Mastodon.

Mastodon? Isn’t that just Twit­ter all over again? Maybe it is? But maybe it’s not. I am being very selec­tive about how I build com­mu­ni­ty there. I’m not try­ing to build what I’m leav­ing on Twit­ter. I’ve built an audi­ence around loca­tions and jobs, first as a music crit­ic in Philadel­phia and then as a cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tor there and Detroit, across three indus­tries. The effect is like watch­ing those chunks of the inter­net per­form Google search­es in real time around the clock. It’s exhaust­ing. It’s self-inflict­ed. It’s over.

What I’m lov­ing about onboard­ing to Mastodon is how slow it is. I’m remind­ed of those ear­ly days on Twit­ter when you saw every­one’s @ replies and you held on for dear life. But this isn’t like that. I’m look­ing for some famil­iar faces and then look­ing at who they’re fol­low­ing and who’s fol­low­ing them. What I’m try­ing to do is build some­thing around my inter­ests in music and cul­ture and leav­ing work to LinkedIn. There’s a slow­er web if you want it!

If you’re feel­ing com­plete­ly wiped out by the expe­ri­ence of try­ing to repli­cate what you feel you’ve lost, build some­thing bet­ter slowly.

How to Use Twitter Like a Human Being

I love Twit­ter. It’s my favorite social net­work. I start­ed using it in 2008 when I went to SXSW Music. I imme­di­ate­ly saw its val­ue for cov­er­ing live events. That fall, I used it exten­sive­ly dur­ing the Phillies’ post­sea­son cam­paign. Twit­ter is a great plat­form for your pas­sions. Except when it isn’t.

Some­where along the way, Twit­ter changed. My friend Mark cap­tured one key dif­fer­ence in his tweet below.

For all the talk about being authen­tic and engag­ing on social, you’ll often find that the most fol­lowed accounts are noth­ing more than linkbots with a human face. It’s a head-scratch­er. At a time when peo­ple com­plain of infor­ma­tion over­load, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple will fol­low accounts that recy­cle memes and oth­er online flotsam.

If that does­n’t depress you, A Tale of Two Twit­ter Per­sonas will. MG Siegler writes:

For me, giv­en my back­ground and line of work, that’s obvi­ous­ly tech­nol­o­gy. But I too have oth­er inter­ests — shock­ing, I know. Film is def­i­nite­ly one. Beer is def­i­nite­ly anoth­er. And sports is way up there. Yes, some peo­ple in the tech indus­try are as obsessed with sports as any­one else in the world. Blasphemy!

What does per­son­al brand­ing mean when the most pop­u­lar social media accounts lack personality?

Unfollowing Is Hard

One of my dig­i­tal New Year’s Res­o­lu­tions was to “go pro” on Twit­ter. I’m near­ly there and I can tell you it’s not easy. For me it’s meant unfol­low­ing and plug­ging folks into lists or just dis­con­nect­ing alto­geth­er in order to pay atten­tion to things that are, you know, work-relat­ed. In some cas­es it means sev­er­ing ties with old co-work­ers, high school class­mates and vibrant locals in exchange for nation­al and region­al media, cur­rent co-work­ers and influ­encers. It’s a win­dow into their process, some­thing that would­n’t have been pos­si­ble a decade ago, and it’s more impor­tant to my work than ever. Thing is, has this trans­for­ma­tion sucked all the fun out of Twit­ter and Face­book?Con­tin­ue read­ing “Unfol­low­ing Is Hard”

Why I’m Rebooting Twitter

Read this post by Jere­mi­ah Owyang recent­ly and it got me think­ing about how I use Twit­ter. Since I’ve vowed to share more in 2012, I thought it might be a worth­while exer­cise to map exact­ly how that will play out using Jere­mi­ah’s help­ful template.

  1. Local news. Pret­ty sure Twit­ter became what we used to call “hyper­local.” Whether you’re in Egypt or Fish­town, Twit­ter is an easy place to find out what’s hap­pen­ing in your neigh­bor­hood. Word of cau­tion: local Twit­ter can be just as unre­li­able as any oth­er break­ing sto­ry on Twitter.
  2. Sec­ond screen expe­ri­ences. Instead of “event cap­ture,” I do quite a bit of tweet­ing about what I’m watch­ing on TV. Whether it’s the Phillies or Board­walk Empire, chances are I’m shar­ing reac­tions to what I’m see­ing on Twit­ter. I even main­tain a well-man­i­cured base­ball list on Twit­ter and from what I hear nobody uses lists. Don’t know what I’d do with­out it.
  3. I’ll sec­ond “lis­ten­ing tool.” I don’t use trend­ing top­ics often, but I’ve found search to be real­ly help­ful to peer into the infor­ma­tion kalei­do­scope we call Twitter.
  4. Social shar­ing. Whether it’s retweet­ing fun­ny jokes or inter­est­ing links, Twit­ter is a great way to grab some­one’s atten­tion. Don’t know if I’m in the minor­i­ty here, but Twit­ter is an invalu­able place to spend time while there’s noth­ing bet­ter to do. It’s my dear com­pan­ion when I’m in transit.
  5. Giv­ing cred­it where it’s due. Part of the fun of Twit­ter is bring­ing offline fun to the Web. If I have a good chat with Twit­ter friend at lunch, I’ll share a bit to fur­ther the con­ver­sa­tion online. Great way to gen­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion about top­ics of inter­est to the the greater community.

And you know what? It’s time to com­plete­ly rethink some of these uses.

  1. Let’s start with local. Part of the prob­lem peo­ple have with the Inter­net is that they feel dis­con­nect­ed. That alien­ation stems from the belief that the Inter­net is what’s stand­ing between real per­son­al inter­ac­tion. I think it’s a false dichoto­my myself, but one way to assure that you don’t out­source those kinds of inter­ac­tions to the web is to dis­con­nect local from your Twit­ter feed. Sure, some of you may think that’s tan­ta­mount to tak­ing the bat­ter­ies out of your smoke detec­tors, but I have a hunch that if a local news sto­ry is impor­tant enough to affect your every­day life, you’ll prob­a­bly hear about it out­side of Twit­ter. Go ahead and talk to your neigh­bors more in 2012. You’ll be glad you did!
  2. I’m pret­ty com­fort­able with the sec­ond screen graf, although I get that those tweets can be alien­at­ing to folks who aren’t watch­ing with you. If I could tweet about the Phillies exclu­sive­ly to my base­ball list, that would be pret­ty great. Same goes for any­thing with a hash­tag. Would be a pret­ty cool way to seg­ment con­ver­sa­tions with­out hav­ing to main­tain sep­a­rate accounts. Would love to see that hap­pen in 2012.
  3. Lis­ten­ing is bug­bear, espe­cial­ly for per­son­al use. Part of what was fun for me as an aspir­ing music crit­ic last decade was jump­ing into con­ver­sa­tions in com­ments sec­tions all over the web. It was a great way to let folks know you were there and that you had things to say. I liken it to all the folks who liked the Vel­vet Under­ground or Sex Pis­tols or James Brown and then went on to form their own bands. It’s how I got start­ed. With­out being “RT from a celebri­ty” des­per­ate, I think it’s valu­able to do the same with Twit­ter. Don’t just eaves­drop on the folks you want to hear you, talk to them, how­ev­er dis­ori­ent­ing it may be. You may nev­er get a response, but when you do, that’s a step in the right direc­tion. Act like you belong and you will.
  4. Feel the same way about social shar­ing. If you have an opin­ion, don’t sit on your hands. Part of the mag­ic of the web was that it democ­ra­tized pub­lish­ing in very impor­tant ways. Take advan­tage of it! (I already know what you’re think­ing about blog­ging. I’ll have a post about the state of the blo­gos­phere tomorrow.)

That’s all to say that I’m com­plete­ly reboot­ing Twit­ter start­ing imme­di­ate­ly. If blog­ging has atro­phied and those con­ver­sa­tions are mov­ing to Twit­ter and oth­er microblog­ging tools, then it’s impor­tant to fol­low the con­ver­sa­tion to those plat­forms. Sure, you can do what I’ve been doing and stay glued to RSS, but you’re get­ting the exec­u­tive sum­ma­ry. If you want to watch writ­ers work through thorny issues, whether it’s about tech­nol­o­gy or base­ball, fol­low on Twit­ter. There you can see the germ of an idea start to bloom. It’s actu­al­ly pret­ty cool and it’s a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to have input on a once very per­son­al process. I plan to fol­low it more close­ly in 2012 myself, which means a year-end Twit­ter cull is in order.

Who will I be fol­low­ing in 2012? More tech writ­ers and thinkers, more builders and doers, more Com­cast­ers and more folks who make — and keep — the Inter­net fun.