2 min read

Grumbling about twitter

I met Charlie Awbery a few days ago and we grumbled about twitter for a bit. I wanted to write some of the grumbling down while I still remember the details... and I need to do it quickly, because I'm going to be off twitter for September and I'll have forgotten by the time I come back. (No big reason for being off twitter, I just do this sometimes.)

I still like twitter really quite a bit. I still have good conversations there and learn new things and it definitely seems like a net positive for my life still. But it was a lot better for me a few years ago, and I'm sad about the change.

It mainly seems to affect the particular way we use twitter. We both:

  • follow a smallish number of people
  • use chronological timeline and read most of it
  • have used twitter a good deal but aren't super prolific
  • like having long conversations in the replies with a bunch of 'regulars' that go into some depth and aren't too time-sensitive - you don't all have to be online at the same time

The move from chronological to algorithmic timeline messes this up quite a lot. I keep my timeline in chronological still, but that only has limited effect if most other people are on algorithmic. The algorithm is opaque, but still clearly has very different ideas about what it wants me to do:

  • it appears to show your stuff to a few people first, and then decides based on the response whether to show it to more people. This is fine for topics that are mildly popular to a lot of people but not so good when you only expect it to be interesting to a few people, who may not even see it
  • it seems to be heavily time-sensitive - conversations tend to happen right now or not at all
  • it hates outbound links. Which is a big problem when you especially like to talk about blog posts and papers and so on

Overall it now has much more of a 'rich get richer', 'casino' feel to me. Sometimes tweets randomly hit the jackpot and get a lot of attention quickly, sometimes they sink without trace. Overall it seems much harder to sustain an in-depth conversation unless you're all online at the same time.

I'm not sure what I want to do about this yet. Maybe there's a way of a bunch of us using twitter that mitigates this somehow, but probably I need to be off twitter and on some other network. Maybe the best option is a Discord but I'd still miss the public, open nature of twitter, with new people wandering in from outside all the time. Need to think about this some more.