I used twitter the most while working in developer relations, mainly sharing
articles about web development that I thought deserved more attention. My feed
consisted of engineers, developer advocates, and web standards folks I
respected, all of whom had something interesting to say. Twitter was my interest
graph, in contrast with Facebook, which was just a poor facsimile of real life
As my career and interests shifted, so did the people I followed on twitter.
I started following VR engineers, machine learning researchers, philosophers
and psychologists. But more tweeps meant more tweets. Soon I had a twitter
list for people that I had reluctantly unfollowed. They had
interesting things to say, but said them too often.
Following someone on twitter is like having a direct line into their brain. If
they write about a subject you are passionate about, fantastic. If they have
broadly aligning interests, chances are they will turn you on to something neat,
or if you're lucky, life changing. Unfortunately, most of the time, twitter
brains are distracted, anxious, angry, or unhappy. Spastic tweet storms and
political ramblings deserve only one thing, a hearty unfollow.
Twitter's bad design decisions only compound the problem. In "Retweets Are
Trash", Alexis Madrigal writes, "When Twitter introduced a retweet
button, in 2009, suddenly one click could send a post careening through the
network. The automatic retweet took Twitter’s natural tendency for amplification
and cranked it up." Apparently it's not hard to globally disable retweets using
a crude hack. Anecdotally, it seems to have made my feed a bit calmer.
A quick update on my white supremacist spam problem. Time seems to
have sorted it out, and the remaining squawks have been muffled by twitter's
quality filter. I also tried using Mastodon. It was a calming
experience at first, but when I followed a few people and dug around a little
bit, I was dismayed to see most design choices mirroring twitter's. I caught up
on RSS feeds, which I really like. But the RSS ecosystem continues to die. Of
nearly five hundred RSS feeds in my OPML file, more than half are broken links.
Occasionally the links are fixed, causing my reader to choke on a year's worth
of articles from a blog whose existence I've long forgotten about.
I can't quite decide whether or not to use twitter again. I keep thinking that I
once got a lot out of my original use of the platform. If I do return, I'll be
making use of the @reply quality filter, fully disable retweets, and unfollow
more aggressively. Whether this makes twitter great again remains to be seen.