A couple of recent conversations about Twitter were nudging me into writing
about how I use Twitter even before The Muskover developed. Twitter has
become an important part of my online life, and my online life is a big part
of what I do. But like any tool, Twitter can be used in many different ways,
and how you use it affects how useful it can be.
As a platform, Twitter’s strength is its small character
limit. It forces people to be brief, although threads somewhat
undermines that constraint. Small posts are quick to skim, so I don’t waste
much time if there isn’t much there.
Small posts aren’t good for conversations, but that’s ok with me since one
of the big lessons I learned about the internet in the 90’s was that
conversations online were rarely worthwhile. 90’s newsgroups had all the
toxic behavior we see on online platforms now, for much the same reasons.
Twitter makes it easy for me to avoid them if I don’t bother reading (or making)
(I say this as someone who is lucky not to be the target of online
bullies. Twitter has long-lacked the tools to prevent harassment – I’d say
that is Twitter’s biggest failing. It’s easy for me to underweight the
importance of a problem I don’t have to deal with, but I know good people
who avoid online spaces entirely because of a fear of harassment, often a
fear born of bitter experience.)
Where I find Twitter most useful is that it allows me to precisely follow
individual accounts who tweet things I like to hear about. So I’m very careful
with who I follow. Some people tweet a lot of good stuff, but too much –
those I don’t follow reckoning that anything particularly good will be
retweeted by those that I do follow. What I mostly like is announcements of
interesting articles, which I can then save in my Instapaper feed to read
later. A good short thread is also useful, but I’m wary of those since they
can easily spiral out – and are more trouble to save. During the pandemic,
I’ve found curating a list of reliable twitter accounts has been hugely helpful
in understanding what’s going on. Similarly I’ve recently started following some
handy feeds to keep up with events in Ukraine.
As a writer I mostly post links to articles that I think those who follow
me would enjoy, either on martinfowler.com or elsewhere. I try to avoid
getting into arguments, and am mostly successful at that. (I strongly
recommend following Charles’ Rules of
Argument.) I find it harder to resist attempting catchy soundbites.
If Twitter were to ask me which part of their product they should improve, I’d
ask for more attention to lists. I find lists really handy because I can pop
people who mostly tweet on a topic into a list that I’ll read when I’m ready
to spend time on that topic. I keep an eye on the people I follow during the
day, but have a few lists that I catch up during the evening. While they
work well, I’m irritated that lists don’t collapse threads the way they are
collapsed in my main feed. I’m also frustrated by the lack of tools to
manage my lists. I’d like a way to move all of my follows into lists and
then set some lists up so that I automatically follow anyone on that list.
I only set my following to chronological order. I used to have to reset
Twitter to not use its algorithm on me every few weeks, but thankfully
they’ve let it alone for many months now. I never look at “explore” or “top
articles” and very rarely look at hashtags. I rarely use DMs, as I prefer to
route my communications into email where I can keep track of things more
easily. I use the default web interface on my real computer and the app on
my iPhone/Pad. I haven’t found a third-party site or app that’s done enough
to make me want to use it over Twitter’s default offering.
I’m not a fan of Musk’s public interactions, but it’s too early to judge
what effect the takeover will have on Twitter. From what he says, he seems
to be naive about the problems of online content moderation . I’ll continue as I have for now and see how things develop. As
ever, I’m happy that I have my own internet domain.