Mike Monteiro wrote on Medium this week about the daunting, insurmountable problems facing Twitter’s leadership team. He talked about meeting in person with Jack Dorsey:
We discussed Twitter’s role in the world stage. And I admired his vision, but feared his approach. Jack, and to an extent Twitter’s pet porg Biz Stone, have always believed that absolute free speech is the answer. They’re blind to the voices silenced by hate and intimidation. The voices that need to be protected. But anyone who’s ever tended a garden knows that for the good stuff to grow, you have to deal with the bad stuff. You can’t let the weeds choke the vegetables.
I love the metaphor of a garden. In fact, I wrote a whole chapter of my upcoming book Indie Microblogging about gardens. The chapter is a longer version of what Mike says above, but with a twist.
The issue isn’t that Twitter doesn’t care. It’s instead a fundamental design flaw in the platform. Because tweets don’t exist outside of Twitter, when you’re banned, you’re done. For this reason, and because their business depends on a large user base, Twitter is hesitant to throw anyone off their service. They’re unwilling to tend the garden for fear of pulling too many weeds.
Imagine instead a service based on blogs, where the internal posts on the platform were the same format as the external posts. The curators of the platform would have more freedom to block harassing posts and ban nazis because those problematic users could always retreat to their own web site and leave everyone else in the community alone.
That’s how the web is supposed to work. It’s a core principle of Micro.blog.
Twitter will continue to improve. I believe they’re trying. But the root issue can’t be fixed without starting over.
Twitter announced today they will make it easier to chain tweets together in the official app. John Gruber summarizes the pro-tweetstorm argument on Daring Fireball:
This is a good idea. People are creating threads without official support, so true support can only make it better.
The problem is that Twitter threads take the place of blog posts. Most people won’t think to switch to their blog instead of firing off a series of tweets, but some will. Promoting Twitter threads to such a prominent place in the UI will encourage more people to create Twitter threads. It will lead to more content in Twitter and less on the open web.
Micro.blog takes a different approach. When you type over 280 characters, instead of offering to split it into multiple posts in a thread, it reveals a title field and lets you turn it into a full blog post. I feel really good about this solution because the UI actively tries to make the web a little better instead of worse.
“People will want to go to it because you’re passionate about it, and people love what other people are passionate about. You remind people of what they’ve forgotten.” — Mia in La La Land
Business without direction is hollow. Your company can be full of users or money but if it’s empty of purpose, no one will truly care about what you’re building.
This is one of several problems with Twitter today. It’s not just that the leadership team is overwhelmed and paralyzed. They can no longer articulate to users what Twitter the company is passionate about.
I’m glad to see #WomenBoycottTwitter getting some traction. Complaints come and go, but a real break sends a stronger message and gives us perspective. I would never have started Micro.blog unless I had spent enough time away from Twitter to see a better way. It’s not enough to just complain.
Very little has changed since I wrote my 10-year Twitter post last year. If you wait for Twitter to solve all the platform’s problems, you’ll be waiting a long time.
Nick Heer writes at Pixel Envy about Twitter’s half-hearted attempt at transparency on fake news and the election:
As tech companies play an increasing role in democratic processes worldwide, a regular theme has been their reluctance to admit to their own influence in a legal context. They’re perfectly happy to trot out the old Silicon Valley trope of changing the world and brag to candidates about the effectiveness of advertising on their platforms when it suits them. But when it’s time for them to be introspective about their own responsibilities, they suddenly clam up and claim that they can’t possibly have influence.
It’s time for a reckoning. I don’t know if it’s government regulation. But we are on the edge of pushback against ad-supported, ginormous platforms. Once it flips, as it did against Uber, there will be an opening for real change.
For this week’s Core Intuition, Daniel and I spend the whole show talking about Twitter’s 280-character change and related fallout. It makes a good complement to my initial blog post, as well as yesterday’s episode of Timetable.
And of course I liked this part of Colin Walker’s blog post:
Having gotten used to a 280 character limit on micro.blog I can honestly say it makes a world of difference.
Dave Winer wrote about the need for Twitter to take risks:
So if you think the 140-char limit is so great, why isn’t Twitter making money for its shareholders? If you were management at Twitter would you be conservative or would you take risks? As a shareholder, I want them to take risks. Big ones. Why not? They don’t really have anything to lose.
My daughter’s Twitter account has access to the new 280-character limit, so I’ve had a chance to see the new UI. Instead of counting down, it uses a circular progress bar until you get near the end of the limit. The UI is further proof that Twitter didn’t make this change on a whim. They plan to ship it.
I had first suggested a 280-character guideline for microblog posts back in 2014. As I’ve said many times since then, and through launching Micro.blog, I believe expanding the limit will make for better conversations, less mangled punctation, yet still remain short enough that it encourages quick posting.
Twitter announced today that they are also experimenting with a 280-character limit! From their blog post:
We understand since many of you have been Tweeting for years, there may be an emotional attachment to 140 characters – we felt it, too. But we tried this, saw the power of what it will do, and fell in love with this new, still brief, constraint.
They focus most of the announcement on explaining how the current constraints are different for some languages, like Japanese, which can fit far more words into 140 characters. That’s true, but it glosses over the most important point.
Longer text allows for more thoughtful posts, fewer misinterpreted shouting matches, and Twitter desperately needs to improve the tone of conversations on their platform. I’m a fan of this change.
I posted a new episode of my Timetable microcast. Here’s a bit from today’s episode about blogging and tweeting:
My “blog first” strategy is actually really simple. I just follow the rule that I never post directly to Twitter unless I’m replying to a question. If I want to post something to Twitter, I fire up MarsEdit on my Mac, or I open the Micro.blog iOS app, and I post it there. Then of course Micro.blog sees that and sends it to Twitter for me.
I’m getting back into the groove of publishing these episodes. This was the third episode of Timetable this week.
As I plan for the iPhone X pre-order, I wanted to write a blog post about all the iPhones I’ve bought, and when. I’ve skipped a few generations, and even made some seemingly oddball choices like getting the iPhone 5C when all my friends got the 5S. In the process of searching old blog posts to confirm whether I even bought the 3G or waited for the 3GS, I found this old blog post about WWDC 2008.
In the post I had collected 95 tweets from myself and others during WWDC. This was 9 years ago, so it’s a bit of a blur. But reading them again brings back memories. These old tweets are gold.
If I hadn’t collected the tweets, I would never find them again. And if anything changes at Twitter, they could just as easily be lost. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t go back more than 3200 tweets in your timeline. Searching old tweets is still impossible in third-party Twitter clients.
Obviously I’m all-in on indie microblogging. I post to my own blog and let Micro.blog sort out cross-posting a copy to Twitter. But looking at these old tweets, I’m just struck with how foolish it was to ever post content exclusively to Twitter. It was an assumption that today mattered more than tomorrow, when the opposite is often true.
A photo is the most clear expression of this truth. Taking a photo doesn’t improve the moment. It’s for later.
Twitter in 2008 was a mix of microblogging and conversations. It was writing without pretense, with no expectation of likes and follower counts. It felt ephemeral, and maybe it still does to many Twitter users today. But you never know when you want that fleeting comment to actually last, and if you don’t control the post, there are few guarantees that it will.
David Nield of Gizmodo has a sort of re-introduction to RSS, with an overview on why it’s more useful than ever:
One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes—not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.
Obviously I’m a fan of RSS. Micro.blog has great support for it throughout the platform. But even though I subscribe to hundreds of feeds, I even caught myself recently loading a few favorite news sites manually instead of using the feeds. Doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there’s a better way.
Many people are initially confused by Micro.blog because they are expecting a strict clone of Twitter. They are expecting another App.net. But as I said in the Kickstarter video, clones of Twitter and Facebook have come and gone. They’ve all failed. A different approach won’t guarantee success, but it is required to have a chance.
I plan to stay the course. I’m inspired by the work of the IndieWeb, which was founded 6 years ago and is still gaining momentum today. I hope that the solar eclipse photos posted to indie microblogs today will last through the next North American eclipse 7 years from now, and longer.
There was a great article on AltPlatform about how compatibility between new blog-focused platforms could eventually become bigger than any one social network:
Open source tools like WordPress, 1999.io and Mastodon.social are creating many small networks of publishers, and popular tools like Twitter and Micro.blog could peer with them. If all of the social networks outside of Facebook interoperated at some level, they might eventually “flip the iceberg” and become the dominant form of social networking.
It’s going to take a while, but I have no doubt that this “flip” is exactly what will happen. The entire web should be the social network. It’s too big of an idea to be contained on a single web site.
Because I don’t follow anyone on Twitter, about once a week I’ll randomly click through a few Twitter user profiles to see if I missed anything interesting. Usually the answer is no. If something important is happening, it’s also being discussed in more detail on blogs, and I’ll see it.
Yesterday I checked on the last tweets of a few developer friends who stopped posting either after the election or on inauguration day. I have a lot of respect for anyone who makes a quiet, peaceful stand on principle. It’s not easy to go against the flow.
The 2016 election was a disaster. It still hurts to think about it. I keep telling myself and others: heads down, keep working. I have to believe we can get through this.
Today another story exploded on Twitter: a shooting at a congressional baseball practice. If you had clicked through from the trending links on Twitter this morning you’d have seen the worst speculation, misinformed partisan tweets, and unhelpful “facts” before we knew what really happened. When we should all be striking a solemn tone for the injured, the tweets instead quickly turn dark.
For a service that prides itself on breaking news, Twitter is an absolute dumpster fire in times like this. The best of Twitter is the thoughtful tweets and discussion, connecting new friends and diverse opinions. When real news breaks, the service runs uncontrolled, in fits of nervous energy and hate. It’s a terrible place.
Micro.blog will never have trends, search, or even retweets until we can elegantly solve this. The world doesn’t need another platform with so much manipulative power.
Stephen Hackett marked his 10th anniversary of using Twitter by writing about how great Twitter has been for connecting people. Of course, the company’s problems are also well known:
The company itself seems to struggle in getting even basic decisions right. I often joke that Twitter may be doomed, but I don’t say it in pure jest.
He made a similar joke on Connected 133 that Twitter will be gone in 5 years. I think it’s a toss-up. But one thing I’m pretty sure about: the hate tweets and harassment problems can’t be fixed by waving a magic wand. They are fundamental and must be planned for at the beginning.
App.net officially shut down last night. As I wrote about earlier this year, App.net was an important milestone in the move to more open social networks. I’m glad the platform existed and I enjoyed participating there as a user and developer.
Linkrot and the lack of permanence on the web is a recurring theme for this blog. In the final days as App.net was winding down, I wanted to put my money where my mouth was. I spun up a couple new servers and wrote a set of scripts to essentially download every post on App.net. It feels like a fragile archive, put together hastily, but I believe it’s mostly complete. I’ve also downloaded thumbnail versions of some of the public photos hosted on App.net.
I’ll be making the posts available somewhere, although I don’t know exactly what form the archive should take yet. I’ll also be considering whether to integrate it with Micro.blog, for anyone who wants to migrate to a new microblog and didn’t have time to manually export their posts. (I’ve already built a similar feature to import from Twitter’s .zip archives.)
To my Kickstarter backers, thanks for your patience as I took an unexpected detour this week. Major work on Micro.blog continues. I have a big announcement for next week and invites should be ready the following week. I’ll post an update to Kickstarter soon.
Ben Thompson’s daily update email today covers fake news and algorithms. It’s a great post, although a little disheartening in the way that most coverage of filter bubbles and the election tend to be. One line in the closing paragraph:
Algorithms have consequences, particularly when giving answers to those actually searching for the truth.
It mirrors something I wrote in January about algorithms and curation:
Software has consequences. How it’s designed informs what behavior it encourages. If it’s built without thought to these consequences, it will succeed only by accident.
Quick posting via retweets on Twitter and re-sharing on Facebook contributes to the spread of fake news. As the New York Times article Ben links to says, fake news is “designed to attract social shares and web traffic”. Bad news stories with dramatic headlines can spread more quickly than they would if everyone posted an original comment with their link.
It’s too easy to click a retweet button without thinking. Fake news is as much a user experience and design problem as it is an algorithmic problem.
Twitter made an announcement today about stopping abusive accounts and hiding low-quality tweets. I think filtering search results in particular is a very good step in the right direction:
We’re also working on ‘safe search’ which removes Tweets that contain potentially sensitive content and Tweets from blocked and muted accounts from search results. While this type of content will be discoverable if you want to find it, it won’t clutter search results any longer.
As I work on Micro.blog, I’ve tried to be mindful of where users can stumble upon posts that they don’t want to see. Replies is a big one, and I’ll be focusing most of my attention on that. But search, trends, and hashtags are also a problem, because they let anyone’s posts bubble up to a much wider audience. I’m launching Micro.blog without them.
Twitter and Facebook are both powerful tools to help people organize. We’ve seen some of that over the last few weeks of protests. While these social networks are also broken in significant ways, they’re not all bad. They bring people together and expand the reach of posts from our own web sites. That’s why many people embrace cross-posting.
Even more important is the free press. Not just big sites like the New York Times and Washington Post, but also small sites like yours and mine. Trump will continue to attack and undermine the mainstream press. Everyone who publishes on the internet should consider where that leads.
It’s not a good foundation to concentrate so much writing into one place like Twitter or Medium. Distributing writing across more web sites protects us if one massive site shuts down. It gives us flexibility to move to the next popular network if one emerges.
Sometime in the next 2 years, a reporter or blogger is going to break a story about the Trump administration. It’s going to be too important to ignore. But to be taken seriously, it can’t be an anonymous Twitter account that’s easy to cast doubt on. It has to come from someone accountable who has built a reputation by publishing good work and owning it.
Owning your content by having a microblog at your own domain is empowering. Maybe you’re writing about what you had for lunch. Maybe you’re photo-blogging an important trip. Maybe you’re posting from your iPhone at a protest outside the White House.
It doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s happening and worth writing about, it’s worth owning. Now more than ever.
I’ve been following Seth Godin and reading his books for many years, but recently two of his statements caught my attention. The first is an older video episode with Gary Vaynerchuk, where Seth talks about why he has no presence on social media except automatic cross-posting of his blog posts.
The second is equally relevant to what I’ve been thinking about with Micro.blog. Seth says that we’ve surrendered control over how our software works to algorithms instead of human decision-makers who can take responsibility for mistakes. It’s too easy to blame the computer:
That person who just got stopped on her way to an airplane—the woman who gets stopped every time she flies—the TSA says it’s the algorithm doing it. But someone wrote that code.
Algorithms are a shortcut. They should give us more leverage to go further, faster, not dictate where we go.
The social web is now permeated with algorithms. Today, Twitter again promoted what’s trending higher up in their app. That may be a step in the wrong direction. Trends can sometimes surface the better parts of Twitter, but they’re also an invitation to view the worst possible tweets you’ll ever see.
Let’s not be afraid to add curation by humans. That’s not an admission of failure. It’s an acknowledgement that algorithms are imperfect.
Software has consequences. How it’s designed informs what behavior it encourages. If it’s built without thought to these consequences, it will succeed only by accident. For 2017, one of my goals is to slow down and be more deliberate about features that can have this kind of impact.
Kevin Hoctor has a great post about staying above name-calling and focusing instead on positive change during a Trump presidency. Standing up for people, exposing lies, and supporting the free press:
If you have a website, use it. Write more words than you can fit into a tweet. Call out injustice and hold your House and Senate representatives responsible for their actions and their voting. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
You’re not alone if you’ve been aimlessly reloading news sites all day for weeks. It’s easy to fall into a trap of indecision, failing to create anything, unsure of what to do next that will matter. I struggle every day to rebalance my time on the right things.
But to Kevin’s point, a marathon is finished one mile at a time. And I’ll add a quote from Steve Jobs, which I think about sometimes when I can’t focus on making real progress:
Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
Remember that Twitter was still in the middle of taking off 8 years ago when Obama was first elected. Not quite mainstream, no Trump account. We’re going to blink and it will be 2018 and then 2020. Everything can change again if we work to make it better.
Dalton Caldwell and Bryan Berg announced the official shutdown of App.net today:
In May of 2014, App.net entered maintenance mode. At that time we made the difficult decision to put App.net into autopilot mode in an effort to preserve funds and to give it ample time to bake. Since then every dollar App.net has charged has gone towards paying for the hosting and services needed to keep the site running. Unfortunately, revenue has consistently diminished over the past 2+ years, and we have been unable to return the service to active development.
As I wrote about just last week, the founders of App.net deserve our thanks for trying something very difficult and succeeding beyond what anyone expected. I’m still amazed at everything they were able to do.
So, what now? I believe the next step for the open web and Twitter-like services is indie microblogging.