Tag Archives: social networking

Categorizing Social Networks

You can broadly categorize social networks, or really any communication software, based on four criteria:

  1. Are replies subordinate to the original post (Facebook, Instagram, blog comments) or top-level posts but linked (Twitter, Mastodon, Tumblr, blogs with pingbacks/trackbacks/webmentions)?
  2. Do you primarily follow people/organizations (all the above) or topics (Reddit, message boards)?
  3. Is the default interaction one-on-one (email, Skype) or broadcast (most of what we call “social media” these days)?
  4. Is it a single service (Facebook, Twitter), a collection of isolated services (message boards), or a collection of interacting services (email, the Fediverse, blogs to some extent)?

More than whether the content is likely to be short text, long text, a photo, a video, or a link, these questions define the types of connections and types of interactions that people are going to have.

Long-Form Twitter: WHY OH WHY?

Twitter is suited for short statements and back-and-forth conversation.

It’s terrible for anything long-form.

Long Twitter threads* and images filled with text remind me of the old tech support days when users would paste screen shots of error messages into Microsoft Word documents and email me the document. It was a terrible tool for the job, but it was the one they knew.

Once you get past two or three tweets (doesn’t matter whether they’re 140 characters or 280, it’s the structure that matters), your ideas will hang together better and be better understood if you write an actual article somewhere. Sadly, Twitter has trained people to stay in Twitter instead of going outside to read the %#$ article**, because you won’t be able to get back to where you were in your timeline, and besides, that’s just too long to read right now.

And that would require you to have, like a blog or something, and what sort of weirdo has one of those? 🙄

So people use what they know, and we get screenshots of long paragraphs that are awful for accessibility. And we get 40-tweet threads that people only see fragments of and take bits out of context. And they’ll reply to tweet #5 complaining about something that’s addressed in tweet #12, but they didn’t see it, because that was hidden behind the “read more” link, and how long does this thread go, anyway? (Scroll bars solved this problem decades ago.) And we get links to articles that people don’t read, but they reply to them anyway — or rather they reply to what they assume was in them.

Which I suppose is what we had in the old days, I mean “nobody reads the articles” was a joke on Slashdot 20 years ago. But it’s still frustrating.

Update: I realized I don’t see this so much on Mastodon. I wonder if that’s one of the ways the culture is different, or if I just happen to not be following anyone who writes/boosts long threads on a regular basis, or if 500-character posts give people enough room to breathe that they don’t feel like they’re already writing a long chain, so why worry about keeping the number of posts down, what’s the difference between 10 tweets and 15?

*To clarify, I’m talking about long threads that are effectively one piece of writing, not a series of “oh, and another thing” follow-ups, live-tweeting as things come up, actual conversations, etc.

**This part is true of Facebook as well.

Alternate Sharing Buttons (Now with Less Tracking!)

I’ve been trying out some alternate sharing buttons that don’t talk to Facebook, Twitter, etc. — or to a third-party button provider like ShareThis — until you actually click on the button. Facebook can track you across the internet when sites include the standard “Like” button hosted on their services. Same with Google and the +1. Even WordPress’ Jetpack buttons will call out to Facebook and Pinterest to display the share count. I want to reduce my contribution to ubiquitous tracking.*

Sharingbuttons.io is totally self-contained and doesn’t even use any JavaScript. You use their site to generate a set of buttons for a particular page, then copy the HTML and CSS to your site. Downsides: The HTML includes embedded SVG that has to be repeated on every page, and your page title and URL are repeated in each button within the page. I used this set on the old Alternative Browser Alliance site, replacing ShareThis. It’s only around five pages, so it was faster to repeat the generator five times than write a tool to template it.

Share42 uses locally-hosted JavaScript to avoid repeating the title and URL on every button, and a single image sprite generated from the set of buttons that you choose. You copy both files to your own site, so that it doesn’t contact a third-party server just by appearing. This also made it simpler to add to WordPress, because I only need to add an easily-templateable stub and enqueue a local script. So I put it on Speed Force, replacing Jetpack’s sharing module. I may put it on the old Flash reference site (which used to have ShareThis on it) if it seems like it’s worth it.

These are both topic-based projects. For my personal blog here, I’ve decided to just drop the share buttons entirely. I’m not sure how useful they are these days, anyway, especially on mobile, where sharing to an app is built into the system.

*Yes, I said reduce, not eliminate. I’m still using WordPress stats, for instance, though I’m phasing out Google Analytics on my personal sites, and of course anywhere you actually embed content from another site, the remote site can potentially track your visitors.

Mastodon: Welcome to the Federation

Mastodon is one of a newer crop of decentralized social networks that are trying to put the users first instead of building everything around ads, tracking, and attention-grabbing feedback loops.

It’s open source software run on a bunch of smaller networks, mostly volunteer-run, each with its own policies and moderators. (You can even run one yourself if you want!) These smaller networks can talk to each other behind the scenes, allowing you to follow and interact with people across networks (that’s where “federation” comes in). Each instance has a different community and flavor, and each is part of the broader community.

I’ve been on for a few months now. It takes a while to settle in, and it feels kind of like the early, optimistic days of Twitter, plus there’s an effort to learn from the past and make it better this time. You can find me at @kelsonv@mastodon.social (general discussion) and @kelsonv@photog.social (photography).

If you’re interested in trying it out, joinmastodon.org is a good place to start, and can suggest which instances might be a good fit. And this Brief Introduction to Mastodon goes into a bit more detail on how to use it and what the culture and etiquette is like.

Flickr vs. Instagram / Who’s in Control?

Social media is a mess these days. Most of us follow too many people and organizations to keep up, so we need some way of narrowing it down…but the tools are typically built into each service, which has different priorities about what it wants you to see than you do. As they say, if you’re not paying, you’re the product.

I realized this is why I still prefer Flickr to Instagram: I’m still in control when I browse Flickr. With Instagram, the best I can do is pick from one firehose or another. Flickr has its issues, but I can find stuff there, and the timeline isn’t re-ordered to suit someone else’s priorities.

Ironically, I post more often on Instagram than on Flickr. Because I like Flickr more, I feel like I should take my time & curate my photos better. But I also end up posting many at a time on Flickr, and single photos on Instagram. I don’t feel like I’m spamming if I post twenty pictures to Flickr, but I do if I post that many* to Instagram.

I mentioned this on Mastodon, and my brother remarked that Flickr feels more like “adding to a collection,” while other sites are more “shoveling things at my friends/followers.” That’s true of most social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even Mastodon are all about now. Going back to look at someone’s history feels like an accident. Or stalking.

On Facebook, it would be really weird to go through someone’s old posts and comment on them. On Flickr, that’s totally normal. If Twitter is like shouting into the void, hoping someone will hear you, Flickr is like building a gallery and hoping someone will visit. When someone finally does,** they’ll see it, and look around. But that scream on Twitter is already fading on the wind.

Especially if Twitter thinks your friends would be more interested in seeing a sponsored post instead.

*Instagram does let you post multi-photo stacks, but the stack only ever appears as a unit. Only the cover photo appears in timelines or searches, and the whole stack shares one description and one set of tags. Flickr lets you group photos into albums however you want, and people (including you) can find any individual photo and go from there to the rest of the album.

**Not that Flickr isn’t subject to the siren call of now either, but the long tail still exists there.