Tag Archives: Twitter

Shouting Into the Less Exploitative Void

Sometimes you choose which social app to open based on

  • who you want to talk to
  • who you want to hear
  • what you want to talk about

Sometimes you’re just shouting into the void. At those times, I figure I’ll choose the void that feels less exploitative.

That’s part of why I still have a blog. And why I post more on Mastodon, while Twitter is mostly auto-shares from my other networks, retweets, and occasional cross-posts.

(And politics, because I’d rather keep that on Twitter, where it’s sort of the main topic anyway, than on the network that’s still fun. Not that Mastodon is apolitical. Far from it! But it’s a lot more varied than the overwhelming focus on US partisan politics I see on Twitter. And the culture and structure make the discussions at least somewhat less train-wrecky. Most of the time.)

Quick thoughts on Twitter’s prototype changes

As you’ve probably heard, Twitter is planning major changes, and is testing them in a prototype app.

Threaded conversations are good, though I think the UI here still needs polish.

Hiding the interaction buttons until you click on the post: Yeah, it might make people think a little more. Putting some friction into sharing can improve the signal-to-noise ratio. (Also, I could swear I’ve seen something discussing this UX choice somewhere before, not necessarily for Twitter, but I can’t place it.)

Hiding the like/retweet counts: I know it was a deliberate decision to do that on Mastodon to discourage timelines from being too much of a popularity-contest. But it’s not clear how effective it’s been. In fact Mastodon recently added reply counts to its timeline (though boost and favorite counts are still behind a click). There is some value in social proof. Even if in a lot of cases it just amplifies how popular (or unpopular) something is to start with.

It’s not clear whether Twitter intends to hide the like/retweet counts completely, or keep them with the buttons like Mastodon does. Either way, I can’t imagine they won’t keep those numbers visible at least to the original poster. At some level they’re all about the metrics. And as Slashdot pointed out way back when they introduced karma: if you provide an actual number, people will try to optimize for it. Update: Buzzfeed indicates that the metrics are visible when zoomed into a specific tweet. In that case, you can still gauge its popularity or awfulness ratio, you just have to be motivated by the tweet to look for them. Essentially, it’s on the title page instead of the cover.

Camera features: There’s not really much I can say about these, since I tend not to post directly to social media in the first place. I like to take a picture (or several), then wait until I have time to crop, adjust, think of a caption, etc.

So on balance, these things might help a little.

But if Twitter is still going to be driven by showing you a timeline in most-likely-to-engage order — especially if those hidden replies are chosen in a way to encourage engagement — it’s still going to be a train wreck. Just, maybe with fewer things on fire.

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.

Link Sharing and Source Trails

I read a lot of articles in one of two ways:

  1. Open a bunch of tabs and then read them one at a time
  2. Save a bunch of interesting-looking stories to Pocket and then read them one at a time

So by the time I’ve decided to share a link to the story on Facebook Twitter, Mastodon, etc., I’ve often forgotten where I saw it to begin with.

If it’s a site I follow regularly, or I found it through a search, or if it was recommended by Pocket, no big deal, but if someone else shared the link and I saw it, I feel like I ought to give a little credit.

Now, the share/retweet buttons do automate this trail…but only if you do it immediately on Facebook or Twitter, because they have a nasty tendency to update your timeline when you come back, making it difficult to find the post you clicked on.

(It took me 30 minutes to find this tweet, since I couldn’t remember who had written it, only who on my list had retweeted it.)

This encourages you to share articles before you read them, no doubt contributing to the problem of people sharing stuff that turns out to be total BS, sending it halfway around the world before the truth can get its proverbial pants on.

I’m not sure how much people care about the trail these days. Citing the original source? absolutely. Posting someone else’s idea as yours? Hell yeah, just search for “stolen tweets.”

But the intermediary? Whether you follow the person you retweeted, or you follow someone who follows someone who follows someone who retweeted them, it looks the same to the rest of the world. Back when reposts and linkblogging were done manually, it was a BIG DEAL. I remember people getting upset that big-name bloggers would share links to things that smaller bloggers had already shared without crediting them. (Admittedly, I don’t remember whether it was a common complaint or just a few people.)

On the other hand, if you’re studying the spread of ideas, opinions, information or misinformation, it’s invaluable. And if you’re trying to hide a propaganda operation, you might want to disguise the trail…

But social media users do care about share counts and like counts. Original posters want the validation. Viewers see high counts as social proof that other people find the post valuable. And the platforms themselves use it as a signal to prioritize display in the newsfeed algorithm du jour. So there’s a strong incentive to get people (or bots) to use those share, reblog, retweet buttons.

So when it comes down to it, the normal use case preserves that link trail (even if you only see the oldest and newest links in that chain)…and I’m just an outlier when it comes to the way I use social media.

How Link Shorteners Leave Holes in Your Social Media

Another problem I’ve noticed in my Twitter archive: Lots of URL shorteners and image hosts have shut down or purged their archives.

Sure, bit.ly and is.gd and tinyurl and ow.ly are still around. But in the days before t.co, I used a lot of different Twitter apps that used different shorteners or image hosts.

I have photos posted not just at Twitter and Twitpic, but at phodroid, mypict.me, and twitgoo. In some cases the description and date can point me to the right picture on my hard drive or on this blog (I used to import a daily digest of tweets, and I still sometimes use Twitter as a rough draft for content here). In some cases I can narrow it down to a group of photos — the 2012 partial solar eclipse, for instance.

In some cases, I have NO IDEA what the photo was:

Similarly, I linked to a lot of articles that might still exist, but the short URLs don’t point to them anymore. Services like tr.im, short.to, and awe.sm. StumbleUpon’s su.pr. In some cases a publisher set up their own shortener, and has since dropped it. Again, sometimes I can find it from here. Sometimes the description includes a quote or title that I can search for.

Oddly enough, I found most of my lost awe.sm links by looking at Del.icio.us, which apparently unwrapped the links when they imported from Twitter way back when. It’s still around and searchable. For now. (I should look into what you get from their archive.)

It’s true that these problems are biggest if you were on Twitter before they implemented their own link shortener and image hosting. But a lot of tools (Buffer, for instance) still use their own shorteners for tracking purposes, so you’re not just depending on the tool being around long enough to post your tweet, you’re depending on it to stay around for the rare person who stumbles on an old thread and wants to see what you were talking about.

And even if you didn’t start using Twitter until they hosted photos themselves, Twitter doesn’t include your photos in your archive! If you want to save your own copies in case they go the way of GeoCities or even photobucket, you’ve got to hold onto the originals or download them yourself.