At some point in 2016 I opted out of most social media, especially Twitter. I don’t remember the exact day or what the final straw was that brought me to that point, but my response was to delete nearly a decade's worth of tweets, unfollow every account and just stop participating.
There was no major discovery from breaking away from social media. I didn’t find enlightenment, start drinking more water, or become a better person. I just stopped feeling bad about whatever micro-outrage would make its way through my network on a given day, only to be forgotten about as soon as the next day’s outrage arrived. I stopped arguing about stuff it turns out I didn’t care nearly that much about to have a firmly held opinion on. Developers are miserable people. We complain a lot. Being connected to tens of thousands of them throughout your day is probably not the best idea if you’re someone like me who isn’t great at letting stuff go easily. So I opted out.
This is the point where I confess that while I “quit” Twitter, I didn’t actually “quit Twitter.” While you may have seen the mass destruction of the @justin account as me signaling my desire to cameo in a Logan Paul video, I was actually still using the service, albeit in a much more pleasant way.
Private Twitter is the account I use to follow close friends, see sports GIFs, and get my news from College Football Twitter. More importantly, it’s a private account that only 80 of my closest friends have access too. These are the folks who I would be happy to see if I randomly ran into them at a bar or restaurant. It doesn’t include colleagues, casual acquaintances, or any random person who thinks I might be an interesting follow because I sit and stare at Xcode all day for the day job.
By limiting the follower list with such a heavy hand, I’m able to more freely share things that are boring, mundane, or only potentially of interest to me. I have no one to impress, no stats to juke, and no need to worry about being retweeted in to a viral hellscape of “Well, actually.” My friends who follow me on Twitter may not be super interested in seeing that I reorganized my kitchen cabinets or took apart and washed my keyboard, but that’s the type of mundane and boring stuff you talk about with friends.
Private Twitter is also not about reciprocating follows or worrying about the social awkwardness that can be caused by not following back. Some of my closest friends follow me on Private Twitter, but I don’t follow back because they talk about technology and whatever “iOS Community” drama there is on a daily basis. I have active iMessage threads with these friends daily, and that acts as a filter of sorts to bubble up the actual news I need to worry about.
Personally, I just do not care to see or hear about whatever is going on in the tech sector anymore, because it’s mostly noise and very little signal. If I want to dip my toes in for whatever reason, I search for a few friends’ accounts and read their timeline for the last day or two. I usually regret it because I get a headache from eye rolling, but it was my choice to make.
The only reason I am writing this is because a week doesn’t go by without me talking to someone that hasn’t quit Twitter or is on the verge of quitting because the negatives far outweigh the positives anymore. My advice to them is usually always the same:
- Create a new Twitter account and set it as private by default.
- Follow a few accounts related to things you truly like. In my case that was college football, the greatest sport of all.
- Follow a few accounts related to your city, if relevant. I follow CDOT, RTD, and the Mayor of Denver so I can know if there are traffic accidents I need to know about or something interesting is happening in Denver.
- Follow your family, unless they annoy you. Follow a few close friends.
- Throw your old account into the sea.
My Twitter solution is definitely not for everyone, but it has worked well for me for almost two years now. I still take Twitter breaks periodically, but it’s rarely because I’m annoyed at what I’m reading or seeing anymore.
In January of this year I started tweeting again from @justin. I set a few ground rules. First, I try to only post positive things rather than just using it as an outlet to complain. I try to stick to this 100% of the time, but I’m sadly not perfect. My second rule was to not follow anyone on the account. When I use my public twitter account I think about it as throwing a note over a wall and then walking away. I’ll check the replies and interact occasionally, but that is an exception, not a norm.
People have described Twitter and social media in general as an avenue for people to shout their opinions out into the open while other people are shouting theirs. I now fully embrace that with my public account. You’re welcome to follow my public shouting if you’d like. Private Twitter, though? That’s for me and my friends.
In case you weren’t aware, Twitter is doomed! Like, Apple levels of doomed. User growth has been stalled for years. Advertising isn’t picking up nearly as well as they’d hoped. And the stock price is trading at less than my high school allowance because Wall Street is losing faith. I would personally prefer they regain their faith in Twitter, because I bought the stock at $45. I’d like to recoup that investment.
Ever since Jack came back to save his flailing company, people have been waiting for him to sprinkle pixie dust on Market St and suddenly solve all of Twitter’s problems. Sadly, not even Steve Jobs’s spiritual son can perform this kind of magic in just a few months. There have been a few different product launches since last fall and another round of #ExecutiveShuffle, but the ultimate problems of Twitter still remain. Twitter is too damn hard. Not for you, the fine person reading this article. Not for me certainly. I’ve been on it for a decade this July. But for those other people out there in the world? The “normals”? They don’t get it.
How do I know? I am @justin on Twitter and this has been my mentions tab for at least half a decade.
You’ll notice that most of these tweets aren’t necessarily for me. I am constantly inundated with tweets to “@Justin Bieber”, “@Justin Trudeau”, “@Justin Timberlake”, and maybe once even “@Justin Guarini.” The examples above are just a few random people who were confused while tweeting. It gets worse when someone like TMZ (3.69 million followers) tweets about “@Justin Bieber” instead of “@JustinBieber” and I can’t use Twitter for a few days without wanting to switch back to Pownce. When Bieber himself tweets I am well aware, because my mentions stream blows up even worse than this.
More than annoying, it can also be somewhat sad. I’ve seen teen girls confess their undying love to Bieber. I know when they cry because he wore a green shirt. I’ve even seen people threaten to cut themselves if he doesn’t reply to them. Am I supposed to reply to that tweet? It was sent to me (@justin bieber), and not Bieber (@justinbieber), after all. I ultimately end up spending an inordinate amount of time blocking these accounts to try to keep my mentions at some sort of sane level. At last check, I’ve blocked well over 60,000 accounts. That’s at least 1/3 of Twitter’s 4th quarter monthly active users!
Because of this, I don’t really enjoy Twitter that much anymore. This is also why I don’t use it nearly as much as I used to. It’s bad enough that the culture of Twitter is centered around abuse, actually-ing people, and making it way too easy for dumb people to try to sound smart. Add on top of it that most people don’t understand the product and I have to spend part of my life doing manual labor trying to make the service usable for me. No better way to spend a Saturday night than Twitter Block Button and Chill.
The fundamental tenents of Twitter are obviously broken for most people and they have been for years. Based on the currently super confusing interface the product offers, Twitter’s conversational nature lets me gauge where Bieber is still most popular (South America, Southeast Asia) and how Justin Trudeau is doing up in Canada (pretty great!). The product does not enable people to successfully talk to their favorite celebrities or #brands. Instead they end up talking to an iOS developer in Colorado who really doesn’t want to know them. Why would I want to keep using a product that enables this exactly?
Twitter the the company seems aware of this based on their last shareholder letter.
We are going to fix the broken windows and confusing parts, like the [email protected] syntax and @reply rules, that we know inhibit usage and drive people away. We’re going to improve the timeline to make sure you see the best Tweets, while preserving the timeliness we are known for. The timeline improvement we announced just this morning has grown usage across the board (including Tweeting and Retweeting). We’re going to improve onboarding flows to make sure you easily find both your contacts and your interests. We’re going to make Tweeting faster while making Tweets more expressive with both text and visual media. We’re going to help people come together around a particular topic, such as our @NBA timelines experiences. Relentlessly refining Twitter will enable more people to get more out of Twitter faster.
Whether this is just lip service to shareholders to try and quell another mass sell-off after a disappointing quarter, or something actually will change remains to be seen. I personally welcome the algorithmic timeline, because I no longer check Twitter more than once a day or so. I don’t want to see every tweet from every person I follow and since my mentions are usually a dumpster fire I don’t have much to look for in there either.
If @jack is looking for a fuzzy metric to determine whether Twitter is getting easier to use, take a peek at my mentions every couple months and gauge my misery level. The happier I am, the easier Twitter is becoming to use most likely.
A short note to let you know that if RSS isn’t your thing, you can now get updated on new posts to this site via Twitter.
Follow @carpeaqua on Twitter.
I’ll eventually get around to putting out an email version of the site as well, but that’s not a short-term goal.