Posts tagged twitter

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Take 25 minutes to watch this. He makes a fantastic, succinct argument for regulating social media to stop the reach of hate speech.
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"I’d start with, at most, 10 news sites to subscribe to. This will give you a feel for how fast you want the feed to move. Too slow? Add more. To fast? Delete a few. I try to narrow things down even further: Instead of subscribing to the New York Times, which publishes dozens of items per day, I subscribe specifically to the Times’ tech section, which means I get a much more curated selection."
Seconded. And hey, I could have written this. This article has great advice for embracing the decentralized lifestyle. I personally use a self-hosted Tiny Tiny RSS with Reeder on iOS which costs about $8/month at AWS. Instead of limiting feeds, I subscribe liberally and put them in folders by subject. Then I browse by subject periodically instead of the full list of feeds and tune from there.
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I never get tired of these stories where people change their digital habits. This piece by Kashmir Hill is an extreme example, but also a good illustration of how ubiquitous the major tech companies are. Understanding the often hidden architecture of our tech environment helps us make mindful decisions. A couple other posts in this genre I've enjoyed lately: Bye, Bye, Google by Bogdan Popa and Pulling the plug on Facebook by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert.

My Year in Social Media

Last year around this time I talked about trying to stop contributing to corporate social media: Facebook-Free in Twenty Eightee-n. That went ok. I stopped using Instagram altogether. I posted three pictures to Facebook in 2018. I deleted my Twitter account in August (Twitter Breakup) and then went back and claimed my username so it couldn't be used for evil. (I got my username back too late to save the 11-year archive which is mildly annoying—but also ok.) And I do still read Twitter ocassionally through a significantly smaller window. I didn't post to Flickr at all. (That might change now that they're under new ownership.)

So that's some kind of progress. How is my current relationship with social media? To put it in meme terms:



Leaving social media does not make it go away. If you work on the web in any capacity (I do), the big sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are omnipresent. It seemed like each week of 2018 brought a new jaw-dropping revelation of Facebook mismanagement. Google leaked user data, hid it, and employees were in the streets asking for fair working conditions. Twitter is a platform for Nazis because they incentivize engagement above all things and do not adequately handle abuse. I agree with Anand Giridharadas who posted this Twitter thread: "Trying to fight a predatory, politically connected monopoly through heroic personal responsibility doesn't work." We need regulation.

So that's depressing! I wouldn't call it heroic responsibility, but I did change my online habits quite a bit in 2018. I now read and post social messages via Mastodon which is a distributed kinder, gentler Twitter. I wish more people would make the switch so I could close my Twitter reading window altogether. I stopped posting photos online which is something I used to enjoy. I'll make an effort to post them here more frequently.

In October I did start posting more frequently to this site which means I also started paying more attention to my site metrics. Last week I made a snarky post about Google Analytics which was my poor way of processing this. I deleted it because the fact is, Google Analytics is a necessary tool if you work on the web. Necessary, but I don't like the way it turns people into numbers. So that's a tension I'm trying to live with and the answer might be that I shouldn't use web marketing tools for personal projects. I'd like to have a way to know if what I'm writing here is being read and resonating, but not if it means getting alerts and notifications that traffic is dropping, engagement is lower, and people are bouncing away forever. There has to be a more humane way to visualize and engage with web audiences.

My wish for social media in 2019 is for new leadership at all of the major web companies. I don't think we'll ever see them disappear, nationalized, or regulated in a meaningful way. I'd like them to have a less central role in how we create and share online. I think some new leaders could steer the companies away from growth-at-all-costs toward a more ethical relationship with users. I'd like to see them usher in the era of maintenance! That's where they take the amazing tools they've built and optimize them to work within society.

Twitter Breakup

Jerry Seinfeld had a funny line on his show about how breaking up is like knocking over a coke machine:

That's how I feel about Twitter right now. Even though I swore off Twitter in January I've found myself back in the daily grind there. Despite uninstalling the app on my phone and hacking my hosts file, I still end up back. Twitter and I have had some great times over 11 years and five months! It's not easy to give that up. I found my current job via Twitter, I hear stories from people I would never have met, I keep up with friends, I get industry news, and there are always great jokes.

But Twitter also has a problem with toxic speech that they refuse to address. That is the dealbreaker for me. That's the poop in the pool. Here's a sampling of recent decisive leadership from Twitter:

I also found myself identifying with Matt's My own reasons for leaving Twitter. I too feel that addictive pull all. the. time.

So this movement to deactivate accounts on Friday is just the kick in the butt I need to remind myself to make conscious choices about the places I patronize.

I will genuinely miss the fun parts of Twitter but I don't want to be part of a platform that hosts hate speech. The US government tolerates hate speech because it places a high value on free speech. I understand the trade-off there but Twitter is not the US government. There are plenty of places to publish online. Twitter is more like the host of a big party. And if the host of the party doesn't kick out nazis when they show up it's time to knock over the coke machine for good. (I'm definitely mixing metaphors here but the point is that I don't feel comfortable spending time and attention there anymore.) Twitter, I know it's a cliché but: it's not me—it's you.

Controlled Link Burn

The underbrush of my link ecosystem has become so wild and thorny with hrefs that it's time to break out the blogging driptorch and burn them all so the mighty oaks of thought can live free once more.

Last week Andy Baio broke the Twitter time continuum with a well-crafted Twitter search that shows activity from the people you follow from 10 years ago. Reading a 2008 feed made me think about text vs. media embeds and I enjoyed the discussions about tweeting in the modern world. Someone put together a handy page of Twitter time-traveling links if you'd like to try it out.

Jessamyn West is fighting the good fight against Equifax by suing them in small claims court over their data breach. A week or so ago she went to court: Equifax Statement for Small Claims Court. Be sure to read the the follow-up tweets at the end of the article about how it went. Equifax probably won't pay a meaningful price for their recklessness with our data, but I'm glad Jessamyn is trying.

How is the smart speaker craze going? Vox epxlains How an Amazon Echo ended up recording and sharing a private conversation. I think it was @sudama who suggested calling them smart microphones instead so we remember data flows both ways.

I spent way too much time having fun at WASD Keyboards customizing keycap colors. I don't really need another mechanical keyboard. I don't really need another mechanical keyboard. I don't really need another mechanical keyboard.

This is some digital spycraft wizardry: Glyph Perturbation, The Science of Font Steganography. By imperceptably changing how fonts are displayed, you can embed encrypted messages within innocuous carrier text.

This was a good reminder for me to make time for reading with my kids: What's Going On In Your Child's Brain When You Read Them A Story?.

I recently started playing electric guitar again for the first time in *cough*+ years and that opened a whole new world of YouTube tutorial videos I wasn't aware of before. I'm here to recommend Paul Davids and fun videos like his 10 Extremely Tasty Licks.

The link thicket is light on web developer help this time around, but this 2014 article about How to Write a Git Commit Message is still great. My favorite tip is Use imperitive statements as the subject line. I always try to do this and I think it gives commit messages a timeless quality—like you're explaining to someone mid-process how to recreate your steps.

With my weekly URLs now ablaze, the only thing left to do is fire up Portland Cello Project playing Paranoid Android (a good version finally online!) as background music while I watch my reading list disappear.

Link Defragmentation

I save links in Safari's Reading List on my iPhone so I can reference them later. Sharing them here on my blog is their final resting place. Once posted here, I remove the links from my reading list and the cycle of cruft can begin again. It's a similar process to—and as exciting as—defragmenting your hard drive. How many hours did I spend watching the defrag visualization colors rearrange themselves in Windows Disk Defragmenter? That's rhetorical, but many. Many hours. Of watching. Now you too can watch the metaphorical defrag colors along with me:

First, go listen to the latest episode of Matt Haughey's podcast Hobby Horse where he interviews people about their side projects. In Episode 4 he talks with Erica Baker about ancestry and geneology and it absolutely changed the way I look at family trees. We’re all connected in ways I hadn’t thought about before. So great—go listen!

While I'm talking podcasts, Gimlet has a new one out called The Habitat that I'm hooked on after one episode. It's about a NASA study to determine how six humans live together for a year in a confined space. They're trying to simulate the conditions that people would live in on a mission to Mars. You can binge the whole thing.

Last week I posted about the SmugMug/Flickr exchange and I've been enjoying the takes: Tom Coates, Ben Cerveny, Jim Ray, and for context this 2012 article (cold take?) by Mat Honan: How Yahoo Killed Flickr and Lost the Internet.

Did you know you can look up at least some of the interests Twitter has assigned to you for personalized advertising? I was surprised at how accurate some of the more obscure interests were but I shouldn't be. We need more privacy and dumber phones.

Google set up a new way to query information in books called Talk to Books. As an introvert I feel like Google really gets me with this project, you know? I'll just be over here talking to books.

@lhl found a tumblr dedicated to gathering depictions of floppy disks in anime. It's even better than it sounds.

ok, off to delete my reading list. Defrag complete!

Tweet Skimmer

I'm on day 17 of my Twitter fast and I do feel like I'm missing things. I'd like to be able to see what's happening with friends and co-workers without feeling like I'm walking into a kaleidoscope at a circus in the middle of a casino. At one time tweets were just text. Now tweets have embedded video gifs with talismanic viral numbers attached to commentary from dozens of people I don't want to hear from. I feel like I have to wade through 85% garbage to get that 15% I'm missing.

I think I can solve the circus-casino problem™ by removing the tweets from their toxic native environment and displaying them as text-only in my archaic feed reader. And that's what I've done.

Here is tweet-skimmer. It's a node.js script I'm using that gets a user's tweets from the Twitter API and creates an RSS feed without retweets or replies. By the time the tweets hit my feed reader, they are plain text with no media embeds, no images, no kaleidoscopic bears riding tricycles, no favorite counts, and no surrounding Twitter UI.

After testing for two full days I think this will allow me to batch tweet-reading into something I can skim every so often. That way I'll feel like I'm staying up to date with specific people without picking up the daily Twitter habit again.

The metaphor I've been using lately to describe this is that my Twitter habit is like having junk food in the house. I'm sure it would be no problem to have unlimited Doritos™ if I only ever ate 15% of each bag. It just never works out that way. So I'm hoping this new bit of scripting is like only buying 15% in the first place. It's digital portion control. Fun sized tweets.

This.

If I was still on Twitter I'd link to this article by Joel Spolsky with the text, "This." Instead, I'll say that Joel describes the Twitter and Facebook addiction problem better than I've been able to: Birdcage liners.

For a look at the mechanics behind intermittent reinforcement that Joel describes there's a book called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. It's as gross as it sounds. However, it does help you look at the products you use in a new, harsher light. I'd use the book as a digital literacy exercise rather than a how-to manual as it's intended.

Staying Informed

"But Paul," I can hear you saying through the internet, "how do you stay informed about the outside world if you can't visit Twitter and Facebook?" That's a great question but I'm afraid we've run out of time for today, sorry.

I was a huge Google Reader fan and I still use an RSS reader. When Google Reader shut down I installed a local version of Tiny Tiny RSS on my server and spent a lot of time customizing it to look and behave like Google Reader. I still use it regularly and I wish I could say that was my primary source of information these days. Unfortunatley the big two have pulled people's creative energy into them like content black holes from which not even light-hearted jokes can escape! I think of my tt-rss instance as "appointment" web entertainment. I visit it occasionally to keep up with specific sites but it doesn't feel urgent to stay up-to-date. I would love to see a return to distributed publishing and reading via RSS but tt-rss and newsreaders in general feel like too much work to install, set up, and manage.

Email has changed for me. I have distinct work and personal email these days and I use different clients to check them. My personal email traffic feels light, and with Gmail filtering spam and sorting things into buckets I have a strong signal to noise ratio. I follow some great email newsletters that I highly recommend: I usually read these as they come in and always get something out of them. Some weekly reads I enjoy include Friday Front-End (web development news), Hacker Newsletter (sorry), and the top questions of the week at RPG Stack Exchange.

What I like is that I control what's coming into my inbox. Like a newsreader, I choose the sources and let them curate news for me. There isn't an algorithm helping me decide which pieces of these I should read. Maybe it works because I haven't subscribed to very many. Maybe it works because email isn't a primary source of anxiety for me anymore.

Another daily source of news and info for me is link and favorite aggregation sites:
  • BELONG - Andy Baio's Twitter aggregator takes links from a good slice of Twitter. (Maybe this is cheating since it's based on Twitter? I'm ok with it.)
  • Pinboard Popular - The most-saved bookmarks at Pinboard with a heavy web developer slant. (Also has a strong Twitter bias with its auto-bookmark favorites feature.)
  • Popular favorites at MetaFilter and Ask MetaFilter - Sure, I'm biased, but it's still the best online community and while I'm not in the daily mix there anymore I always find great perspectives when I go.
  • Nuzzel - This is like a BELONG but with your Twitter follows. (ok, this is definitely cheating but it's very hard for me to escape this particular black hole.)
Looking at this list I know there is much more I can do to diversify my information diet. Part of this experiment is going through this self-examination to find ways to improve.

I'm sure you're sorry you asked by now, but I appreciate your concern. I'm still concerned about keeping up with friends and family but we really are out of time now so that'll have to be another post. Just know there's a lot you can take in outside of the big two and still feel like you're plugged into the hive mind.

Facebook-Free in Twenty Eightee-n

My growing sense of dread about the corporate social media networks that dominate the modern web has prompted twin 2018 resolutions: 1.) Do not contribute content directly to social media networks owned by corporations. 2.) Break the daily habit of consuming information directly from Facebook and Twitter.

I feel like I need to do some extra work to find new ways to connect with people. I think Jason Kottke is on the right track with his new newsletter, Noticing. (And I can't believe I'm saying this as someone who has always had a strong preference for web over email.) I do enjoy seeing personal updates from friends on Facebook, but there's a lot of garbage you have to take in with it. A little rancid meat can really ruin a milkshake. So what if we all had personal email newsletters and we could just enjoy each other's updates with no garbage mixed in?

Keeping up with thoughts and ideas from folks in my industry is trickier. Twitter works well for that. It's just that in addition to jokes and news you also need to take in heaping piles of garbage while feeling complicit in advancing the Earth toward its final days. I shouldn't have to feel terrible to connect with friends and peers. I'm staying away from Twitter to see if I can find other ways to connect. Ways like visiting websites directly and subscribing to newsletters. I think Twitter the company is making terrible decisions and I don't want to feel like I'm contributing to their network growing in any way. My only option is to stop feeding it attention and jokes.

Breaking my daily Twitter and Facebook habit has been easier than I expected. I uninstalled the apps from my phone some time ago but I was still visiting and posting in a web browser. Simply logging out of these services is enough of a speedbump to remind me that I don't want to be there. The habit tries, but little speedbumps are enough to stop it. I've also made Kindle my go-to app for wasting time with my phone. If I need a break or need to kill some time I'll read a book instead.

As far as sharing thoughts, links, and photos I'll still be posting here but not at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. I'll probably start a mailing list with family news for friends. I'm hoping all of this will help me find ways to stay connected with people I care about without a publicly traded intermediary. That was the promise of the Web in the first place and it's not working out. With some exploration and work maybe we can route around the web behemoths.

Want to connect with me outside of Facebook or Twitter? I still use email. (Though I'm still bad at it.)

Here are a few links I've been thinking about:

Saturday Links

Bleak edition.
Puerto Rico
Facebook
Twitter
NFL
Web Design
Multifarious
And after all that you'll probably need to recoup with some Ronnie James Dio singing as a psychedelic frog:

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