Facebook pulls all the heart strings

I don’t use Facebook all that much lately. When I do open the app, it’s generally to check which birthdays are coming up in the hope that I don’t miss them.

One of the benefits of not using Facebook much is that I see how Facebook entices occasional users back into the fold. Here’s an example that I noticed yesterday:

Screenshot_20180506-201653

Whatever you may think about Facebook, it clearly hires really smart people who know heart strings to tug to persuade users to return to more active use.

Despite what I know about Facebook, and my thoughts about using the service, I can’t help but notice how compelling this sort of messaging can be. This is something Facebook does really well.

When Even Planetary Scientists Are Driven From Twitter

Not too long ago, I wrote about how I was seeing so much value in Twitter because of the people I choose to follow. One of the highlights of my Twitter feed has been Dr Sarah Hörst, a Planetary Scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

Sarah is an inspiration, and I enjoy her tweets tremendously. She tweeted recently that she briefly left Twitter, only to return to be faced with renewed abuse from repulsive examples of our species.

Dr Hörst tweeting about abuse

Reading tweets like this leaves me feeling a little more disgusted with Twitter (the company). Despite all of Jack Dorsey’s assurances, regret, and promises, incredible people like Sarah feel like they should leave the service because remaining on Twitter means exposing yourself to relentless attacks and abuse.

It's not like Twitter doesn't see this stuff

I keep hoping for alternatives. I still believe that something like Mastodon is an answer but, for that to work, it needs to have the sort of community that Twitter still delivers.

I have this sense that I still need to use Twitter because the people I admire and want to follow are there, even though using Twitter increasingly leaves me feeling like I’m giving up part of my humanity in the process.

The case against Facebook

But Googlers can also make a strong case that Google makes valuable contributions to the information climate. I learn useful, real information via Google every day. And while web search is far from a perfect technology, Google really does usually surface accurate, reliable information on the topics you search for. Facebook’s imperative to maximize engagement, by contrast, lands it in an endless cycle of sensationalism and nonsense.

I’m not sure I’d give Google as much of a moral edge over Facebook. Both are focused on optimising engagement. That’s pretty much a necessity given their business models. At the same time, Facebook does seem to turn engagement into an art form.

Courtesy of Vox in “The case against Facebook“.

Facebook Guilt Trips

I’ve been fairly inactive on Facebook in recent months. One of the benefits of that is having an opportunity to see a variety of Facebook Guilt Trips in action. Here’s today’s:

I don’t remember which Page I unfollowed. I’m pretty sure I won’t feel to guilty about it.

Twitter feed balagan

Twitter probably thinks it’s doing us a favour algorithmically sorting tweets but what it’s really doing is creating a frustrating Twitter feed balagan.

Alice Coldfuss on the Twitter feed mess
Algorithmic Twitter feed balagan

One of the reasons I use Twitter so much more than Facebook (which I barely use, such that when I do open the Facebook app, I frequently see messages from Facebook trying to reassure me that it’s safe to return) is that Twitter has historically let me just see tweets in reverse chronological order.

Sure, Twitter also has a sort of “featured tweets” section at the top of my feed. For the most part, that’s ok, because I can scroll down to see everything else. That doesn’t happen anymore. If I look at a sampling of my Twitter feed (below*), it’s a mess. I have tweets presented in random time order and I’m not even sure if that is all of them.

Twitter may be doing this because they realise that users who follow a lot of people hardly ever see everything. Or something. At the same time, don’t mess with what I do get to see. This algorithmic approach to presenting my Twitter feed just kills the value for me.

At the moment, the only thing that keeps me returning to Twitter is because I haven’t worked out how to follow all the awesome people who make it worthwhile, outside Twitter (yet). As soon as I figure that out, the Twitter app will join Facebook in Phone Limbo.

*Here’s that Twitter feed sample, if you’re interested. Look at the timestamps:

A sample of my mess of a Twitter feed.
A sample of my mess of a Twitter feed.

The Mastodon in the room

I read Patrick Hogan’s post about Mastodon titled “Mastodon makes the internet feel like home again” last week. It prompted me to install a Mastodon app on my phone again, and take another look.

The Mastodon.social timeline
Find me on Mastodon, if you want

Like many people, I’m not exactly in love with Twitter lately (except when I am). I’ve been on the lookout for something better for years (remember Jaiku?). I really like the idea of a federated update/micro-blogging service, and Mastodon has all the features you’d want.

What about the network effect?

The one feature that’s missing is the one factor that either boosts or kills any social service (again, remember Jaiku?) is the all important network effect. As Richard MacManus put it in his post titled “How social media fits into the Open Web” in AltPlatform.org (I can’t seem to load the site and provide a link):

I dip into Mastodon from time to time, but it just hasn’t managed to become part of my daily Web routine. Perhaps it will in future, but the old ‘network effects’ rule applies here: the value of a tool is ultimately in the strength of the community it builds.

This probably isn’t the platform I’d expect to see my friends on (and I don’t expect to). Still, if Mastodon is to be a viable alternative to Twitter for me, I’d want to be able to join communities that feature the people who I follow on Twitter. At the moment, I’m not sure most of them are even aware of Mastodon.

More importantly, what about my blog?

As interested as I am in a federated alternative to Twitter, what I really want is to be able to use my blog as my starting point for everything. Why can’t my personal site be the focal point of my presence on the web (at least one of my primary expressions of my self online)?

This takes me back to the work the IndieWeb community is doing to link all these sites together into a federated identity, and content network. How about extending that work to the point where I can use this blog as my identity that reaches into these federated networks?

This may be wishful thinking but I’d really like to see a future version of WordPress introduce this social connectivity that allows me to extend a unified personal presence to non-blog platforms.

On Mastodon, my identity is linked to the instance I am a part of. There, I am @pauljacobson@mastodon.social. I can use that identity to participate in other Mastodon instances (I think), so I have the beginnings of a distributed, social identity here. The challenge is that my nascent social identity is distinct from this site.

Update: I wrote too soon. Ryan Barrett pointed me to Bridgy Fed that seems to do what I was hoping I’d be able to do (pretty much). Barrett launched Bridgy Fed in October and it looks terrific:

Ryan Barrett's Bridgy Fed launch announcement.
Ryan Barrett’s Bridgy Fed launch announcement.

This is going to take a little time to configure but I’m looking forward to working through the process and connecting my site to the fediverse.

Inspiring developers make Twitter worthwhile

Twitter has become a complicated digital space, to say the least. My “Inspiring developers” Twitter list is one of the highlights of my Twitter experience, and the developers on that list make Twitter worthwhile for me, despite all the cruft we see there.

One of the themes that Twitter has helped highlight is how women developers are routinely marginalised, dismissed, devalued. I decided to seek out inspiring women developers and follow them because I was interested in their perspectives on development, life, and other issues.

I’m glad I did. Sure, there are some men on that list (there are plenty of male developers who I admire too) but I wanted to be exposed to different voices.

I am continually inspired by the developers I add to my list, and there are times when I’m tempted to unfollow virtually everyone else and just focus on this growing group of smart, thoughtful, and innovative professionals. See for yourself:

I have learned so much from virtually every person on this list. The fact that this list began as an effort to focus on women developers has become secondary to how much I appreciate being able to subscribe to their shared thoughts.

By the way, if there are developers who aren’t on my list and who inspire you, let me know in the comments or on Twitter?

Photo credit: WOCinTech Chat, licensed CC BY SA 2.0