Today I’ll post my 50,000th tweet. If I time it right, it’ll be one announcing this post. And more will keep coming.
50,000! That’s an awful lot of Twittery. So, at this milestone, with some perspective, I have to wonder: why do I keep using Twitter?
There are plenty of reasons not to. Some stretch back to the site’s founding out of Odeo’s wreck: the fierce character limits, the ways some people tweet content that doesn’t interest other people, the difficulty in conversing at length or with nuance there. Other problems have drawn more attention lately: the promotion of emotional content; the prevalence of bots; the successes of trolls and abusers. In addition there are management problems, such as wildly uneven content and user moderation, a seemingly desperately flailing for growth, and the fact that so much depends on the semi-scrutable thoughts of management. Meanwhile, some find using Twitter to be infuriating, addictive, or just frustrating.
I appreciate these problems and critiques. I’ve shared some of them myself. Yet as a particular user with certain demands and habits, I still find Twitter’s benefits to outweigh its negatives.
First, I make extensive use of Twitter for research. I follow bright people and key search terms regularly. My Tweetdeck columns are obsessively curated to bring me news and thoughts from these sources. Then I push out stories and thoughts myself, seeking feedback. Sometimes I get it, which helps my work.
Twitter isn’t my only research source by any means. I have a post coming up about my work routine which will say more.
Second, Twitter remains the best digital way to connect face-to-face events with the broader world. When I’m on the ground at a conference, say, tracking the event’s Twitter hashtag gives me greater access to what people are thinking about there, as well as responses from around the world. And when I can’t attend Twitter lets me peep in.
The same is true of digital events. People in Future Trends Forum sessions like to tweet out the experience. Elsewhere, and without naming names, I’ve found some webinars have more Twitter activity than on-platform discussion.
No other platform can do this as well as Twitter. (Some of us talked about doing it on Mastodon, but that didn’t take off.)
Third, Twitter remains a home for interesting digital storytelling work. You can see this in the ways people construct long threads, using storytelling techniques to keep us reading. There are also formal storytelling accounts, like the entertaining MicroSFF one.
The emperor woke when a hand was placed over his mouth.
“I evaded all your guards,” the assassin whispered, “and outwitted all your traps.”
The emperor nodded, and the assassin took a step back.
“Is it five three?” the emperor asked
“Yes, I’ve won five. Let’s swap clothes now.”
- Micro SF/F stories (@MicroSFF) April 14, 2019
In addition, plenty of accounts are trying to win attention for themselves by using story. Twitter remains, in short, a story center.
Fourth, some people use Twitter as a leading communication mechanism. There are a number of folks who will respond or reach out to me primarily through tweets and DMs. And many people will share stuff on Twitter that they don’t express via other platforms, or don’t do so for a while.
Fifth, I use Twitter for professional development, like a lot of people do. I share my questions about writing, researching, speaking, leading workshops, teaching, travel, small businesses, etc., and sometimes get good responses. I learn, too, by following other people engaged in similar practices.
Sixth, beyond all of this work, I also find entertainment natively on Twitter, the home of Florida Man, the bleak British 1970s horror comedy of Scarfolk, and the grim Werner Twertzog. I enjoy the Cold War nostalgia and madness of CONELRAD6401240 and Soviet Visuals. There is the unsprung surrealism of WYR_BOT, Approved News 6, and dril. And there’s the science-fiction-become-everyday-life inspiration of the International Space Station.
Seventh, I enjoy the short character count constraint. It’s a fun challenge to pare down a humanist’s predilection for prolixity into a tiny tweet. Good practice.
And eighth… there’s no replacement, no successor. I have tried Mastodon, and the results are not inducing me to switch. The level of engagement I experience is far lower than what I see on Twitter. It may be that I’ve found the wrong instance, or that it’ll take more time for me to build up a network there — and I’m still trying. But for now, Twitter remains superior for my needs. Yammer: I’m not part of any group using that right now.
I still use RSS, although I’m in the first steps of considering new readers beyond Inoreader. And I admit that I spend less time with it than I used to, since I can get some RSS-like benefits from Twitter.
Compared to other social media, I get far more professional content on Twitter than anywhere else. There are far more people and more discussions on Facebook, but I haven’t had much luck in the future of education realm. The largest proportion of conversation is, by far, based on personal and political topics. Also, Facebook’s blackbox AI shapes my experience for more than I’d like, whereas I have more control in Twitter. Instagram is similar to Facebook for me, in that I’m struggling to bring it to a professional, rather than personal focus. LinkedIn is purely professional, but doesn’t offer a lot of exchanges. Pinterest: I don’t use it much. Google+ just ceased.
Reddit: I’ve had decent experiences with various boards so far, and might do more there.
It may be that my story is unusual. I run my own business, rather than working full time for someone else, which means I have to make my connections and do my marketing, so perhaps that need is higher than many other people experience. My work and my thinking are predicated on connections and conversations with many people, so maybe that leads me to put up with Twitter’s problems beyond a sane tolerance level.
I haven’t been teaching with Twitter directly this year, although several students and I follow each other and have tweeted back and forth. So far my classes have not expressed interest, and I didn’t feel I should haul them into the Twitterverse. We’ll see if my next classes have similar thoughts.
So: lots of Twitter for me, and more to come. How about you?
Originally published at https://bryanalexander.org on April 24, 2019.