Twitter hasn’t really changed for me


Frank Chimero, on how Twitter has changed over time:

Here’s the frustration: if you’ve been on Twitter a while, it’s changed out from under you. Christopher Alexander made a great diagram, a spectrum of privacy: street to sidewalk to porch to living room to bedroom. I think for many of us Twitter started as the porch — our space, our friends, with the occasional neighborhood passer-by. As the service grew and we gained followers, we slid across the spectrum of privacy into the street.

Of course, the things you say on your porch are much different than what you’d say on the street. But if the porch turned into the street without you noticing, there’d be a few painful months before you realized you needed to change how you spoke. I remember the first few times I was talking to friends (forgetting the conversation could be viewed by those who followed both of us), only to have strangers piggy-back on our grousing. It felt like a violation. But that’s on me for participating in a kinda-private, kinda-public conversation.

For the better part of a year, I’ve been trying to make Twitter feel like talking on the porch again, but it just can’t happen. Twitter isn’t talking for anyone with more than 500 followers — it’s publishing or advertising. We’re all on the street, and it’s noisy.

My experience is rather different. Perhaps I’m one of the lucky ones, but I must say that, as far as relationships and social interactions go, very little has changed for me since I joined Twitter in early 2008. The way I speak and communicate over Twitter hasn’t changed. For me — to use Chimero’s image — it’s always been a ‘talking on the porch’ kind of thing.

I won’t deny that Twitter has got noisier these past five years, and that ‘conversations’ now have a greater tendency to quickly become ‘quip matches,’ but it’s always nice for me to see that there’s a group of people with whom I can start a conversation any time and such conversation would actually feel like a quiet chat among friends despite all the current Twitter-noise. Perhaps it’s because this group of people and I all have a similar attitude towards Twitter: we’re not interested in anything Twitter throws at us to ‘keep us engaged’ — we’re still treating Twitter as the means of communication it was back then.

Another, more practical thing I’ve always done from the start to keep the noise at bay on Twitter has been to carefully select the people I follow (and not obsess over how many followers I have) (and always choose third-party clients). I’ve added roughly 40 people per year, from 40 people I followed in 2008 to 200 now. Very few of the Twitter accounts I follow are of brands, or apps, etc. I’ve always been on Twitter for the people. If I want news or RSS-like features, I use a RSS reader. And I’ve always spoken over Twitter with the same tone, the tone of someone who welcomes conversations and constructive exchanges. I’ve never used Twitter as a means of simply broadcasting my opinions with a megaphone. What I have got in return has been, so far, a rather rewarding experience: I’ve met truly interesting people and kindred spirits. People I know I can count on for meaningful exchanges no matter how Twitter tries to ‘reinvent’ itself.

Again, maybe I’ve just been lucky. I don’t have thousands of followers always ready to challenge every tweet I post, nor have I really experienced unwanted interferences from strangers while having a conversation with friends — things that would certainly turn Twitter into a sour experience and end up pushing me away from it.

Mind you, I’m an App.Net advocate, and I still think App.Net is a better environment for the kind of ‘porch talk’ Chimero mentions, despite the now common opinion that “App.Net is doooomed.” I joined App.Net in November 2012 mainly because I didn’t like the direction Twitter was taking with regard to third-party clients and such. I do think that, generally speaking, Twitter has got much worse lately than it was when I joined five years ago. Yet, when it comes to personal interactions and the way I use Twitter, I can’t say the experience has really changed over time. Neither the more commercial and Facebookey direction Twitter has been taking lately, nor the great increase in popularity (together with the added weight now tweets seem to have with regard to public discourse), have made me change the way I speak on Twitter.

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