The Twitter problem

I discovered today that Twitter is going to be implementing a change in its API that will kill push notifications for third-party apps, among other lovely changes.

Now, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but as others have said, Twitter's popularity was built on third-party apps. Those of us who have been there since it began will remember that there was no official Twitter app until they bought Atebits, the developer of the Tweetie app, which then became the official Twitter app. Since then, they've steadily ratcheted up the pressure on third-party apps by rate-limiting them, forcing them to stop displaying the app that was used for a post, and implementing hard user limits. For years now, they've forced all links through their own t.co shortener (which doesn't actually shorten many URLs anymore). They've screwed with the reverse-chronological display default through use of an algorithm that thinks it knows better than you do what you want to see. They've added advertising, because of course everything must be monetized1, and "In case you missed it...", and they've started showing you posts that your friends have liked, whether you want to see them or not. They've filled the timeline with so much crap that I don't want to see that I really have no choice but to use a third-party app, and of course that means that they must do their best to kill third-party apps.

Then there are the problems with Russian bots and Nazi gaslighting accounts, and while they've done a little bit to rein that in, it's not enough, it's a weak attempt at best, and it's ultimately contrary to their business model, which requires as many people as possible to be using their service. And then, of course, there's the fact that they are giving a megaphone to the current occupant of the White House, who uses it to debase his office and our political system, and who they will not ban no matter what lies he broadcasts or what slander he perpetrates. Mike Monteiro has done tremendous work in bringing this to people's attention2, but sheer volume means he's a voice crying in the wilderness.

The hell of it is that there are alternatives to Twitter, many of which are excellent, in some ways superior, and which haven't gotten nearly the attention they deserve. There's Mastodon and Micro.blog, and smaller ones such as Pnut and 10Centuries. There is even Plurk.

None of those have attracted more than a small number of users, however, because the overriding problem of social media is that you gotta go where the people are, and the people are on Twitter and Facebook. And that means that Twitter has a responsibility to society to police itself a lot better than it has done.

However, what it has a responsibility to do and what it actually will do are two different things. And that's why I may finally call it quits with the bird. It's sad, because I've been around for a long time and I know what it used to be, and what it could be again if its owners gave a damn. But they evidently don't, and it won't.

And one other thing: for the news accounts that I like (like @VCScanner), I have a system set up that pipes tweets from certain accounts into my personal, private, single-user Slack team, where I get a notification. I never even have to open Twitter. I don't even have to have a Twitter account.

Take that, @Jack.


  1. This is one of the chief reasons I use third-party apps, incidentially.
  2. And if you're on Twitter and you're not following him there, you should.