One year later, the problem with social media is clear: PEBKAC

“I saw the middest minds of my generation destroyed by attention, starving hysterical thirsty, dragging themselves through these influencer streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.” Me, howling into the void on Mastodon.

It’s been a little over a year since I left Twitter, and it’s been an ongoing disappointment to see how many people still haven’t found their personal “last straw” amidst the various changes for the worse that have been implemented under Musk, or that his ownership itself wasn’t enough of a dealbreaker to begin with. Anyone pointing to his latest actions* as their reason for finally leaving — or worse, seriously considering it — are either lying to themselves about why they’ve remained or lying to whatever following they’re clinging to as justification for it.

*“Latest actions” is an evergreen statement that doesn’t require a specific link. Musk is always doing something to reveal his true nature, and it’s never new. He is who he’s always been, and nothing’s changed from the moment he first suggested he might buy Twitter, to whenever you’re reading this sentence.

This post isn’t about Twitter, though, it’s about what’s next, and the reminder that nothing’s inevitable in the tech world other than VCs throwing money at anything they believe can be hyped enough to attract users because we live in an attention economy that runs on blindly embracing every new shiny that comes along in the hopes it will feed our desire to connect with others.

Decentralizing Innovation

“There were proto social networks going back to the 90s that you and I probably both played around with. And then, you know, as things came along, even like Facebook wasn’t quite sure what social was, Twitter wasn’t quite sure what social — like it became this thing almost by accident. And, you know, relatively recently, it’s a little more than a decade, maybe you could argue 15 years that we’ve lived in this world where social is just sort of like how you communicate with things.” Mike Masnick, Dot Social

I don’t always agree with Mike Masnick, but he’s one of a handful of tech thinkers I have a lot of respect for and rely on to help refine and update my own thoughts about how I engage with technology. He offers some great insights in this episode of Mike McCue’s Dot Social podcast, particularly putting current events in a historical perspective, which I think often gets lost in a lot of the discourse about the importance of specific platforms and how over-reliant we’ve become on them.

I’ve been online since the CompuServe days, built my first websites on Geocities, been the best and worst version of myself on various online forums (all of which have since been nuked), and built my professional career on the back of email marketing long before MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Substack changed how and why we engaged online. I remember when getting a Yahoo! listing was a huge milestone, Dogpile was a revelation, and “WTF is a Google?” was a common question. I remember moving from email listservs to Yahoo! Groups to LiveJournal to Blogspot to hosting my own blog on my own domain.

The dominant online platform(s) have always been in flux, but in the early days, every rise and fall was predominantly driven by users deciding to embrace a newcomer because they offered a better user experience and moving your “followers” to a new platform wasn’t a big deal because most of those connections were real. In the scale era, everything changed. Followers became a vanity metric that platforms leveraged to artificially accelerate growth and engagement metrics, necessitating algorithms to mediate the flood of content generated by people chasing followers and discoverability. If a new platform found a new angle, it was more likely to be acquired by one of the established platforms or blatantly copied to prevent it from becoming a viable alternative. If a platform wasn’t scaling fast enough or couldn’t integrate the latest feature a peripheral competitor was getting attention for, that platform might be prematurely killed off, regardless of how many smaller, robust communities might be using it. RIP, [insert your favorite Google product here]!

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I don’t usually buy into “blame the user” for most problems, but our collective addiction to vanity metrics ruined everything, and even those who didn’t buy into them have suffered the consequences.

The Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair.

Social Reboot

“Nascent Web publishing efforts have their genesis in a burning need to say something, but their ultimate success comes from people wanting to listen, needing to hear each other’s voices, and answering in kind.”

Rick Levine, The Cluetrain Manifesto, 1999

I used to pride myself on being an “early tester, late adopter,” and could always understand the potential appeal and audience for a new platform, even if it wasn’t for me. If nothing else, I’d park my username just in case it blew up. Snapchat was the first new shiny I simply couldn’t wrap my head around, even after National Geographic tempted me into giving it a second chance. I didn’t understand its value proposition, couldn’t imagine why anyone would find it interesting, and couldn’t see a viable path forward for it. I also suspected I might be officially getting “too old for this shit, Riggs!”

Since then, I still stay on top of new platforms, but I don’t immediately sign up anymore unless there’s a clear personal use case and value proposition for me. Even then, I look to people like Masnick to scout them out first and see what they think, and that’s made this post-Twitter era a particularly interesting one.

As someone who used to be very online, the past year has been an interesting mix of cold turkey and Twizzlers. I left Twitter behind with only short-term withdrawal pains and settled in on Mastodon like a quaint village with a few notable attractions and a train station a few miles away. It isn’t and wasn’t intended to be a direct Twitter replacement for me, but it offers something similar to the very early days of Twitter that I’ve come to appreciate. I’m still moderately active on LinkedIn, where I’ll periodically post about professional-related topics and engage with interesting posts from close connections. And I’m blogging semi-regularly under the guise of a bi-weekly newsletter, which those of you getting this post via email probably now realize is just a blogpost-by-email option!

I’ve been monitoring Bluesky for several months now, and although I hate that so many people have gone all-in with it as their Twitter-replacement — making the same “Follow Everyone! Post Everything!” mistakes that made Twitter a bad experience — I’ve always advocated for engaging your community where they are, and a lot of people I genuinely miss from Twitter are active there. I remain intrigued by their fledgling approach to decentralization and assume they’ll work through their various issues as they continue to grow, although I still don’t understand the lack of hashtags and how that wasn’t the same dealbreaker not having quote boosts on Mastodon was for some people, journalists in particular.

And that’s it for my public personal presence online these days. My reluctant Instagram account is real friends only, as a way to keep in touch with people I don’t see in person often or at all anymore, and I’ll never sign up for Threads because one foot in Meta’s world is one too many. I’m still toying with the idea of launching a podcast, but there’s a day job project I’m working on for next year that will potentially scratch that itch.

This blog is once again my hub, though, and I’m committed to not repeating the mistakes of the past and letting any other platform subvert it. One strategic hub, everything else is a tactical spoke. If you’ve gotten this far and are still with me, I appreciate it!

PS: If you’re curious about Bluesky and don’t want to wait for them to open up to everyone, email me for an invite code. They’ve been handing them out pretty regularly, and I currently have five to share.

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