Atomized

Twitter, a retrospective 2007-2018

Years of terrible decisions later, I finally cut the cord, downloaded my archive, and deleted my Twitter client. I’ve been a long-time Twitter user, and this has been a long time coming. I suppose I wasn’t a really early adopter, but was in the wave of post-SXSW users in 2007. It was a very different site back then. It’s hard to believe now, but Twitter used to be pretty good.

That initial userbase skewed heavily towards people who worked in technology, San Fransisco companies and ones adjacent. There weren’t a lot of people outside that bubble, there were no brands, there were no ads, and, there was no spam. It felt like a community, and it felt good. And the people who built Twitter were a big part of it.

More than anything else, what made Twitter good was that it felt like the community of Twitter developers was part of the community of Twitter users. The initial thing was so bare-bones, the userbase would come up with all kinds of crazy stuff to make it work better. The developers would notice, and next week, it would be a feature built into the thing. Stuff so core to the experience, not just of Twitter, but of countless other followers came of this weird, messy collaboration. Things like the convention of @username to refer to another user, or #hashtags were things Twitter users came up with, that the company noticed and ran with. Both these ideas have since eaten the world.

It stings compared to how Twitter is run today, a company that gleefully punches down at every opportunity, fails to do the bare minimum to protect their users, and has no stomach for dealing with the targeted harassers du jour it allows to flourish on its platform. Whether it’s gamergate, pizzagate, unhinged maniacs threatening to murder millions of people, or just plain wackos, Jack Dorsey manages to make Facebook seem principled. Quite a feat.

No rationalization is too absurd. They’re "newsworthy" or "don't violate our rules". "If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?"

In retrospect, that initial community probably led to a lot of today’s problems. Maybe if there were more people outside the upper middle class 20s-30s white guy demographic, someone would have suggested good moderation tools, or policies prohibiting targeted harassment. It’s disgusting that Twitter chooses to be the kind of company that ignores its users now, and I don’t want a part of it.

If you want to find me, I’m on freenode (nick ieure), and Mastodon.

P.S. Mastodon feels good right now. You can explicitly join a community (instance) based on topic and values. It’s diverse and weird and respectful and real. You should check it out.

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