I’m not leaving Twitter, but I’ll be using it a lot less like I used to.
I wish I could leave outright, but I’ve got too many social connections on there that I don’t have elsewhere. People I’ve met in different places that haven’t moved to other places. (Or they have, and I just missed it—which is likely.)
But after a few days of having to use the official app… it feels like Facebook. Or Instagram. A whole lot of stuff that I don’t care about, even when it purports to only show me what I care about (the “Following” timeline). And I don’t just mean advertisements, I mean:
- Tweets from people followed by people I follow
- Tweets liked by people I follow
- Links to accounts that might be interesting to me for some reason
- Out-of-order replies or truncated threads
Throw in some obnoxious UI elements like a new tweet button and a banner proclaiming that there are tweets that I have not seen while I am indeed scrolling up to read said tweets, and I feel like I’m squinting to see through a haze of noise to see the one thing I came to see: tweets from people I follow.
First, I recognize that this is a pretty pathetic straw to be the one to make me “leave” Twitter. Others have been dealing with rising bigotry, hate, and a general increase in… uncivil behavior on the platform. This has always been there, and it’s been there since well before Twitter was taken private. Since then, though, the platform leadership has made it clear that this will continue in the name of “free speech,” welcoming back some of the most prominent accounts that encouraged said vitrol.
I want to note that this was something I knew was happening but rarely saw. I used Tweetbot instead of the official Twitter app, and it only showed my timeline in order along with any mentions or direct messages. Since someone of my race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation is not typically the target of hate and harassment campaigns, it was something I didn’t experience. But I followed enough accounts and heard enough stories to know that it was happening somewhere; I just didn’t see it.
The problem is the more the Twitter app shows me what’s happening “on the platform” and less of who I’ve chosen—for the sake of my mental health—to listen to, the more I’ll see. I don’t even want to see trending topics much less whatever tweets people are angry about. Tweetbot allowed me to control what I saw on Twitter; the official Twitter app doesn’t. That is why these third-party clients were so important to me.
Second, this has confirmed that Twitter’s new ad-hoc approach to policy also extends to the API. The theme repeated by app developers has been “respect,” or rather the lack thereof: the banning of 3rd-party apps was made with no notice beforehand and no acknowledgement after. It’s also inconsistent: several smaller apps, including the Mac desktop version of Twitteriffic, have yet to be banned. No respect, no communication, no consistency. If nothing else, this shows Twitter is not a stable platform for building on.
Which brings me to Smolblog. I’ve been working on it off-and-on for years now, and one of the key features has always been a Twitter integration that will import posts from and send posts to Twitter. As part of the big refactor, I was rewriting this module to use the new version of Twitter’s API. It wasn’t until I was most of the way in that I learned that there are still key features—like posting images to Twitter—that are simply not available through version 2 of Twitter’s API.
With the growing instability in the API, I simply cannot waste any more time building a feature on an API that is incomplete and could change at a moment’s notice. The change could be in a data structure, or it could be a policy change that would ban Smolblog. With me already feeling “behind schedule” (an attitude to examine later), I need to get core functionality out, and that means putting any Twitter work on the back burner.
So there it is. Twitter stays on my phone, but it gets shoved into the back page with Instagram and Facebook: apps I only touch when I need to. And I’ll likely need to; there are people, things that I can still only get to through Twitter, and asking people to give up their hard-won audience is no easy ask. But this makes the mission of Mastodon, Micro.blog, and every other independent cross-compatible service that much more important. And I hope one day that Smolblog is in that list.
Jack Dorsey was right about one thing for sure, though: Twitter should have been a protocol, not a company.