Twitter has issues. After killing an API for popular third-party clients such as TweetBot and Twitteriffic, Twitter is driving many tech pros to look elsewhere to opine about work and life. Where do we go from here?
The problems with Twitter have endured for quite some time, and some are downright silly. In a letter to staff, Twitter product head Rob Johnson said the API that third-party clients relied upon had been in “beta” for more than nine years. He added that third-party clients equalled less than one percent of Twitter’s users. Is that a good reason to squish an API? You might think so… until you consider that the same developers using its APIs have proven critical to the growth and development of Twitter over the years.
And arguments over Twitter’s technical stewardship aside, you also have the cultural battles over things like Twitter’s refusal to ban conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. At just about every turn, Twitter’s values seem to be at odds with most of those in tech.
So, what are the alternatives for tech pros who just want to talk about code or complain about life?
Mastodon and Micro.blog are solid contenders, albeit with some unique issues. Mastodon is a decentralized platform, and requires someone to spin up an instance and support it.
Micro.blog serves a more direct purpose than Twitter, but it’s also a startup, and requires users to pay a minimum of $5 per month. For an extra $2 per month, you have the ability to cross-post to Twitter and other social platforms; for an additional $5 per month, you can start up your own podcast hosted by Micro.blog.
Of course, neither have the audience of Twitter. Reddit does, although its snarky communities (i.e., subreddits) often have a relatively limited reach.
We should also consider why tech pros enjoy Twitter. For most, it boils down to a few specific use-cases.
We like Twitter because it’s a channel for others to share tips and tricks. Someone comes up with a new way to do something and eagerly shares it with the world; another person finds an awesome new repository; someone else shares details of a great podcast, or an upcoming tech event.
Twitter also helps tech pros find a community without the heavy lifting of going to events. A recent Vox opinion piece underscores why events don’t really work: we’re flaky. Going to events is a lot of work. Tweeting isn’t. Twitter also opens us up to a broader base of folks beyond our city or neighborhood, and makes it easier to learn about new things.
It was also founded during a magical time in tech, and many of its earliest users were the techiest-tech-bros around. It quickly became de rigueur for those in tech who wanted to know and be known. Until very recently, Twitter was cool.
Moving Beyond Twitter
The above toot (yeah, Mastodon posts are toots) shows it’s a place with more signal than noise, but that can change. The Mastodon social instance may eventually evolve into Twitter, anyway. As developer Mark Hughes writes: “Be aware that mastodon.social is a giant possibly-hostile mess like Twitter, and not really a ‘community’ like many other instances.”
Micro.blog is better, but paying is not something most will want to do. It may never reach the heights of Twitter, which might be a good thing. Pricing alone may help curate the feed.
It may be time to drop social altogether. While information is enticing, we’ve also fallen in love with the gamification of it all. Likes, retweets, and mentions tend to encourage activity, much of it contributing to the overall noise. You may enjoy someone’s code snippets, but their political memes are just not what you’re looking for.
Perhaps GitHub is the answer. Maybe we should get back to working on fun side projects instead of bantering online about Pop Tarts. Stack Overflow is also worth a shot, now that it’s forcing everyone to be nice; if it’s really about code, and learning, that’s a great forum.
Turning Twitter into a read-only feed may also keep you sane. Some users have gone into a quiet protest against the company, refusing to post content until issues are remedied (which means they’ll never post again).
Twitter failed at being everything to everyone, and it has confirmed it’ll never be everything to any one group. If you’re simply looking to use Twitter without it being “Twitter,” Mastodon seems to be where the herd is going. If you’re just plain tired of parsing signal from noise, we suggest Micro.blog.
And if all the election and Russia and Trump and Alex Jones and API and rage-quitting and hand-wringing has soured you on social altogether, Micro.blog (or blogging in general, via a site such as Medium, which couples a simple blogging platform with social gamification) is another way to stay socially active about things you care about. Blog posts don’t always have to be long.
It’s not clear if any third-party Twitter clients will shut down as a result of the company’s API changes. If you stay shouting into your Twitter megaphone instead of migrating your efforts elsewhere, it’s probably best to use the web interface or (terrible) first-party apps. If nothing else, Twitter has shown us it wants to be the only game in town.