Categories
Culture

On Social Networks and Twitter

I have been extremely online since the late 1990s. I’ve been using The Internet socially since I was a teenager, so the concept of a “social network” has always seemed a little reductive to me.

For me and my peers, a social network is maybe a more connected and organized internet experience. A simplification and centralization of a bunch of tools we were already using.

In light of the recent acquisition (and subsequent workplace hell) of Twitter by Elon Musk I’ve been giving some thought to why I like(d) Twitter and how I’ve been using The Internet socially over the years.

I’ve come up with a short list of things I look for in a “social network.”

Curated News

News is the foundation of many social interactions. It gives us something to talk about.

I’ve never been one to religiously check a particular edited “newspaper” daily. I find that they always have too much and too little of what I care about.

Similarly, RSS has never really worked well for me as a source of news. As soon as you follow one or two more active sources, you end up with a giant inbox of unread articles every morning. I don’t enjoy wading through every single news story in the universe to find the ones I might be interested in.

Purely algorithmic news (recently via Apple News) is just as bad, or worse. The news algorithm never quite finds the right articles for me either.

Reddit is decent. However, I seem to have curated a feed where the news:lulz ratio skews highly “lulz.” I kind of like it that way, I don’t go to Reddit purely for news.

On Twitter thought I’ve been able to tune my feed to act as a curated news source (with low lulz volume). I rarely blindly follow someone on Twitter without first taking a cursory look at their timeline to see if they’ve posted links or retweets that I’d be interested in.

This approach has given me a timeline that’s full of good quality content that I’m genuinely interested in reading.

I try to be cognizant of the echo chamber this might create but to some degree this feels like a problem outside the scope of a social network. Keeping in open mind is more important than anything else.

World-Wide Friendships

Ever since the early days of IRC one of the most compelling features of The Internet to me has been the ability to have genuine social interactions with people from around the world.

These interactions typically take the form of semi-asynchronous, low stakes, casual comment threads.

But every once in a while these casual interactions become true friendships and slide into more synchronous messaging.

As an introvert, I’ll often start up a DM conversation with a friend to fill the time nervously waiting for something in an unfamiliar situation. Be that waiting for a business meeting with a new client at a restaurant in Winnipeg or anxiously waiting for a flight in Munich.

The Internet has truly made the world a smaller place. Social networks and their adjacent messaging systems enable this. And it’s awesome!

An Audience for Thought Bubbles

The Internet has been ingrained in my life for so long that posting an interesting thought or unusual question to “the internet” is a natural outcome of my thought process.

Twitter is the perfect medium for these types of thought bubbles because the character limit strongly encourages short content.

I could technically post all of these little thoughts and questions here on this blog but even if my blog had an audience the size of twitter I doubt I would get the same level of quality engagement. Blogging is fundamentally different from tweeting. It’s the reason I have written over 22,000 tweets and only published 433 blog posts.

Twitters’ focus on the character limit has sets it apart in the history of social networks. It’s one of the biggest pieces of its success.

A Central Meeting Space

Social networks serve an important role as a central repository of “you.” A place where people can find you, find links to the broader you and even meet you.

Theoretically a personal websites could serve the same purpose but the killer feature of any social network (by definition) is its tendency to put your face in front of people you don’t know and who you might like to meet.

Punk Rock

You can @ or DM almost anyone on Twitter and — with the exception of the biggest names and most “important” people — you can expect to receive a genuine reply from them.

This is one of the coolest things about Twitter. I’ve never had this experience anywhere else on the internet. It’s the punkest of rock.


These various components of a good online social experience have been available online for decades. IRC, Geocities, ICQ/AIM/MSN, forums, LiveJournal, Blogger, MySpace, tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram just to name a few of the places and ways in which I’ve experienced them over the years. Not to mention the probably a half dozen websites and apps we’ve all totally forgotten about.

Twitter is special.

Twitter has collapsed social interaction into one platform in a unique way that will be very difficult to supersede. In fact, I don’t think we’ll ever have anything quite like it again and I think we’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Mastodon and other apps attempting feature parity are missing the magic. There’s something intangible about the way that users have come to interact on Twitter that can’t be replicated by features alone.

The next Twitter will look quiet different.

Categories
Culture

DIY Internet: More on personal VPNs

A few followup thoughts regarding Monday’s post about setting up a personal VPN.

Self-Sufficient, DIY Internet

All the Facebook Cambridge Analytica nonsense has really emphasized how dependent we have become on third party services and social networks.

As I thought about it, the idea of being self-sufficient online has really started to appeal to me. I mean this blog has always been independent, fully controlled by me. As a web developer with fully-stack devops ninja experience, I have all the skill and experience I need to set up any sort of web service I want.

So when I thought about the reasons for using a VPN regularly and the likelihood that I’d have to pay for a decent service, I wanted to see if i could do it myself. On severs I own.

I think there are more opportunities to DIY online, to rely less on dubious third parties.

Peace of Mind

As I alluded to in my first post, the real world security threats associated with public wifi are only a minor concern. I’m not generally too concerned, most of the time.

That said this little icon next to my WiFi connection gives me such a massive sense of security and piece of mind. The fact that it auto-connects without me having to take an action is just the icing on the cake.

Censorship

Streissand is an anti-censorship tool designed to bypass draconian government censorship like China’s Greatfirewall. You don’t live in China, do you really need do worry about censorship? Probably — and if you hang around the right subreddits — increasingly so.

Canada’s telcos are presently lobbying for a censorship regime. Perhaps the first draft targets content most of us would agree is “bad,” but who knows what the next version will look like.

Even if you’re less paranoid, there’s a good chance your workplace or school is filtering some content. Maybe it’s not content you bump in to very often. But if even if they are not filtering traffic, they’re almost certainly collecting your web traffic. That’s something I’ve never been too comfortable with.

A VPN allows you to take back your online freedom whenever you’re using a work, school or any other network that distrusts you.

Bypassing Geographic Restrictions

In case you missed, VPNs allow you to bypass geographic content restrictions. When you use a VPN, you traffic originates from the IP address of the VPN server. And since cloud providers host servers in many physical locations, you can easily bypass any geo restrictions based on IP address.


If you missed Monday’s post you can read it here:

How to: Set Up A Personal VPN

Categories
Culture

Ev Williams and the future of online publishing

Great piece on Ev Williams and the open web.

Yet his run near the top has been remarkably consistent. While other CEOs in his early-web cohort have left the industry, or have become writers or consultants, Williams has stuck around, leading companies. His startups have nearly all specialized in the same abstract medium: text boxes.

Ev Williams is The Forrest Gump of The Internet

Categories
Culture

I haven’t tweeted in a week

July 11, 2013 is the day I realized Twitter was turning me into a bad internet person.

I watched my Twitter stream flow by all day that day and I couldn’t think of a nice, polite, constructive response to any single one of the tweets flowing by. It’s not that the people I follow are terrible human beings who post mindless drivel. In fact, I’ve recently trimmed my followers down to a short list of quality tweeters.

I realized that I was becoming a snarky asshole. Every moment I spent looking at Twitter was a moment I spent forcing myself not to be a jerk in public.

In my previous post I wrote that I use Twitter as a “real news” source. But to be honest over the past week, I haven’t felt like I’m missing anything.

I doubt I’ll write another 13,367 tweets.

The larger question here is whether this is truly a “me problem” or a Twitter problem.

Categories
Culture

Blog First, Tweet Later

WordCamp Winnipeg was absolutely amazing! I’ve literally been waiting my career to see this calibre of event in Winnipeg.

David Pensato gave a really great talk about the future of social blogging. He made the keen observation that, with Facebook, Twitter and the like we are all blogging all the time.

As an experiment, I am going to challenge myself to write a blog post instead of a Facebook status update, or tweet. I’m already seeing some potential issues with this idea, more on that later.

Oh yeah, Peter Chester‘s talk on measuring WordPress performance was one of the best tech talks I’ve seen, ever!  Slides are here.