Easing back from Twitter

Exploring my love/hate relationship with social media, and my mixed feeling about Twitter.

"...conclusion that I was working for the social networks rather than the social networks working for me."

I have developed a love/hate relationship with social networks over the past few years, which might seem somewhat odd to those that know me as I have actually worked on implementing a couple before. Approximately a year ago, I shut down most of my social network accounts because I just found I was getting little value from all of these, while at the same time I had to do a minimum amount of maintenance on each one in order to make them appealing to followers. Automation1 helped somewhat, but I quickly came to the conclusion that I was working for the social networks rather than the social networks working for me.

I decided to close most of those accounts down, with the exception of Twitter.

The benefits of Twitter

I really like Twitter, I still do in fact. The main thing I love about that platform is that it enables me to build a network based around my interests, not my real-world connections. My real-world connections are taken care of offline take you very much, and I have no desire to reflect (and maintain!) those social structures on a website somewhere (something that Facebook seemed desperate for me to do).

If you look at who I follow2 on Twitter, you can determine my interests are within the areas of open source development, mobile technology, economics, and comic books. Twitter allows you to build your own feed in this way organically over time, based on who you follow or unfollow. The platform is so open that you can follow someone quite famous in your field of interest, something that would not be as easy on other platforms that use a two-way friendship rather than a (often one-way) following model.

Very recently for example, I started to get back into the comic book scene based on my interest in the Walking Dead series. I then discovered that Robert Kirkman, the creator of the series, is on Twitter3. From that lead, I found that there are many other comic writers and artists on Twitter, and from those I discovered many other comics that I never knew existed. Twitter enables you to explore and dig into these niche communities like no other social network that I have used, and it’s very powerful at this.

The drawbacks of Twitter

There is probably nothing new here for seasoned users of Twitter, but these still make me think twice about continuing to use Twitter:

  1. SMD4 - I'm really sorry, but there are only so many chirpy "good morning!" tweets I can take on a gloomy ride to work on Monday morning.
  2. Moral outrage - yes it's terrible when something bad happens in the news, but if I wanted my fix of that, I would listen to talk radio (hint: I never do).
  3. Echo chamber5 - I actually seek out dissenting voices, because they force me to think about subject matters differently. If your conviction on something cannot withstand being challenged by a counter argument, then it must be pretty weak to begin with. I do not want to be surrounded by group think, it kills creativity.
  4. 140 characters - for me this is just a legacy issue from the early days of Twitter when it was SMS based6. There is no technical reason for this (a single update to Twitter could be sent via a concatenated SMS), and it promotes the use of bad English grammar and URL shorteners.
  5. URL shorteners - they break the basic contract of the web (linking), introduce performance overhead (redirects), and act as a single point of failure (target links can't be redirected to if the link shortening service is down).
"Twitter distracts me from writing more articles"

My main issue however is that Twitter distracts me from writing more articles right here. I have more than seven thousand tweets on Twitter right now, any number of which could have been the seed of an article had I not decided to record those thoughts on Twitter instead.


I will continue to engage with Twitter, especially when it comes to interacting with friends on there and following communities that I am interested in, but I will no longer use that platform as a primary channel for posting my original content to.


John Collins

I have been writing about web technology and software development since 2001. I am the developer of the Alpha Framework for PHP, and the five.today personal productivity app. I love open source, technology, and economics.