Ditch Twitter. And Instagram. And Goodreads.

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In a 2014 essay called Ditching Twitter, Erin Kissane wrote about her personal dissatisfaction with the social network. The issues with the platform she diagnosed seven-plus years ago are still there. I keep coming back to this essay since it is about making something imperfect, broken even, work somehow for you.

It took me a few weeks of feeling quietly glum about losing Twitter before I remembered that I know a few things about streams, and ditches. And beyond that, that figuring out how to make better use of communication systems is kinda what I’ve been doing for a living for a decade or so.

I’ve taken hiatuses from Twitter before, the longest being a period between August 2019 and December 2020. And I found I wasn’t missing much. If something big happened on Twitter, I still managed to find out about it somehow. I eventually lost the urge to check or refresh the timeline. The goings-on inside Twitter the company, and the dynamics and drama of posting occupied less and less space in my brain.

If you came here looking for my take on Elon Musk, it is this: I tend not to trust people with great wealth. Based on his public persona, I percieve Musk as a troll, a clown, and a self-promoter. As far as Musk’s acquisition and transformation of Twitter into a private company, I will adopt a wait-and-see approach. But my expectations are not high.

Instead of creating data that makes more money for Musk, Zuckerberg, Bezos, and others like them, I’d like to make the web itself my social network. I think I found a service that takes steps toward making that happen.

Micro.blog is a free social network if you blog elsewhere and plug in a feed. It can also host your blog/website for $5/mo. For $10/mo, it will host your blog/website, host your podcast (audio or video), replace Instapaper/Pocket, and replace GoodReads.
— Kimberly Hirsch, on her website (also on Micro.blog)

The gist of microblogging is short-form posts. Micro.blog status posts even make use the same 280 character limit. Unlike Twitter, once you break that character limit, a(n optional) title field appears. Through the magic of Markdown, rich text formatting is available in your posts. You can include a photo or image with your post, and like Twitter and Instagram, you can add alt text to your images.

Big platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are built with small pieces of content. Lack of friction made posting easy. Amplification and engagement made creators influential. Native ads that are the same size as real content made platforms rich. That’s why the fix should also be rooted in small (micro) content: where it’s stored, who owns it, and how it flows across the web between much smaller, open platforms.
— Manton Reece, Indie Microblogging: Introduction

Micro.blog is designed to be more decentralized than other major social networks. It uses of some vital web technologies that make it easy to import, export and syndicate your content from different platforms. If posting to Twitter is still important to you, you can syndicate your micro.blog to post to Twitter. If you have another site with a RSS or JSON feed, you can bring that feed into your microblog. You can also move content from another blogging service like WordPress, Ghost or Tumblr. If you decide you no longer want to keep your content on the Micro.blog platform you can export all your content, replies, theme and other data easily. There's even a way to regularly archive your Micro.blog to a GitHub repository.

I am currently using the 10-day free trial to try all these features out. I created a separate blog for notes as a brief experiment with WordPress last fall and imported those posts using an XML file. It went very smoothly, save for the [youtube] shortcode that WordPress uses for the video embed block. I was able to import photos and captions from my Instagram account (after requesting a download of my data from Meta/Instagram) using the MacOS app. The bookshelves feature is a very basic Goodreads alternative. I found it relatively easy to export my Goodreads data into a .csv file and imported this into my Micro.blog account under Bookshelves. The import worked relatively quickly and uses ISBN data to find books in the Micro.blog book database.

If you’re curious to see what this all looks like, you can check out my timeline on Micro.blog or visit nsmsn.micro.blog

Platform and Community

While you can use Micro.blog to syndicate to Twitter, Micro.blog is not a Twitter replacement. You have no insight into who is following you, or the follower counts of any user on the platform. If you are logged in, you can see who other people are following. There is also no support for #hashtags, and no like or retweet buttons. You can of course link to someone else’s post. If you like what someone else has posted, you are encouraged to post a polite, thoughtful reply.

On Micro.blog, you have absolutely no incentive to flex, shitpost, self-promote, or troll. You’re there to post interesting things and/or chat with people. Nothing else makes sense.
— Alan Jacobs, a bit of advice for those who are coming to Micro.blog from Twitter

Micro.blog has posted clear community guidelines and states that they are committed to maintaining a safe community for its users. Micro.blog is small enough to have a Discover timeline that is mostly human-curated, with it’s own set of guidelines. Instead of using hashtags, posts about specific topics (music, TV, knitting, gardening, cats, dogs, sports, etc.) are automatically put into specific timelines using emoji. After using this for a few days, the overall vibe is mostly positive, inviting, even wholesome at times. I am not sure who the wealthiest or most famous person is on Micro.blog, nor do I care. I haven’t found a politician on this platform yet.

Going forward

For the time being, I am going to use my microblog to keep track of the books I’m reading, publish my public notes, and for other things I find useful. I’ll also post the occasional photo or two. This will be my go-to social network.

After downloading my Goodreads data, I deleted my account. I’m no longer interested in sending data on the books I read to Amazon. I put the RSS feeds for the handful of people I followed on Goodreads into my RSS reader, so I can keep up with their books. For now, I’m keeping my Literal account, but Micro.blog could easily replace that too.

Similarly, I am not interested in sharing my photos or life updates with the advertising company Meta. Now that they are all moved over to my microblog, I archived the posts on my Instagram account (but kept up the link to my personal website). I might open the Instagram app once or twice a month to see what my friends, favorite artists, and cute animals are up to.

In spite of the platform’s issues, Twitter can still be a useful place. I find myself learning things from accounts I follow and what they post or retweet—especially the folks using the #a11y hashtag. I’ve used the service to authenticate a few other accounts and still use it to sign in to a few websites. I blocked @elonmusk. So I’m keeping my Twitter account up, for now, mainly to link back to my own personal site, and to stay engaged with the parts that are still useful to me. If it takes a turn for the worse, I’m ready to bail.