Noah Halford

@nhalford

On Twitter’s Crackdown Against Community Developers

Source: Apps of a Feather

Twitter is severely crippling third-party Twitter clients and many Twitter power users will lose a lot of functionality that they’ve come to expect. Continuing an all too common trend, Twitter has made their users angry.

I am probably not considered a “power user” of Twitter by any reasonable metric, except that I’m on it (reading) pretty much all the time. But I don’t tweet that much, I only have (as of this writing) 102 followers, and I’ve DMed four people in all of the ten years that I’ve been on Twitter. In fact, I’m so not a power user that I don’t have a header photo or even a bio.

But I swear by Tweetbot. Back in the day, I used Echofon, then Twitterriffic for a while, then finally tried Tweetbot because I saw how much everyone else seemed to love it. I have definitely opened the official Twitter app, but I can’t even remember the last time.¹ As John Gruber wrote in his post about Twitter yesterday, “Tweetbot presents tweets and replies/mentions in a way that fits my mental model of what Twitter is. Tweetbot makes sense to me — in large part simply because it presents tweets in chronological order.” I hated when Facebook switched to an algorithmic timeline and I hated when Instagram followed. So far I’ve been able to avoid Twitter’s, but reading Twitter out of order just seems insane to me. So much of Twitter is about what’s happening. It’s a story, and it’s not Memento.

I value Tweetbot so much that I don’t even care about the fact that I’m losing some features of Twitter by using it. Sometimes I see tweets that look like questions and don’t realise that they’re polls, because there are no polls in Tweetbot. Tweetbot doesn’t support polls because—shocking twist!—there’s no public API for them. Twitter has been crippling third-party apps for a while, but the changes that came yesterday are much worse.

Because I’m not a Twitter power user, I’m not so heavily affected by the changes that Twitter is making. Ideally Twitter should happen in real time, but if I see tweets and notifications delayed by a few minutes, it’s not the end of the world. If Twitter wants to put ads into my timeline and force third-party apps to show them (which they currently don’t), I could deal with it. I love that Tweetbot not only shows tweets in order, but syncs my timeline. So if I check Twitter from my iPad in the morning, later in the day I can pick up on my Mac or my iPhone at the place where I left off. There is no official Mac Twitter client, and the Web interface certainly doesn’t work this way.

I’m not upset with Twitter because my Twitter experience is going to be greatly diminished with these changes. It’s probably not, and I can probably get on more or less fine, though perhaps with a few small frustrations, by continuing to use Tweetbot. Of course, there’s a concern that developers will abandon their apps if they’re forced to remove a lot of the functionality, but I don’t want to speculate on what could happen at some arbitrary point down the line when there’s something much more tangible happening right now.

I’m upset with Twitter because of the principle of the thing. This move is actively hostile to their community. So much of what Twitter has become came from the community, not from Twitter leadership. The @ reply, the hashtag, and the retweet were all popular amongst Twitter users before they became an official part of the platform. It’s hard to even imagine Twitter without them today. The word “tweet” was coined by Twitterriffic, as was the use of a blue bird as a Twitter icon. Twitter was shaped by its community and by third-party apps, but it doesn’t seem to care about them² anymore.

This is of course only one of the many, many things wrong with Twitter. It has become a cesspool of hate speech and harassment, and as a company Twitter seems to be unwilling to take a stand against this. It took a week after other major tech companies removed Alex Jones and InfoWars from their platforms for Twitter to follow suit, and they only gave him a week-long suspension. I don’t want to dwell on Twitter’s Nazi issue because much more has been written about this by people more eloquent than me, so I’ll just leave it at this: Twitter’s priorities are in the wrong place.

Twitter isn’t dead yet, but it’s dying. For now, I’ve started to move to Mastodon,³ which generally is better than Twitter, though it has some disadvantages: for example, it is more focused on being a community and thus doesn’t have any sort of verification system. This means that some of the people (read: celebrities) I follow on Twitter will probably never move to Mastodon. Twitter has a decade worth of users and is generally much more active than Mastodon. People are moving to Mastodon so quickly that Eugen Rochko, who runs mastodon.social, and is one of Mastodon’s lead developers, had to close registrations on mastodon.social. (In the linked toot, he also has already taken a position on Nazis.) But I think it will be a long time before Mastodon has a large enough user base to actually be a suitable Twitter replacement. When I registered for Mastodon yesterday, I was only able to find three of the 262 people I follow on Twitter. Oh, and—and this is crucial—Twitter’s third party clients are way better. If Twitter comes back from the ashes and changes its logo from a mountain bluebird to a phoenix, I’ll probably be one of the first to flock back. But at the moment, Mastodon looks like the best option. (And we’re lucky we have it! There still doesn’t really seem to be a decent alternative to Facebook, which is an even bigger mess than Twitter.)

I want to like Twitter so badly. Twitter used to be, by far, my favorite social network. It used to be the third incarnation of the Wild West, where people told dumb jokes and you could read about the mundane yet fascinating aspects of other people’s lives—celebrities eat pizza too! Who knew? My Twitter feed is now about 10% the fun things that I joined for in the first place, 60% people yelling about American politics (which, in this environment, is to be expected), and 30% people complaining about Twitter and Jack Dorsey. We can’t expect Twitter to always be as fun and charming as it once was: naturally, all platforms tend to evolve, but Twitter has devolved.

So, Jack, please reverse this ridiculous decision affecting third-party apps. Please stop making changes that people are at best indifferent about and instead deal with the actual problems of your platform. Please ban the Nazis and the harassment and the hate speech. Please, Make Twitter Great Again.

  1. ^ I downloaded and tried Twitterriffic again a while ago but didn’t like it very much.
  2. ^ With the exception of Donald Trump.
  3. ^ I’m @nhalford@mastodon.social
  4. ^ Perhaps a logo that looks like Knuckles the Echidna upside down.
  5. ^ The second being the early days of the Web and the first being, well, the Wild West.
  6. ^ These numbers aren’t based on any actual data, but they probably aren’t terrible estimates.
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