Challenges in quitting Twitter and Facebook

On Kommons, Tal asks:

You recently quit both Twitter and Facebook. As someone who works in Internet and media, what challenges have you faced? Will you come back?

Quitting Twitter has been a mixed bag. The most significant challenge is not being able to influence the news innovation zeitgeist as directly or as visibly. This isn’t to say I was all that influential to begin with; rather Twitter has better mechanisms for understanding how what you’re mindthinking resonates with others. Retweets or click-throughs indicate whether you’re on point, @replies show whether people want to engage in conversation on a given subject, and who’s following you is a sign of your reputation within that community. It isn’t quite the same publishing on a personal website where the subscription mechanism is RSS, interactivity is limited to longer-form commenting and trackbacks, and there’s no way of presenting who reads you.

I suppose the second most difficult challenge is tracking conversations. There were 100 or so people whom I’d pay the most attention. The real-time nature of the platform, coupled with people being logged in all the time, creates a space like a large ballroom where you can go ask someone a question at any time. I can still hear snippets of conversation by subscribing to a limited number of people by RSS, or paying more attention to roundups like Nieman Lab’s, but the experience is only 50% as engaging as it used to be.

On the flip side, there are two things I’ve been fortunate to escape: the increasingly loud echo chamber any time a bit of news breaks is artfully manufactured and the circular, inward obsession with “social media” on “social media”.

Quitting Facebook was easy, except for a bit of hate from the girlfriend. The only use I’ve been missing people for is looking people up; that Facebook is a structured people database is quite nice. There should be an open equivalent based on microformatted websites.

The honest truth is the first few weeks weren’t tough at all; not spending all my time on (mostly) Twitter and (less so) Facebook meant I’ve had a lot more time to work on new releases for side projects, read long-form, and hang out with my girlfriend. The last week or so has been difficult, I feel disconnected from the hive mind, but I won’t be back until there’s an open, interoperable protocol for real-time publishing I can run on my own server. It’s pretty awesome to be able to look up and reference your content from a few years back.

The river must flow. You can build a dam but the water will find an alternate path.


W^L+ December 2, 2010 Reply

You might want to take a look at StatusNet, an open standards-based microblogging platform. It can be installed on your own server, and you can choose to federate with other instances. I believe there are two or three others that have similar goals. Also, Jaiku is open source. I am not positive that it is hostable outside Google’s AppEngine, but there are at least a couple of sites built upon their codebase.

I’m not sure there’s a real substitute for Facebook yet, but several projects are working to build such a product.

Daniel Bachhuber December 2, 2010 Reply

I did actually use StatusNet for a while, even when it was It was usable enough, and nice that it adopted the Twitter API so I could use Tweetie and other Twitter clients with it.

Part of the value of any publishing platform is how well it connects with its communications network though, and StatusNet never did it for me. At this point in time, I’m most interested in thinking about how WordPress can be extended. It’s an excellent publishing platform but lacks a close coupling with a reading interface.

Steve December 5, 2010 Reply

For all the pros of social media, you’ve reinforced my concerns. Twitter has dominated one particular concept of microcontent sharing. But in providing a service, these companies do provide a lot of initial value for the users that encourages more content creation and storage.
But they fail in content management and portability. Much as one would like these services to continue competing on value added, it’s old-fashioned customer retention through lock-in, like WordPerfect vs. Word incompatibilities all over again.
Somehow I’m reminded of quicksand (as seen on TV)- the more you struggle, the harder it is to get out.

Daniel Bachhuber December 5, 2010 Reply

Vendor lock-in is exactly what it is. It’s a tried and true business strategy, obviously with mixed value for the users.

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