I’ve also noticed a lot more intentionality and value coming out of people who are writing their own posts and replies on their personal websites first. Because it appears on a site they own and which is part of their online identity, they’re far more careful about what and how they write. Their words are no longer throw-away commentary for the benefit of a relatively unseen audience that comes and goes in a rushing stream of content on someone else’s social site. Chris Aldrich ‘On Blogs in the Social Media Age by Cal Newport’

Many argue that something is not right with social media as it currently stands. This post explores what it might mean to make Twitter great again?

Responding to Jack Dorsey’s call for suggestions on how to improve Twitter, Dave Winer put forward two suggestions: preventing trolling and making changes. Some of the particulars Winer shares include giving control over who can reply, eliminate character count and allow organisations to curate lists. Although I agree with Winer about some of these changes, I wonder if the answer to improving Twitter is always to make Twitter great again?

I feel the ways I use Twitter have changed considerably this year. My one word this year has been ‘intent’. A part of this is being more aware of my ‘prosumption’ online. One of my concerns is that Twitter is not the Twitter it once was for me. In short, it feels like there has been an increase in branding, as epitomised by ASCD’s recent spotlight on edu-twitter influencers. There has also been a rise in hostility and abuse. Some of which is automated, some of which perpetuated by crowds.

Deb Netolicky's Edutwitter

Although I have not wiped my account and started again, as Anil Dash did, I definitely started reviewing my practice and participation there. To be fair, my participation on Twitter has taken many guises over time. In the past it was the place where I shared ideas and connected the dots. The problem I found was that although I could dive back into my archive, it was far from organised. If this was my ‘outboard brain’ (as it had seemingly become) it had become rather chaotic. Initially, I adjusted things to syndicate to Twitter using Dave Winer’s Radio3 linkblog platform. I then moved to sending from my own site, however this did not feel right.

I wondered why I was actually sharing on Twitter (and every other site, such as Google+ and Tumblr), especially after reading Ben Werdmüller’s reflection on POSSE.  Maha Bali suggests that sharing is a reciprocal act:

Giving means bringing something to gift to others … whereas sharing means reciprocity … you bring something of yours to give some to others, but others also bring some of theirs to give you, whether immediate or over time.

If this is so then isn’t it enough to share via my blog and rely on pingbacks and webmentions for reciprocity? As Kicks Condor describes:

I do find that Webmentions are really enhancing linking—by offering a type of bidirectional hyperlink. I think if they could see widespread use, we’d see a Renaissance of blogging on the Web.

Posting on Twitter therefore lacked purpose, contributing to something I did not feel comfortable with. As I have elaborated on in the past:

Often it is presumed that sharing out links and continuing the conversation is always a good thing. However, at some point it can become too much of a good thing. The effort and intention to connect and engage in this situation has the opposite effect.

I also thought that if these links were for me then why not simply post them on my own site, what Greg McVerry describes as a social media of one. Posting on Twitter has now become about sharing if there was actually someone in particular that I felt might be interested and that was my main point on contact.

Some have found Mastodon to be the social answer to Twitter’s ills. This is something Doug Belshaw has written about in the past. However, I have never found a place. In part I agree with Ben Werdmuller, who suggested that:

Mastodon doesn’t suffer from the organizational issues I described above, but by aping commercial social networking services, it suffers from the same design flaws.

Associated with this, I have tried to engage with Micro.Blog, but feel frustrated by the technological constraints. I love the use of RSS, but personally use my headings for too much to give them up and have yet to crack open the code as John Johnston has.


In the song Miss Those Days, Jack Antonoff sings about pining for the past:

I know I was lost, but I miss those days.

I think this conundrum captures the desire to return to what Kicks Condor  has described as a weird Twitter. Although I was not tgere for the weirdest of times I remember my early days of anxiety and axiliration, of constant notifications, questions and check-ins. This is epitomised by Craig Kemp’s image of addiction:

Craig Kemp's Twitter Chat Alarm Clock

Although I never set alarms, there was a time when it encompassed a lot of what I did. I do not regret that time, but it is not necessarily something that I miss. My fast food social media diet has been replaced by one managed around blogs, feeds and comments. I do sometimes feel I miss out on some things, but trust that if I need to know something that I will probably capture through some other means.

What I am left most intrigued by is how my thinking has changed since I started talking with Dr. Ian Guest about this topic. Ironically, I think that his investigation inadvertently spurred my own inquiry. The ever present flanogropher.

NOTE: This post has sat in my drafts brewing for a few months. It involved a range of research. I apologise if it is inconsistent or incoherent, it is a topic that I have been really grappling with. I would love to know if anybody else has any thoughts. As always, comments and webmentions welcome.

Also posted on IndieNews

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Let’s Make Twitter Great Again? – A Reflection on a Social Media of One by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

31 thoughts on “Let’s Make Twitter Great Again? – A Reflection on a Social Media of One

  1. Hello Aaron,
    Terrific post – very timely. I have considered pulling the plug on Twitter, but as you clearly mention, the reciprocity lacking in my blogging experience is often satisfied through Twitter. The key, not lost on me, is thinking of Twitter as a place for interaction (visitor / resident continuum, right?). I don’t want Twitter to be left in the hands of trolls, so I am going to hang in – at least until something better comes along.
    Happy Holidays,

    • Thanks Bob.

      I really like how webmentions allows you to make something more of the recipriocity of places such as Twitter. I’ve never set them up with Blogger, but Greg McVerry has spoken about it.

      I also think that you highlight the biggest challenge. I think that it is difficult to pull the plug if there is nothing to fill the void. I am intrigued by things like Change School and other such closed communities. Is that the future? What will it mean for the open web?

      Thanks as always for continuing the conversation.


  2. My fast food social media diet has been replaced by one managed around blogs, feeds and comments. I do sometimes feel I miss out on some things, but trust that if I need to know something that I will probably capture through some other means.

    Twitter is a difficult topic to think and write about, in part because it’s used differently by so many people. My own Twitter use has reduced to minimal these days, for many reasons, but I do have thoughts.
    Inherent in the platform itself is the initial rise in popularity that it needed to hit critical mass, and the resulting rise in popularity of it’s users. This is a one-time thing, and I think when many people talk about “making it great again” they are reminiscing about these initial days when early adopters voices were heard and listened to in a great proportion. Everyone loves to have their voice heard.
    Another random thought I have is that people aren’t able to fully operate as a “center among many”, especially those who didn’t grow up in a social media world. What I mean by this is that SM sites like Twitter allow users to create an amazing media ecology that surrounds each user. However users still want control over that ecology, they have strong expectations of their “audience”. Trolls and abusers of the system are one thing (and certainly a worse problem itself), but those who attempt to control the parameters of a conversation, are always going to be longing for a more private, community based space – which Twitter is not.
    The post quoted at the top offers some more useful musings about Twitter and its alternatives. It’s always worth it to read honest thoughts on the subject these days.
    I use RSS and blog feeds mostly these days as well. One rule of thumb I try to stick by when I do use social media is that whenever I find myself writing the word “we”, I delete it if I can and rewrite my idea using the word “I”. I’m no spokesperson for anyone, and on a platform where everyone is at the center of their own construing, not many people are.

    More: A post on Audience-Centrism, which I actually forgot about until writing this post
    More: On growth and Twitter

    • Thank you for your thoughts Glen.

      When I read your ‘we’ comment I ran back to the post to check that is not what I had done. However, I recognise that such a sentiment maybe inferred.

      I am intrigued to what the future may look like. It is still very hard to argue for a ‘social media of one’ when the silos make it so easy. Also the feeling of being heard is so tempting. Time will tell.


      • Replied to a post by Aaron Davis (Read Write Respond)

        I think it is one of those topics with a lot of conjecture John. Apologies if there are too many links.

        Don’t apologize for links. It’s the web and links are important. In fact I might think that you could have a few additional links here! I would have seen it anyway, but I was a tad sad not to have seen a link to that massive pullquote/photo you made at the top of the post which would have sent me a webmention to boot. (Of course WordPress doesn’t make it easy on this front either, so your best bet would have been an invisible <link> hidden in the text maybe?)
        I’ve been in the habit of person-tagging people in posts to actively send them webmentions, but I also have worried about the extra “visual clutter” and cognitive load of the traditional presentation of links as mentioned by John. (If he wasn’t distracted by the visual underlines indicating links, he might have been as happy?) As a result, I’m now considering adding some CSS to my site so that some of these webmention links simply look like regular text. This way the notifications will be triggered, but without adding the seeming “cruft” visually or cognitively. Win-win? Thanks for the inspiration!
        In your case here, you’ve kindly added enough context about what to expect about the included links that the reader can decide for themselves while still making your point. You should sleep easily on this point and continue linking to your heart’s content.
        In some sense, I think that the more links the better. I suspect the broader thesis of Cesar Hidalgo’s book Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies would give you some theoretical back up for the idea.
        Syndicated copies to:

        Also on:

        • Apologies Chris for failing to include a mention of the pullquote in the actual text. Just to clarify, I thought Flickr would send a webmention, but maybe I should include the caption at the end of the post like Alan Levine does.

          Thank you for the feedback on the links. I recently received some criticism of the amount of links I include.

  3. You have covered quite some ground here Aaron, but what I pulled from it (and feel free to correct me if I misunderstood) are:
    • Twitter’s changed and not for the better.
    Your usage of Twitter has changed, perhaps in response to Twitter, but perhaps in an attempt to • better address your evolving needs.
    • You’re seeking a satisfactory technical (and ethical?) compromise which still involves Twitter?

    I share some of your concerns, but I don’t feel as … unsettled? A couple of hypotheticals I’ll throw into the pot to see what bubbles to the surface.
    1. What would happen (for you) if Twitter’s ‘fail whale’ reappeared tomorrow and suddenly Twitter was gone?
    2. What if you deactivated your original account and started afresh? Knowing what you know and bearing in mind what you wrote in this post, how would you do things differently, if at all? Is ‘making Twitter great again’ within your capacity?
    3. If Twitter is broken beyond repair and neither Mastodon nor micro.blog quite cut it, if you had the wherewithall, what would you design as a replacement? What would it need to have or be able to do?

  4. As 2018 started winding down, I slowly started to clean up and cull my social media presence. I shared much less on Facebook and tried to decide what role that would have in my life. I also have been steadily unfollowing people on my Twitter timeline. Finally, I restarted my Mastodon profile in a different instance to engage again in those spaces.

    This is a larger, concerted effort to find value and joy in each of these spaces and practices.

    This great post from Aaron Davis describes his thinking about interactions in these spaces…and making them the best that they can be.

    Also on:

  5. Clint, I am enjoying your exploration of Mastodon and what is required. Someone else who has challenged me about both Twitter and Mastodon (and Micro.Blog) has been Ian Guest. He asked that question as to what I wanted out of any of these groups. I think that you touch upon this with your discussion of PLN. One thing that I do not think that I have thought about enough is how a PLN can change and evolve. Some people go, others stay. It is all rather fluid. Although I am willing to discuss all the technicals, maybe this focus on ‘EdTech‘ misses the purpose. Maybe this is Douglas Rushkoff’s point about ‘Team Human‘?
    Thank you as always for the provocation.



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