I’ll admit it. Whenever I write an article I’m particularly proud of, I enjoy going on Twitter and yelling about it at the top of my voice. I don’t know whether that’s a particularly brilliant side of my personality, but it’s there. I’d be a bloody liar if I said I didn’t enjoy people telling me something I’ve written is good. TELL ME SOMETHING I’VE WRITTEN IS GOOD, DO IT.
And yet sometimes… that’s just not what I’m aiming for. Sometimes I write something I want to write, but I know most people who follow me on Twitter just aren’t going to be interested. Or sometimes I write mainly to work a few things out in my head, and if anyone else enjoys the piece, that’s a bonus. Or sometimes I just want to write something small – a piece which might be fun for a reader to come across randomly when browsing a site, but not something anyone would want to visit a site just to read.
When I first ran a blog – now stupidly deleted off the web, but partially available on The Wayback Machine – things were different. Social media was far less of a thing: people would see you had written a new piece through your RSS feed, or even – shock horror – just from visiting your site. Amazing. These days, very few people see any of my stuff unless I tweet about it, or somebody links to it on Facebook.
I can deal with that. But sometimes tweeting about something I’ve written feels right… and sometimes it just kinda feels wrong.
Some pieces don’t want to be tweeted about. Some pieces don’t want that attention foisted on them. Some things absolutely do not warrant me waving my arms around above it, yelling “Look at me!” Some pieces just want to exist… ready for the right people to stumble across them. That used to be so easy. Now, it isn’t. Social media is about yelling to get attention in a way that an RSS feed is not. These days, something has to be made a fuss about… or it disappears into the ether. And that’s a shame.
I will not be tweeting a link to this post.
The following is the most popular tweet I have ever written. (In fact, the only tweet I’ve ever made which has seriously gone viral in any meaningful way.)
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Despite howls of protest – at least among the hardcore users – Twitter is obsessed with trying to give us non-chronological timelines. And not just with its show “best” tweets first feature – at least that can be turned off. No, we’re talking about the dreaded ‘In Case You Missed It’, cluttering up our timelines something rotten. Which you can helpfully request to be shown less often… but can’t switch off entirely.
Maybe it wouldn’t matter so much if those tweets you missed were actually worth catching. But in my experience, they so rarely are. Still, as an extremely unscientific test, I asked people to send me examples of my own tweets which Twitter somehow thought they needed to see again. With thanks to Mike Scott, Paul Buckle, Richard Goodwin, and David Swallow, here’s what delights from my feed Twitter thought needed a second chance.
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Is there anything more boring than some tedious article pontificating about Twitter? I suspect not, but seeing as in the past I have written this piece here, that piece there, and indeed this other piece over there, I clearly haven’t got the memo yet.
With that in mind, I’ll make this short. Three weeks into my break from Twitter, how am I feeling?
- I am generally happier and less stressed. I thought maybe just being upset/irritated/angered by loads of stuff was simply how I’d feel reading things everywhere online these days. But no, it’s the misery being delivered in concentrated form in my Twitter timeline that I can’t deal with.
- On the other hand, I genuinely do feel like I’m missing out on fun stuff. Every time I poke my head in, I see something fun or a great article which I would otherwise have missed. I’m also missing important things I want to know about; a steady diet of misery was making me sad, but it’s not like I want to avoid certain topics entirely.
- Nearly every single day I have something short I really want to say, but now have nowhere to say it. I mean, maybe the world doesn’t need to hear about my criticisms of the later Nice Family sketches in Absolutely, but I’m sure there are at least a few people who would be interested.1
Maybe all the above seems massively obvious, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I am currently eliciting a few eye-rolls. But confirmation that it really was mainly Twitter which was causing me problems is a slight surprise. I thought maybe I’d just find other parts of the net to be just as frustrating these days. Nope. Twitter is both immensely useful and fun… and also an absolute pain in the arse.
The answer: a suitable client, and a hell of a lot of extensive muting, I think. There are people I really want to hear from on some topics… and need to avoid other things they post entirely for the sake of my own sanity. At least my little break provided me with confirmation of that, rather than just guessing.
A quick piece of housekeeping: if you follow me on Twitter, I’m currently taking a little leave of absence. So if you want to keep up with what’s going on with this site, make sure to follow @dirtyfeed instead. Unlike my main account which had all kinds of rambling nonsense, this new account1 will only have links to site updates, and nothing else. (For now, anyway.)
I’m certainly not leaving Twitter because it’s merely “quips and outrages”, and I expect I’ll be back properly again next year. For now though, I need some time where I’m not bombarded with things which are a bit much to deal with at the moment.
Brent Simmons, on leaving Twitter:
“Twitter was always a 51-49 thing for me — barely worth it. The company has not dealt with harassment.”
“It has treated its third-party developers shabbily.”
“And, at best, it was just quips and outrages — a diet of candy.”
This is where I start to struggle. Because my feed isn’t just quips and outrages. It contains both, of course, but it’s also full of a hell of a lot of other things.
It’s full of people suggesting I read articles I never would have seen otherwise. It’s full of television archeology… and television history as it happens. It’s full of films I have to see, right now, straight away. It’s full of news on important preservation projects. And luckily for me, it’s full of some very lovely people indeed.
Perhaps more importantly? Twitter has made me a better person. I used to be the kind of person who said they weren’t really a feminist, but was for “equality for everybody”. I look back on that and absolutely fucking cringe. Well-meaning, not evil, but fundamentally missing the entire point. I had absolutely no idea the absolute fucking shit most women go through on a daily basis. But from listening on Twitter… well, I know more than I used to, put it like that.
The point is: what your timeline consists of is under your control.1 If you want more than quips and outrages in your timeline, unfollow the people who provide them, and follow people who post stuff you find interesting instead. This is the fundamental basic rule of using Twitter. Most of what I linked to above would bore the arse off most people. But that’s OK. So much of human life is on Twitter. Go find some of it.
“And then it was part of the system that helped elect a fascist President. This tipped it over for me: it’s no longer worth my participation. The shitheads can have it.”
Of course, it is part of the system which helped elect a fascist President. It also – despite the horrific abuse problems – helps gives a voice to those who need it, and a way for people to listen. It’s a personal judgement call as to whether it’s worth it. I think you can justify either position. Some days I have my doubts as to whether I want to stay, for many different reasons, and I’m in pretty much the most privileged position it’s possible to have.
But to condemn Twitter for containing “just quips and outrages” merely indicates you’re terrible at using the service. Follow interesting people.
I enjoy watching other people have arguments on the internet. All the fun of the fight, without actually getting hurt yourself. It can be immense amounts of fun.
After watching one such fight on Twitter recently – which cumulated in a load of deleted tweets and a half-assed apology – the person involved tweeted the following immediately afterwards:
“Spend time with people you love. Interact with the world directly. Climb/lift/eat/enjoy something. Run. Read. Play. Cry. Smile.
Once you’ve finished vomiting, there are all kinds of issues you could take with that. It seems to be a plea for the reader to step aside from the internet and do other things instead… ignoring the fact that on the internet I still spend time with people I love, read, play, cry, and smile.
If we want to take things further, I’d point out that for some people – disabled, physically ill, or with mental health issues – being told to climb, lift, or run instead of spending time online with people who care about you is not only thoroughly ridiculous, but actively harmful.
And to get philosophical for a moment, the phrase “interact with the world directly” sets off alarm bells in my head. As though there isn’t something direct about how we can interact on social media. And I’ve walked through real places that I should have appreciated in a complete daze. Being there doesn’t always mean that you’re there. Some of the most engaged I’ve ever been with the world has been online.
But all that isn’t the worst thing about this tweet. The mistake here is that this person took their own bad behaviour… and projected it outwards. They knew they’d behaved ridiculously, and clearly thought that stepping away from the net for a while was best for them – which is a perfectly valid choice. But to make themselves feel better, they decided to turn what was best for them into some kind of motto for good living for everyone. A motto which certainly suited them at that particular moment… but is not a general guide to life.
To repeat: that tweet is not actually about helping others. It’s simply about making themselves feel better. It’s merely a useless platitude which is too simplistic to be truly useful to anyone.
My advice would be: when you’ve screwed up, sometimes you should wallow in your mistake. Not for long – doing that can get very unpleasant indeed. (At some point I need to stop beating myself up for mistakes I made twenty years ago, but that’s my own issue which I need to work on.) But sitting back for a moment and simply appreciating your error, rather than turning it into some kind of grand teachable moment for the world, is often the best option. Learn the lesson you need to learn, not paper over your cracked ego by giving out useless platitudes.
Of course, I’m not saying nobody can ever give advice for life. That would not only be utterly ludicrous, but considering this article, ridiculously hypocritical. I’m just saying you don’t need to leap straight to the teachable moment when you’ve fucked up… and that teachable moment needs to be carefully considered, not an instant reaction to your own personal circumstances.
Sometimes, when you’ve behaved like a bit of a dick, the only thing the world needs from you is to recognise that you’ve behaved like a bit of a dick.
Recently, a prominent startup founder tweeted the following:
“Twitter seems very boring lately.
Actually, maybe it’s the whole tech industry—there’s less drama, fewer interesting characters to follow.”
It struck me as one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen posted on Twitter. It seems to be based on the idea that they only follow people talking about the tech industry. And if you only follow people posting about the tech industry on Twitter, of course it’s going to get fucking boring.
I follow my fair share of people posting about tech on Twitter, obviously. Speaking purely personally, none of them are the most interesting people in my feed. (The most interesting people tend to tweet about old sitcoms, or sex, or sex in old sitcoms.) But what I love reading about on Twitter is merely my personal preference. The bigger issue here is: if you only surround yourself with voices which talk about tech, do you even care about the things that tech is supposed to be enabling?
You don’t write a blogging platform for the sake of writing a blogging platform; you write it to help people tell a story. You don’t write a messaging app for the sake of writing a messaging app; you write it to help people communicate. You don’t work on self-driving cars for the sake of working on self-driving cars; you do it to improve people’s lives. Stories, communication, lives… which are not about tech. If you aren’t interested in all the non-tech stuff going on around you, why even care about tech itself in the first place? Tech isn’t there just for the sake of tech; it’s there to free people to do a million and one other things.
I work in television transmission. And of course, I have a natural interest in the technology behind what I do, and the processes involved. Hell, I still get excited about counting the news on air. But that can’t be the only thing I’m interested in. I have to care about the material I’m putting out too – what the intent behind it is, and what it means to viewers. Otherwise, it’s a) impossible to do my job properly, and b) extremely boring.
I have to care about the people and stories my work is enabling, as well as the fucking mixing desk. Even if the mixing desk is also really interesting.
If you work in tech, but all you’re surrounding yourself with is voices of people in the tech industry, you’re doing a terrible job. If you aren’t listening to the voices of the people who use your tech, then for a start you’re not getting enough context about life in order to help develop the most effective technology in the first place. But then, I have no clue why somebody would only want to listen to people talking about tech anyway. It’s such a tiny part of what life is.
Only following people who talk about tech on Twitter and then being surprised to find it boring is just the same as only following fishmongers on Twitter, and then getting bored at endless complaints about the wholesale price of cod. At best, it shows a terrible lack of self-awareness. And it does nothing to persuade people who already think the tech industry is far too insular for its own good to think otherwise.
Go and follow writers. Go and follow archivists. Go and follow sex workers. Go and follow people who are just using Twitter to do stupid jokes. Go and follow anyone who isn’t just talking about the latest Apple rumours and Android Nougat. The world may suddenly seem an awful lot less boring.
I don’t usually write this kind of thing, but I feel I just have to share this with you. Doing social media for games is hard, and media fragmentation makes getting attention for your product virtually impossible at times. If only somebody would write a clear, concise guide about best practices in order to give your game the edge it deserves in this crowded marketplace.
Fear not. @Origamiwars is here to show you how to do social media right. Rather than just give you a dry list of rules, let’s take a look at how this pioneering account did things. If you’re at all involved in social media in a commercial context, then what I’m about to tell you is well worth your time.
Incidentally, don’t worry that the account is currently called “AppleCustomerService”. There’s some spectacularly clever stuff that this account does later on which will explain everything. Suffice to say that until this morning, this account was called “OrigamiWars”. All will become clear.
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Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the first episode of Big Brother in the UK. And the Elstree Studios Twitter account saw fit to celebrate the occasion:
The tweet irritated me. Not in a “oh shit, what has 2016 got to offer us now” kind of way. Just a mild irritance, like an ingrown pube, or an itchy bumhole, or Steve Brookstein. It took me a little while to work out exactly why, though.
First, let’s eliminate some possibilities. Anyone thinking this is going to be a rant about how awful Big Brother is should probably go and read another site instead. If you think the show is a sign television has “dumbed down”1, perhaps consider that the beauty of Big Brother at its best is hours upon hours of investment in people… where suddenly, a single look shot across the room means everything. The greatest moments can be the most subtle, and take the most effort to truly get – it demands attention and commitment from the audience. The very opposite of dumbed-down television.
But I digress. A more valid point about the tweet is querying why Elstree Studios made it, when the first two series of Big Brother weren’t shot at Elstree at all, but in Bow, near the 3 Mills Studios.2 Still, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they know that full well, and thought that it was still worth linking to regardless. Fine.
The problems come, however, when you actually take a look at the linked-to video of the first episode. This isn’t an official upload, either by Channel 4 or Endemol. This is an unofficial upload by a fan, taken from a VHS off-air recording made back in 2000. Dodgy hiss throughout and all. And immediately, alarm bells start to ring.
Now, I have no moral problem with that video being uploaded – it’s not like the episode has had a commercial release. It’s perhaps slightly weird that Elstree would associate itself with an illegal upload of a show that they’re currently hosting at the studios – or, indeed, would associate itself with any illegal uploads at all. For a major studio to give out a slightly confused message about piracy is pretty strange in itself.
But that’s not what really bugs me about this. Ultimately my problem with the tweet: it makes the world-renowned Elstree Studios feel… small.
When I think of Elstree, I think of professional kit. As we’re talking about television I’ll skip over trying to romanticise 35mm or something, and instead try to romanticise broadcast quality signals being fibred over to BT Tower. (It gets me hard, anyway.) The image I have of Elstree is one of absolute professionalism – of trained crews working together to provide the highest quality final result it’s possible to offer.
What don’t I think of? Someone recording something off-air onto a manky VHS tape, and then years later sticking it on YouTube with a shitty hiss all over it. I just don’t think that’s something Elstree should be associated with.
If Elstree is linking to any televison programme it has even the slightest connection to, it should be an official, top-quality version of it. Yes, it was only a silly, throwaway tweet for an anniversary… but even silly tweets mean something. There really wouldn’t be any harm in Elstree’s Twitter account just being that bit more professional.
Because without professionalism, and a commitment to a quality end result, we can all just upload shit to YouTube that we recorded on our phones… and there’s no reason for Elstree to exist at all.