Twitter Departures

There seems to be a trend currently of announcing departures from Twitter. As a sampling (not the only ones, mind you), here are posts from Derek Powazek, Sean Bonner, and Wil Wheaton all announcing that they’re leaving Twitter and why. You’ll see a recurring trend: the indifferent (or even inimical) handling by Twitter of rampant toxicity, harassment, and abuse has effectively killed the community for a large number of people.

I’m hardly surprised by any of this — if anything, I’m surprised it took this long for people to leave. I’ve commented before that Twitter has become largely a rage machine, and I unfortunately don’t see a course-correction this happening any time soon (if it’s even possible). I’m mostly off it myself at this point — I still auto-post links to my blog posts, and respond to DMs and replies, but otherwise spend very little time there. I don’t personally feel a need to fully depart (and if I ever do, I’ll likely just ghost), but I also don’t foresee going back to it, either.

Like a lot of other people, I’ve joined a Mastodon instance, which will likely scratch that occasional Twitter itch for now (feel free to follow me). That said, I don’t really anticipate using it a lot — I’m feeling pretty done with the format, to be perfectly honest. In terms of online discourse, it feels like it fills the same sort of niche small-talk does in real life — sometimes it’ll lead to deeper conversations and connections with others, but mostly it’s just filling time.

Instagram “Flops”

Just to get this out of the way: when I say “flops,” I’m not talking about posting a picture that gets no likes or anything like that. I’m talking about a new type of account/method of communication that’s been popping up. The Atlantic has an excellent article talking about this: Teens Are Debating the News on Instagram.

It’s interesting. On one hand, I’m fascinated by just how much each generation strives to find a place of their own, to discuss and grow among their peers. It’s like weeds — life will find a way, and will make use of whatever environment they have available to them. Couldn’t they use forums, or Facebook groups, or blogs, or tumblr, or any of the other tools that have already come up that are arguably better suited for discourse and sharing thoughts? Maybe, maybe not. Many kids have very limited spaces for a sense of autonomy and privacy. Their web browsing is monitored by schools and parents, their phones have parental controls on what can and can’t be installed. So they make do with the tools they have available. There’s a critical mass of their peers on Instagram, and it’s generally accepted by parents and schools to have on your phone. So you use the tools you have. A big part of me says “fuck yeah, good job kiddos.”

But then there’s the other hand. The approach leaves a lot to be desired, and the limitations of the tool they chose to use create some inherent flaws in what’s happening. You are effectively signal boosting hateful things by posting them as flops, and only those who bother to read the comment beneath the image will even know that you are posting it to call out the behavior rather than to endorse it. It requires inside knowledge of what a flop even is in order to understand the context, in a medium that is far more broadly shared (it’s not like the images are segregated, they’re woven right in with the rest of your feed or in discovery). There’s also the factor of the psychological impact of immersing yourself in the negative – it has a toll.

A lot to mull over, here.

What Watson Thinks of My Personality

Via Kottke, the Watson group at IBM has created a Personality Insights service analyzing social media (tweets) to determine your personality. This is what it had to say about me:

You are inner-directed and shrewd.

You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are adventurous: you are eager to experience new things. And you are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much.

Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.

You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You don’t find taking pleasure in life to be particularly motivating for you: you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

You are likely to:

  • be sensitive to ownership cost when buying automobiles
  • like historical movies
  • read non-fiction books

You are unlikely to:

  • like country music
  • be influenced by social media during product purchases
  • be influenced by family when making product purchases

It then goes on to graph out various traits and values, like openness, conscientiousness, introversion/extroversion, curiosity, etc. Nothing too surprising, seems to jive with my own sense of who I am (mostly – I do actually find taking pleasure in life to be pretty motivating, though I suppose I can see why it’d report what it did if that’s being treated as an either-or spectrum). This is both neat, and a little scary, because of the implication as to what an accurate personality read means as far as profiling and privacy are concerned.

Link: The Trust Spectrum

Raph Koster has a great writeup of The Trust Spectrum, which is a design framework he worked on in collaboration with Google’s ATAP group and Aaron Cammarata. It examines how we build (and break) trust in games, though you could extend a lot the examinations of trust to community in general (which is sort of the point: the goal was to see how we could better build social connection in games).

It’s a good read, in particular if you’re remotely interested in game design, online communities, and online games. (In a similar vein – and mentioned in Raph’s article – is Dan Cook’s article, Game Design Patterns for Building Friendships, which is also worth the read.)

Link: Maps and How Advertising Influences User Experience

Kottke links to an article comparing time estimates between Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze by Artur Grabowski. The observations are interesting (if imperfect, as the author notes, since there were only so many variables he was able to control for): Waze tended to underestimate how long a trip would take, while Apple Maps tended to overestimate. As Artur notes, this has an impact on the user experience:

For Apple, Maps is a basic solution for its average user who wants a maps solution out of the box. Apple Maps does not directly drive ad or subscription revenue for Apple so there is less reason for Apple to incentivize iOS users to use Apple Maps over other solutions. However, Apple does care about user experience, and sandbagging trip time estimates so that users arrive at their destination on time results in a great user experience. Hence, I believe that Apple is intentionally conservative with estimated arrival times.

At the other extreme, Waze (Alphabet) makes money through ads when you use their app. What better way to get people to use your navigation app than by over-promising short trip times when no one takes the time to record data and realize that you under-deliver? If an unsuspecting user opens Apple Maps and sees a 34-minute route and compares that to 30-minutes in Waze, the deed is done. Now Waze has a life-long customer who doesn’t realize they’ve been hoodwinked and Waze can throw at them stupidly annoying ads.

That’s the thing: advertising definitely impacts user experience, and it’s often in more subtle ways than just product placement or overt advertising. It can impact how designers and developers think about what they’re building, and what they choose to focus on. You can see it elsewhere, too: think about the shift in newsfeeds away from a chronological feed and towards an algorithmic one. As Jason notes:

If that’s happening with your mapping app, just think of how your search results, Facebook newsfeed, and Instagram feed are manipulated to be more amenable to advertising.

Link: Is Medium Following The Facebook Playbook?

Via Warren Ellis, Stowe Boyd has an article wondering Is Medium Following The Facebook Playbook? (It’s sort of ironic that the post is on Medium, but whatever.) This is written sort of in response to an interview with Matt Klinman by Sarah Aswell, How Facebook is Killing Comedy, which is also well worth your time to read.

Ev Williams, the founder and CEO of Medium, is actively discouraging the publication model that was what attracted a long list of publishers to the platform, which provided at least a few mechanisms for individual expression at the publication level: ordering of stories on the home page, recruiting contributions, and organizing by topics. Many of those publishers have left, or abandoned their publications. (I shut down Work Futures (workfutures.io) a few weeks ago, and departed for Substack and the recast Work Futures (workfutures.org).)

Now, Medium wants to manage all publishing and curation, with its own editorial staff and algorithms. A perfectly designed forest, as Klinsman suggests.

Link: Be Kind, Design

Over at Medium, Nat Dudley has a nice (lengthy, well researched with clear examples) article, Be Kind, Design, based on a talk they recently gave. Worth some consideration.

You might be asking yourselves why we’re the ones who have to care about this. After all, everyone else is treating their customers poorly, so why should we be different.

It’s a matter of scale. Like Penalosa’s urgency for good urban design in cities, we need to care because our work has reach. The work we do is part of every industry on the planet. We are defining or redefining the interaction models for every part of society, and we’re doing it at a scale we’ve never experienced before. Changes we make can affect millions of people in seconds without their knowledge or consent. Decisions we make can reinforce existing power structures and biases, or they can break them down.

Link: Last Blog Standing

Over at Nieman Lab, Laura Hazard Owen has a nice interview with Jason Kottke about blogging, Last blog standing, “last guy dancing”. A salient bit:

There has to be room in our culture for that type of stuff — that stuff that is inspirational and aspirational — because it provides some sort of hope that we can actually have more of that in our lives, rather than less.

It’s like that quote from John Adams. I have it pulled up here. “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

That’s a really interesting way to think about progress. Not everyone is going to be on that continuum at the same time, but I think the goal should be to get more people moving toward it.

Link: New Coalition for Humane Technology

Over at the New York Times, Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built. The article is mostly a press release for some of the efforts the new Center for Humane Technology is doing, but I wanted to call it out because (as may be clear from some of my recent posts in the past few months) it’s a topic I care about.

Loneliness and Technology

There’s been several recent articles about loneliness lately, spurred at least in part by the UK’s recent creation of a Minister of Loneliness to help cope with what’s been called an “epidemic of loneliness.” There are a lot of reasons why the surge in both quantity and severity of loneliness is a bad thing (aside from the mental and emotional impacts, it ends up having physical ramifications as well), and while I’d say it’s too broad a topic to point specific fingers at the causes, I do think modern society certainly isn’t helping. It’s sort of telling that (pulled from the above Medium article):

Research on young people’s loneliness isn’t abundant. But what does exist suggests loneliness might not go away anytime soon as a health crisis: A UCLA Berkeley study published last year found that even though adults between 21 and 30 had larger social networks, they reported twice as many days spent feeling lonely or socially isolated than adults between 50 and 70.

In other words, the generation portrayed as savvy, socially connected people are actually feeling the most alone.

A good book to read on the subject of the role technology has in all these (and I do definitely think it has a role) is Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. When it first came out a few years ago, I didn’t want to agree with her, but as time goes on, I fall more in alignment with her observations. (Here’s her related Ted Talk, which gives a good summary of the problems we’re talking about.) A quote from the Ted Talk that seems particularly relevant (emphasis mine):

We expect more from technology and less from each other. And I ask myself, “Why have things come to this?”

And I believe it’s because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control. But we’re not so comfortable. We are not so much in control.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m advocating becoming a Luddite or something. We live in an age of technology, and it’s unrealistic (and ill-advised) to imagine that’s going to change. But I do think we need to change our relationship with that technology. I think we need to foster and teach empathy and emotional intelligence, and help people work through the anxieties of trying to communicate with others and meeting new people.

I have a lot of feelings and thoughts about this subject (both loneliness in general, and our current social climate). I need to ponder some more about how best to express it.