One problem with being unusually behind on my list of blog posts to write is that, sometimes, events in the world overtake my posts before I actually write them. I normally solve this problem by not writing about events in the world in the first place; but, a few months back (when Elon Musk bought Twitter), I thought it would be useful to write a post saying what I was getting out of Twitter, to help organize my thoughts about whether to go somewhere else and, if so, where that would be. But then he started kicking journalists off the service, and that got me switching my posting to Mastodon; and then he stopped allowing third party clients, and that got me to stop reading Twitter entirely. So here I am, not having even looked at my Twitter timeline for I don’t know how many weeks, and I still haven’t written this post.

But Twitter was a weird / amorphous enough place that maybe that’s still interesting, or at least still useful to me somehow, to think about what I was getting out of that weirdness? I’m not sure, but at any rate, some thoughts on the matter.


Some of what I got out of Twitter was keeping track of what friends were up to. Some of those friends are relatively close friends; not many of them, both because I honestly just don’t have very many close friends at all, but also because a fair number of those close friends aren’t / weren’t on Twitter. A decent number of them are people that I met through games blogging a decade and a half ago; and a decent (but smaller) number of them are current or former coworkers. And there are probably a few that don’t fall into any of those categories.

And then there’s the converse of that: Twitter was a space for me to post things that friends of mine might be pleased to see, but that people who aren’t my friends wouldn’t particularly care about. Stuff like vacation pictures, or a mention of something that I liked in a book that I’m reading.


Then, moving out a circle: there are people who are involved with an area that I’m interested in but whom I’m not friends with in any sense. (Most of these people have no reason to know that I exist.) The boundaries between this and late 200x game blogger circle are somewhat blurry, some of the games people I follow fit better into this category; and I follow some amount of software developers that fit into this category, too. Typing this up, it’s actually weird that I didn’t end up following many (any?) Tai Chi / Internal Arts people on Twitter; if I were still on Twitter, I’d probably look for them, but Twitter is probably also a medium that just doesn’t fit well with that area of interest.

In a related vein there are the public intellectuals I follow: people who say things that are interesting to learn / think about, but who don’t write in an area that I’ve got a specific interest in. (Other than the area of “politics”, but that’s a pretty generic one: yes, I live in a society.) E.g. some Atlantic columnists fell into this category, or when the war on Ukraine started, I saw a couple of people get retweeted into my timeline who seemed pretty well-informed / informative, so I followed them.


The last broad group of people that I followed on Twitter are those who are more on the artistic side. It took me a while to start following visual artists on Twitter, but I finally did maybe four years ago, and doing so was a good choice: I was happy to be regularly seeing art that I liked. And, it turns out, that you don’t have to follow very many visual artists on Twitter to get a large effect in that regard, because they retweet each other All The Freaking Time: you can follow two people whose art you like and see stuff (a decent proportion of which will be to your taste) from like fifty different artists every week.

I also follow some number of podcasters and authors; they fit into this category, too. (They don’t retweet other folks nearly as often as the visual artists do; which is just as well because I don’t need a constant massive stream of podcast / book recommendations!)

And then there’s cute stuff: We Rate Dogs in particular, Buitengebieden is also pretty nice.


So that’s the taxonomy of whom I follow on Twitter. Which is also pretty closely related to the question of what I was getting out of Twitter: each of those categories can be thought of as one way to answer to that question.

And the answers were pretty good! People are sometimes cynical about Twitter and the internet in general, and I am in fact one of those people, but honestly: I’m pretty sure that Twitter, overall, was a strong positive for me. (Until it, at least from my point of view, basically fell apart.) But there were definitely ways in which my experience with Twitter wasn’t great.

Broadly speaking: I think Twitter overemphasizes negative feelings, it overemphasizes cultural divisions, and it especially overemphasizes the intersection between those two. (Look at this horrible thing that a member of an outgroup is doing!) It’s not that I want to completely live within a bubble or anything: bad things exist, and sometimes it’s useful for me to learn about bad things that I wasn’t previously aware of. But also: the internet is global, and part of that means that random bad stuff from anywhere in the world (and certainly anywhere in the US) can just show up in my feed. Having compassion for all beings is good, but I don’t actually think it’s healthy to have negative news from all over the country to be put in my face disproportionately?

And I also don’t think it’s healthy for me to see so many negative messages about culture war outgroups. It’s not that I disagree with the messages that are being signaled to me here: if you pick a random culture war flashpoint, you can probably imagine what side I’ll come down on that, and you’ll not only probably be right about what I think, it’ll also probably be the case that my opinion about that is pretty strong, and I’m not actually particularly open to changing it. But I also don’t know what’s being helped by having that feeling be constantly reinforced: I think it would be much healthier to have those feelings be relatively rarely actively reinforced, and for me to find common points of humanity / agreement with people on whom I have strong disagreements on specific issues.


It’s not like I seek out that sort of negative content, so how did it show up in my feed? A little bit of it is from the “public intellectual” class that I mentioned above: one danger of people embracing the public intellectual lifestyle is that they sometimes start to opine on all sorts of random stuff, and also that they sometimes start picking fights with other public intellectuals. And I really just do not care about that or like seeing that: if you’ve got something to say yourself, then say that, but the fact that somebody has interesting things to say on a fairly frequent basis does not give me any interest in their random beefs, or in their opinions about some topic of they day that’s outside their area of expertise.

But that’s only a small portion of the problem; by far the largest problem was retweets, especially quote tweets. It’s really easy to see something stupid or bad come across your Twitter timeline, usually with somebody else commenting negatively on it, and to then pass that on; a decent number of people that I follow (including people from most of the classes I mention above) like to pass things like that on. And it was bad, it did not help my experience on Twitter.


So that’s what I liked out of Twitter, and also a bit about what I disliked. And it also goes a decent ways towards explaining why I left Twitter when I did. I wasn’t one of the people who left as soon as Musk took over: for a while, I had a “wait and see” attitude, trying to figure out what he’d do and what effect that would have on my experience with the site. But when he banned a bunch of journalists, it started to be clear how the experience would be negative: I couldn’t count on a whole class of people that I was interesting in to actually still be present on Twitter, and also enough other people had had enough at that point that quite a few of my friends and members of subgroups that I was interested in jumped ship to Mastodon at the same time. So Mastodon got better while Twitter got worse, and it was pretty clear to me which side of that divide I would enjoy more; so I stopped posting on Twitter and started posting on Mastodon.

Even after that, though, I was still reading Twitter. But then Musk kicked third party clients off the service, which meant that it was impossible for me to see just the tweets from people that I was actively interested in: instead, if I wanted to keep on reading Twitter, I had to deal with an experience that was very strongly shaped by Twitter’s idea of what I should see. And, as I said above, Twitter promotes a bad and harmful idea of what to see; I have zero desire to see that. (And that’s setting aside the significant more basic usability deficiencies of Twitter’s app compared to apps like Tweetbot.) So I’ve completely stopped reading Twitter: I don’t pull up the app for nostalgia or anything to try to see what’s still there, the idea of doing that doesn’t even come to mind.


With Twitter no longer a serious option, though, the next question is where to get the benefits that I listed above? For friend stuff, I can actually imagine a different universe where I started using Facebook for that; but Facebook’s algorithm is as bad as Twitter’s (albeit in different ways), and in particular Facebook actively works against my goal of letting me reliably see what my friends are saying. So it’s a nonstarter.

I can also imagine a world where I spent more time interacting with friends through group text, or other chat-like spaces. And I do exchange text messages regularly with some of my family members, and there is one Discord and one Signal group that I’m part of that fit into that category as well. Maybe I should seek out this kind of thing more? Though one caution for me there is the volume of messages – I’m a member of about ten different Discords, and I have notifications disabled for almost all of them, because informal group spaces sometimes lead to a lot of chattiness, and I just don’t care about chattiness from people that I have no social ties with other than that we’re both a fan of some specific thing.

Fortunately, enough of my friends moved to Mastodon that it does a decent job of checking “ambient friend chatter” checkbox. (Both in terms of chatter I see and that I produce.)


Moving out a circle: the specific groups that I’m interested in (games stuff, programming stuff) have also largely decided that moving to Mastodon is a good thing. For more general public intellectual stuff, my experience is more mixed: some of them have moved, some of them haven’t, and some of them do automated cross posting, which isn’t a great reading experience. I can see why people who are explicitly looking for a broader audience would still have Twitter as their primary home; I wish they wouldn’t, but if they’re depending on a general audience for subscriber numbers, then they kind of have to be where that audience is, I guess. And if they like fighting with other people on Twitter, then, honestly, it’s probably healthy for me to not be following them any more! Though there is one specific public intellectual I can think of who did move to Mastodon, and who liked to make fun of random people saying stupid stuff on Twitter but who basically doesn’t do that at all on Mastodon; so the environment here does make a difference.

Really, though: my preferred way of reading what people in this category have to say isn’t through Twitter or Mastodon at all. Sometimes their short thoughts are interesting, but in a lot of cases the main effect of seeing their short stuff is feeling like I’ve got a parasocial relationship with them; that’s not healthy, I’d rather stay away from that. What I mostly want is their more thought-out stuff; and, for that, blogs are a much better format! (And hey, I never stopped writing on my blog, and it’s not like I’ve ever stopped using a feed reader, either. Blogs are good, y’all.) I’ve actually been really happy seeing Substack show up: it’s been nice how Substack has revitalized that kind of writing, and if it helps some people make a living, I’m all for that, too. (Incidentally, Substack blogs do come with RSS feeds, so if you want to read them but don’t want them to show up in your mailbox, you can (usually) do that.)

I do think that Mastodon is currently a little less good for me in terms of discovering new people to read. Mostly I prefer not having quote-retweets, but it can sometimes be useful to see somebody riffing in a positive way off of the posts of somebody else whom I don’t follow. Plain boosts/retweets give some of that, though; probably the real issue here is that just not enough people have moved to Mastodon yet.


The last category, of art stuff and cute stuff, is the category that I miss the most. Last time I checked, none of the visual artists I followed on Twitter have made it to Mastodon, which is unfortunate, and my feed is less cheerful as a result. And We Rate Dogs is one of the accounts that I miss the most here. (Buitengebieden made it over, at least.) I think probably the answer there is that I should get back into the habit of checking Instagram, because most of the artists I followed on Twitter also post there? Not my favorite site, though. And I should probably consider subscribing to more of their Patreons, too. Even if I do that, though, I’ll still miss the large volume of retweets that I’d see of other artists’ work; sigh.


Anyways: if you’re thinking of making the move to Mastodon, then please consider this a nudge to do so! I like it quite a lot here: there are more than enough people to make it a fairly lively place, and there’s a lot less gratuitous negativity that shows up in my feed. (And, once I moved over, I realized that a huge fraction of the boosts of culture war news articles that I was seeing came from exactly two people that I followed; I ended up unfollowing one of them and turning off boosts from the other one, and that solved that problem quite nicely.) There are definitely friends from Twitter whom I miss; I hope more of you will show up here.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.