Some time ago, I reached a point of crisis with Facebook. I was (and am) terribly unhappy with the company’s lack of respect for its users. Facebook users are not the customer; they’re the product. Mark Zuckerberg has little respect for privacy and seems only interested in pleasing advertisers. While I realize Facebook needs to make money, I don’t think that should happen at the cost of people’s feeling of personal security.
However, despite that huge issue, I continue to use Facebook, because that’s where everyone is. Or, more specifically, that’s where a majority of my far-flung real life friends are. Facebook makes it simple for me to keep up with people I otherwise wouldn’t hear from for months, years, or at all. I have always been terrible with keeping up with people myself, so this has been a godsend. And through Facebook I have developed deeper friendships with people who were once simple acquaintances. I’ve planned travel. I’ve shared and received affirmations and support. Facebook is where I go for community. It’s not a paradigm that can be replicated.
Twitter, I’ve come to discover over the past few days of trying very hard not to use it, is also an non-replicable paradigm.
I never thought I would have to try and find an experience to replace what I have on Twitter. Unlike Facebook, where I reveal information only behind tiered walls of (questionable) privacy, my tweets have always been public. Anyone is welcome to them. I have very few real followers, but I have over the years since I joined in February of 2007 curated a following list of interesting, funny people and accounts, one that enriches my life with daily musings, links to important news articles, beautiful photos, and more. I’ve also enjoyed sharing my own thoughts and occasionally receiving feedback.
As Twitter works toward profitability, things keep changing. I had always believed Twitter was more interested in its users than Facebook was, that Twitter would ultimately have its users’ backs. But one thing always bothered me: Why, if Twitter still has all my tweets as it claims, won’t it let me have them?
Unhappy that my tweets were seemingly going into a void from which they could never be recovered, I recently set up a rule with If This Then That that saves any tweet I post into a text file on Dropbox. Doing that, I was confident that at least going forward I would have access to my own content.
But then Twitter changed its API terms for developers, directly affecting my solution. IFTTT sent me an email about it, directing me to the Developer Rules of the Road and specifically this paragraph under “Twitter Content”:
You may export or extract non-programmatic, GUI-driven Twitter Content as a PDF or spreadsheet by using “save as” or similar functionality. Exporting Twitter Content to a datastore as a service or other cloud based service, however, is not permitted.
This rather creepily makes it sound like my content, the stuff I write, belongs to Twitter, not me. And as the content belongs to Twitter, I apparently have no right to use a process to save it. I would have to manually copy and paste from the GUI, if I’m reading this correctly. They know no one’s going to actually do that.
I realize this section exists to stop people from cross-posting their tweets to other services (which also seems draconian, no matter how annoying I find cross-posted content), but it effectively locks me out of my own writing, again. Let’s say I instead decide to post on some other service that allows me full access to my content, and then cross-post to Twitter. I could save the original posts I write that way, but not replies. I also wouldn’t be able to save retweets, which, while secondary, provide context to what I’m writing and insight into what I was thinking about while writing.
When I read the email from IFTTT on Thursday, I tweeted a little about it with shock and dismay, and then stopped tweeting altogether. It’s been about three days…but it feels more like a month.
In the meantime, I did what I could to get the content I enjoy on Twitter elsewhere. I went over to Google+ and added everyone I could find. I even pulled in news organizations I’m interested in and removed them from Facebook–but it looks like most of them post more to Facebook than Google+. Similarly, most of the people I followed on Google+ don’t post there much. The bulk of content is back on Twitter.
I’ve also been using App.net Alpha and the iOS app Spoonbill to participate in the new App.net-powered community that I’ll just refer to as ADN for simplicity’s sake. (App.net has the capability to support multiple communities, though I’m not sure that’s been done yet.) While that community is interesting, it’s sort of weird. (One conversation I witnessed, Person A: “Don’t you have a personal lawyer?” Person B: “Of course; I have several.”) There are a few people who, like me, talk about their lives, but for the most part I see people talking about tech trends, social media theory, marketing, and occasionally politics. It’s good content, but it’s not everything I want. Not by a long shot. There’s no @Lileks there. Little to nothing about journalism, photography, design, language, culture, or travel. @Horse_ebooks is there, but I hate @Horse_ebooks. The people I actually know who have signed up haven’t posted much of anything. It feels like a large number of the active people on ADN live in the Bay Area, adding to the sort of tech elitist ambiance. I have had very few conversations there.
So no, ADN can’t replace Twitter for me, at least not now. There isn’t enough adoption, I suppose. I even sort of feel weird posting there, like I’m spamming up a special place with my worthless thoughts. Rather the opposite of how I assumed I would feel about using a paid service that puts the users first.
ADN can’t do it, Google+ can’t do it, and I refuse to change the way I use Facebook (especially since that would give Facebook more data about me). So it would appear that I have no choice but to use Twitter, at least in terms of reading.
I’ve heard rumors that Twitter will start allowing users to download their tweets by the end of the year. But rumors like that have existed for awhile. I’ll believe it when I see it.
For now, I’ll probably keep reading Twitter. But I’m not sure I’ll be actually posting much there.