What’s the point of Twitter?

Like many ‘online’ people, I’m reevaluating my relationship with Twitter. While I’m not a fan of all these spoiled narcissists growing up rich and failing their way into running things like Twitter or the Executive Branch of the US Government, I can also say that the whole “this is why billionaires shouldn’t own media companies” complaint feels a little naive. Who else gets to run things and endlessly burn other people’s money? Instead it just feels like a good time to ask ourselves: what is the point of Twitter?

I’d only started using Twitter as a real user in 2022, and due to a few lucky opportunities, I found myself feeling very plugged-in with the WordPress community. In some ways, Twitter kinda sucks- it’s addictive, it’s loud, people have lots of capital-O Opinions on things. Everyone you follow for Topic A has some terrible viewpoint on Topic Z that they want to share endlessly. I know I do.

On the other hand, there is something nice about connecting with other WordPress people. But is that what Twitter is? Is it connection? Is it self-promotion? Is it a place to be annoyed by people who showed up to ‘own the libs’ or whatever?

I’m not actually sure. If it’s community, there’s probably better places to build relationships. For example, I’m in a few WordPress Slack groups, my personal favorite being the WPMinute group. A Slack group really is a community, because it’s a conversation. It’s a little more curated. It’s much more like a public square because anyone who gets too obnoxious will probably be ignored or asked to leave.

But it’s also a walled garden. It’s invite-only. Maybe not in practice, but in some sense you need to be ‘in the know’ to want to join it. It’s more intimidating to jump into a big Slack conversation than posting a fly-by quote tweet is. It’s also not as self-promotional. It’s not a place to build your “brand awareness” or constantly share your daily blog post, like this one.

Then there’s Mastodon, the “better” Twitter. And in many ways it is better: the open source code, the decentralized ownership, the fact that it feels like the early web. One thing I’ve really tried to focus on is not using social media to complain about things. But it’s a hard habit to break. The context shift of Mastodon has got me thinking more critically about what I post. If I have a silly idea I now think: should this go on Twitter? Should it go on Mastodon? Is it a blog post? Should it go on a slip of paper that I gently toss into a roaring fireplace while the camera slowly zooms in on the pages curling and blackening from the heat?

I’m still not sure. I’m mostly lurking on Mastodon, feeling the vibe, trying to understand exactly what it is. They’ve made conscious efforts to fix the issues of Twitter, but maybe those issues are deeper- they’re the issues of conversation at scale, of a culture where everything feels incessant and all content ends up being self-promotion in place of real connection. For one thing, it feels harder to discover new people to follow without an outrage algorithm shoving things in my face.

When I wrap this post up, I’ll share it on Twitter. I’ll share it on Mastodon. It’ll be in my RSS feed. I’ll include it in the newsletter I’ve been sending most Fridays. It’s self-promotional. Follow me. Read me. Validate me. Connect with me.

Elon Musk didn’t really change Twitter, he just reminded us of what it is. He’s the penultimate Twitter user- distracted, misinformed, self-involved, biased, privileged, incapable of self-reflection. He put it front and center that the point of Twitter is not to connect with other people, but to argue with them so he can sell more ads for online casinos and video games with half-naked, anatomically-impossible she-elfs. It’s what it always was. I’m at least grateful for the alternatives that actually want to be something else.

Oh and one last thing: if you don’t mind retweeting and boost-tooting this post, I could really use the brand-awareness.

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