Why I’m (Mostly) Leaving Twitter

Here’s what I’m going to do as soon as Google+ has an iPhone app:

  1. Use Facebook only for personal updates; for photos of me, friends, and family; and for private messaging in certain cases that don’t matter here. Unfriend (or severely privacy-limit) the many wonderful people with whom I do not consider myself to have strong personal relationships.
  2. Use Google+ for brief posts of substance—most of them exposed to the public (not just to my Circles).
  3. Use my blog for longer posts (as currently).
  4. Abandon Twitter (mostly; keep reading).

My rationale: Right now, Facebook provides me with a medium for incredibly interesting conversation about matters professional, academic, and intellectual. I keep my own status updates along these lines restricted to friends only because of the platform’s slightly arcane (or “clunky,” as Farhad Manjoo calls them) privacy interfaces. I’d prefer to have these conversations open to the public, as they are on Twitter.

Even if I were less lazy about the privacy kinks though, I don’t get the sense that any interesting strangers are out prowling Facebook for compelling public status updates. And Facebook just feels like the wrong platform for this kind of online behavior anyway. It’s too cluttered with games (some of which I play) and personal-life noise (which I love for its own sake) to be really conducive to the kind of “Come on, guys, let’s really talk through this” behavior that I want to encourage. It just doesn’t feel like conversation is what people want to do on Facebook. Good conversations do happen there, but I can’t help but wonder how much better they could be in a different context.

Twitter provides that context, actually, and though I would like to have moved this kind of content there, the UI barriers are just too high. Serious conversation sucks on Twitter; that’s just not what it’s built for. The lack of a good and usable visualization of conversations (even accounting for recent advances in the desktop client) makes following them a hopeless hassle. Worse, the 140-character limit absolutely forestalls any in-depth discussion—notwithstanding those seven-part, ellipsis-separated tweets that drive us all mad. And having to include @replies within that limit makes conversation among many Tweeters seem really, really stupid. As a result of these obstacles, I believe, I have simply been unable to transport the serious and rewarding discussion that happens on Facebook out to Twitter.

Google+ could compensate for these issues in a number of ways. The first is that most of my posts there will be public (as are my Tweets), allowing for greater exposure and diversity of viewpoints. I expect that Google+’s asymmetrical relationship-building mechanism, in which I can add you to a Circle without your having to confirm anything, will lead to users seeking out interesting content from strangers as they do 0n Twitter.

The second advantage of Google+ for my purposes is that in place of Facebook’s still-mysterious “Top News” feed, Google+ lets you view different segments of the stream—not unlike Twitter’s Lists but, again, with a far superior interface. Also, I have no doubt that Google+ will at some point provide topic-based segmentation as well. I’m expecting something like hashtags, but with a cleaner implementation. I should say I’ve yet to really figure out Sparks, or try.

Once I’ve made the changes I list at the beginning of this post, Twitter will remain in my online life only as the corporate and “corporo-human” PR platform it is has become. I will use it to share professional news and to keep up with the news of others. I will not use it for conversation. I will not use it as a feedreader, as some have suggested it has become (or supplanted), because it does not allow me actually to read feeds, merely to click links, which I find far less convenient in terms of my workflows as a user of both desktop and mobile devices.

I think that at first, the changes I list at the top are going to set me back in both professional and personal spheres of online interaction: People not yet on Google+ will no longer have the kinds of conversations with me that I’ve so been enjoying, and on the other hand, I will miss out on the sort of hybrid personal-professional chit-chat that currently seems to happen only on Twitter. I’m just hoping that my social universe eventually lines up with my tactics—not because of what I’m doing, but for the same reasons.

HTTPSEverywhere: Don’t Stop at Facebook’s HTTPS Option

Switching Facebook to HTTPS for use on un- or under-protected public networks (some coffeeshops, e.g.) is a good idea, and I’m glad to see a spate of status messages telling people how to do it. But those using Firefox might also consider the extension HTTPSEverywhere, which forces a number of common sites (including Facebook) into the same behavior.

Besides protecting you across a far greater range of websites, one advantage of the extension is that you can switch it on and off pretty easily—both globally and for individual sites. I turn it off while I’m on my home network (much more secure, much less at-risk) or on a school’s network (typically much, much more secure), so that I can access non-secure content like the Facebook’s SCRABBLE app, and so that pages load more quickly.

Regrettably, there is no good equivalent for other browsers, as of the last time I checked. (There are Chrome and Safari extensions, but they don’t cover your HTTP transaction from beginning to end, as I understand it.) But even when I was mostly using Safari, I would only use Firefox—with HTTPSEverywhere enabled—when I was at the coffeeshop. As it stands, I enable it for anything less than WPA2 networks.

I’m certainly no security expert, but I think this is a relatively safe practice. WPA2 networks are also inherently insecure—maybe all networks are?—but I’m just playing the numbers that nobody willing to take all the extra steps of getting into my data on a WPA2 network is going to happen to be in my coffeeshop at the same time I am. It’s sort of like deciding to unbuckle your seatbelt while the plane is still taxiing to the gate. Sure, something could happen, but…

For the record, even though I do use HTTPSEverywhere, I’ve also enabled Facebook’s HTTPS option. I like that it makes transparent the difference between secure and insecure content, and allows you the choice of switching to a plain old HTTP connection when you try to access insecure content:

Facebooks Insecure Content Warning
Facebook's Insecure Content Warning (Click to view full-size.)

I also like the Facebook option as a backup for one of the most important sites covered by the Firefox extension, which I could easily forget to enable someday. After all, until I get to the coffeeshop, I haven’t had my morning coffee, and without it, let’s just say my memory’s not so useful.

I’m no Doctor: Why I Work for Free

In an old episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry’s changing in a country club locker room and asks a doctor there to check out some spot on his back. When you work in the web, this kind of thing happens all the time. Just about everybody you know will come to you at some point with questions on web projects, presences, and possibilities: What do you think of my (or my organization’s) website? Why is my designer telling me that I shouldn’t have Flash on my site? Should I be on Twitter?

The doctor sets Larry off by telling him to make an appointment instead of taking a quick look at the thing on his back. I understand professional boundaries, but I’m just not like that. In fact, I may be on the other end of the spectrum: I spend between two and ten hours a week, perhaps, either giving people advice on these matters or actually working on their websites—making emergency content changes, getting them set up (and comfortable) with WordPress, and so on.

Once in a while, when the questions are big, complex questions that most non-professionals don’t understand are so big and so complex, I’m tempted to act like that doctor and say, “Hey, if you want to talk, let’s set up a time, get on Skype, and I’ll see when I can do for you.” Mostly, though, I’m pretty good at remembering why I give away so much of my time to so many different people:

  1. I love these people. As often as not, they’re family or very close friends. For example, I recently set up my wife’s website, helping her figure out what content she wanted and how to present it, doing some light image searching and manipulation, and finally building the site out. When it’s your wife, it’s an easy decision, but I’ve done the same thing for maybe half a dozen people in the last year.
  2. I love these organizations. I’m consulting pro bono with the excellent D.C.-area nonprofit Arts on the Block as they get going on a redesign project. Why? Well, yes, my very cool aunt runs the place, so see #1, but also, I love what they do (in brief, introducing creative youth to the worlds of art and work). It’s a great cause, and I’m happy to help.
  3. I know what’s in it for me. When I do right by somebody, my name travels. Sure, it’s rare that I end up with paid work based on my unpaid work. But it has happened. Other intangible benefits include broadening my audience for this blog, for example, getting put into contact with interesting people I wouldn’t otherwise have met, and feeling a little better about asking for help from others who can give it to me. (If I weren’t doing so much work for free, that is, I don’t think I’d feel okay about putting somebody out like that. But if they needed me and I had the time, I would do the same for them, and knowing that makes me feel fine about asking.)
  4. I know what’s in it for them. Helping feels good—even when I’m helping somebody I don’t know all that well. I’m not likely to spend too much unpaid effort on a stranger’s project, should I get cold-called about one, because I like to be able to keep the people and organizations I do hold most dear at the top of my list. But I do find myself spending a lot of time in correspondence with friends of my friends, people who know what I do but don’t know me until our mutual friend says, “Hey, you know Devan? You should ask him about that.”

The world I live in demands from me a certain amount of money, so of course I have to spend most of my time working for pay. But I do try to make time to give the proverbial milk for free. I suspect I’m far from the only one, too, given the web’s crucial role in just about every industry.

That’s the most relevant difference between being pixelworkers and doctors: On any given day, few of us really need to talk to a doctor, whereas tending to our (or our companies’) little corners of the Internet seems to be something a lot of us think about an awful lot of the time.

Wheel of Fortune Before & After Rejects

I don’t know at what point I should consider this embarrassing and stop posting my rejected McSweeney’s lists, but I guess I’m not there yet.

Rejected Wheel of Fortune “Before and After” Puzzles





A Like-Button List

Had another list rejected by McSweeney’s, but I like this one enough to show you the whole thing. Without further ado:

What I Might Mean When I Click the Like Button Next to Your Comment on My Facebook Status Update

I like your comment.

I like you, though your comment leaves me disinterested.

I like that you left a comment, though your comment leaves me enraged and I don’t know how much I care for you anymore.

I don’t like you or your comment, but I worry about the consequences of your knowing my feelings.

I don’t like you or your comment, and I don’t care whether you find out, but I worry that others involved with this thread might think it callous of me not to acknowledge your comment, since everybody knows you have no friends and we all feel bad for you.

I don’t like you or your comment, and I don’t care whether you or anyone else finds out, but I’ve had a few to drink and in a moment of dizzy compassion, I thought I should Like your comment. I wake up to find myself mistaken, but I think that Unliking your comment the morning after would be too cruel a way to treat even you, given the night we’ve just had together, and given that I forgot my wallet and will have to borrow money from you for the breakfast we’re eating right now, while I check Facebook on my iPhone.