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Social Networking Platforms

Posted: March 6, 2013 11:26:17 • By Natasha L. • 1230 words

Note: Some content on this site, including this article, is more than a decade old, and may not accurately reflect the author's current feelings or writing style. More information here.

Where does a person go to be truly social on the internet? This is a question I find myself asking all too often, and once I settle in somewhere, I seem to have to find somewhere else to go.

Today, Twitter announced that they were pulling all non-web-based versions of Tweetdeck, and in doing so, they will no longer function after May of this year. This comes after a long string of Twitter API and developer rule changes, and it seems that the worst fears of many Twitter users are coming to fruition.

This move doesn't affect me directly, in any significant way; I use Tweetdeck on my phone, but I have no real love for it, and I mostly only use it because for all its faults, it has the best notification system of any Android client, by a huge margin. But, combined with the API changes that limit what third-party applications can do with Twitter, it demonstrates pretty clearly that the Twitter actively does not want to offer a user experience better than the horrifically inferior experience of the primary official app. And that's a problem for those of us who use Twitter heavily as a communication and content creation platform. If you're a passive consumer of media, or use Twitter very lightly, then sure, the standard Twitter client is fine. But it can't keep up with my Twitter usage.

My preferred Twitter app, TwInbox, is an Outlook plugin that delivers a Twitter experience far more flexible and more powerful than anything else I've seen available, and if/when it no longer functions as a Twitter client, I will immediately cease all use of Twitter. I'll be looking for a mobile Twitter client to replace Tweetdeck, but I've never primarily used Twitter from my phone, nor do I want to. In the meantime, I'll continue using it, but I feel I need to see what other networking options to use, as I've done before.

I heavily used email mailing lists, for many years, and to this day, I still greatly prefer them over other group communication methods. But I'm in the minority on that, so mailing lists are largely abandoned nowadays. Ditto for Live Journal, and its later offshoot Dreamwidth. I used both very heavily, but as Live Journal's service degraded for non-Russian users, others abandoned it, and it lost the main thing that kept me posting regularly, interactivity. I enjoy writing, and I enjoyed using LJ to document memories, and to keep up with others who did the same. But when comment volumes dropped in LJ's later years, it didn't feel worthwhile to spend 1-2 hours a day writing a post, to get little to no interaction. Twitter accelled where LJ failed, with significantly less time commitment. But Twitter may lose that soon, so what else is out there?

Google Plus has come up in my circle of friends a few times, and it shows some interesting promise, but I have no interest in using it. For one thing, while Google has revised their name policies somewhat, they still clearly want to be the identity police. If I sign up on a site with a particular name or handle, that site has no business telling me I'm wrong, no matter what their standards are. I don't care that Google+ no longer wants my legal name, I have the right to identify however I want to on the internet, and they obviously don't agree. Additionally, Google is creepy, and while some people trust them to hold their entire lives, I do not. They haven't earned my trust, and they've done quite a lot to harm my trust. I don't want to use a service where, if I say something that isn't PG, or they decide my name isn't my name, my phone suddenly won't work anymore.

Facebook, of course, is even worse than Google on every count, and most people I know won't use Facebook because of this. I'm one of them. But just because Google's creepiness is less intense than Facebook's, that doesn't mean Google isn't creepy.

Tumblr has a great deal of popularity, and I have an account there, but I'm not interested in using it for anything more than mirroring content I create. It's a site that isn't trying to be the identity police, and in that regard, it's absolutely fantastic. But, it's a terrible platform, one of the worst web applications I've ever seen. It's not good at long-form blogging/content creation, it's not good at short-form messaging, there are no privacy controls, and the user experience is unusably poor. Most importantly, any sort of interaction is impossible; there are few direct messaging methods, and aside from "reblogs" (repost the entire original post and discussion thread to your own blog, with your comment added at the end), there's no way to comment on or reply to a post. This is a dealbreaker for me, and it contributes to my other issue with Tumblr, signal-to-noise ratio. The SNR was fantastic on LJ, noise was near-nonexistant until people started posting their tweets to it, and even then, it wasn't unbearable, especially once they added tag filtering. On Twitter, it's pretty mid-range, but since it's exclusively short-form, the noise is exceptionally easy to mentally filter. But on Tumblr? Every post takes up a ton of space, and it's almost exclusively noise, with no tools whatsoever for controlling it. I follow about 6 people who actively use it, parsing my Tumblr feed takes more time and concentration than my Twitter feed (where I follow over 250 people), and yet I get less out of it. I'm not interested in a GIF clip of a TV show I already watched, I want to read what you write and see images you created or captured.

I haven't seen many other platforms take root among my friends, and it concerns me to think that of the currently-popular options, none are usable to me. I have zero hope of Google or Facebook becoming less awful, especially since both platforms seem to exist solely to funnel personal information into the hands of the parasites known as marketing departments. I like the sound of App.net, sort of, but I don't see them taking root with my friends, which creates a circular problem; if no one I know uses it, it's not worth paying for, but if I don't buy an account and use it, others won't either. It's possible that Tumblr might become less awful, but since they seem to have zero development budget, I'm not holding my breath. I'd love to see a service that's basically Twitter, but that recognizes such a thing works best as a platform, not a single application.

Regardless, you can always find me on my website, it will never, ever go away. I know having a strong presence on the open web isn't what everyone does anymore (something that always disappoints me, and not just because I build websites for a living), but I will never stop having a strong web presence. And no matter what other services I use, my website will always be my home base, the place where I post all my content first, and where I tell you where else to find me.