Social Technical-Debt

Twitter recently deactivated the services that third-party Twitter clients rely on for streaming timeline updates, mention notifications, direct message notifications (which never worked for group DMs), likes, and retweets. Twitter’s Senior Director of Data Enterprise Solutions Rob Johnson sent out an internal company email, which he uploaded screenshots of and attached to some tweets.

It is now time to make the hard decision to end support for these legacy APIs — acknowledging that some aspects of these apps would be degraded as a result. Today, we are facing technical and business constraints we can’t ignore. The User Streams and Site Streams APIs that serve core functions of many of these clients have been in a “beta” state for more than 9 years, and are built on a technology stack we no longer support. We’re not changing our rules, or setting out to “kill” 3rd party clients; but we are killing, out of operational necessity, some of the legacy APIs that power some features of those clients. And it has not been a realistic option for us today to invest in building a totally new service to replace these APIs, which are used by less than 1% of Twitter developers.

Rob also posted on Twitter’s blog a very disingenuous, and condescending version of this where he outlined all the features that Twitter offers, while not mentioning that Twitter fully controls the experience in third party apps, including what features they have elected to withhold from third parties over the years.

Basically, he’s saying that this is technical debt – something that was quickly implemented, not revisited, and now it has them in a position where it would require significant investment.

This is, of course, going on concurrently with all of the other issues that Twitter is having. They were in the headlines a couple weeks ago because of their stance on allowing their platform to be used by a conspiracy theorist. Twitter CEO, and co-founder, Jack Dorsey is hiding behind his own rules as reasons why he can’t do anything. The same rules that have a clause for “noteworthiness” which is used as an excuse to leave other bad actors on the platform.

Those bad actors all have accounts emblazoned with the puffy, blue checkmark which serves as an exclusive verification. Intended as identity confirmation, but selectively handed out in a way that makes it look like Twitter imparts some degree of worthiness to the person. From Tony Romm’s Washington Post piece with Jack:

Twitter’s new policies are being tested at the highest level — including by President Trump, whose tweets are a direct challenge. On Tuesday, Trump called former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who recently published a tell-all about her time at the White House, a “dog.” He also attacked Harley-Davidson on Sunday for moving jobs overseas — a move that precipitated a 2 percent drop in the company’s stock price.

Dorsey stuck to his long-held view that an exception generally would be granted to Trump because his comments are newsworthy and give users crucial insights as to how “global leaders think and treat the people around them.”

Functionally, it also makes accounts behave differently, with verified users having tweets surfaced in places they otherwise would not be. The overhaul of that verification system has been put on hold to focus on election integrity.

Last November, Twitter paused its account verifications as it tried to figure out a way to address confusion around what it means to be verified. That decision came shortly after people criticized Twitter for having verified the account of Jason Keller, the person who organized the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

This is also a problem for Twitter’s other products, like Periscope, where it categorizes Alex Jones as “News”. One of his videos on Periscope was where he incited his fans to get their “battle riffles” and his personal account, and Info Wars’ account were put in read only mode. Twitter doesn’t answer why it would have ever classified Info Wars as “News” at all.

Every interview with Jack, every tweetstorm of business-speak, just makes it seem like he’s trapped inside of his own creation and he doesn’t know what to do.

The extremely camp ending of Disney’s ‘The Black Hole’ where the damaged robot has entombed his creator and become a new being ruling over a hellscape populated by the lobotomized former crew of the Cygnus.

Twitter has so much on it’s plate that it continually says it will address, and that once it does it will improve discourse on its site, and safety of people in the world. The longer they take to move on these problems the worse these problems become. When Twitter allows a user to be a bad actor, to gather a following, to get verified, and then be too important to ban, then they create a kind of social technical-debt.

Conversely, when I continue to use Twitter, surrounded by misery and panic over these bad actors, because I’ve invested too much time there, that’s also a kind of debt. Realizing that my retweets of troubling articles mean nothing, and that the caustic, high-speed flow of minor news-fluctuations pumped into my veins doesn’t improve the world.

Other platforms exist, but they aren’t as popular, “they don’t have critical mass”, but whatever. I’m transitioning from Twitter to Mastodon for all my microblogging needs. If I get bored I’ll chat on Slack, or pen a letter.

The benefit of Mastodon is that it’s not a company, but a series of instances all run by different people. Think of it more like email. Anyone can host an email server (but why), and they can send emails to other people not on their email server. Just in this case it’s an “instance”. I can block instances I don’t like, and I can still communicate with others that I do. There’s an admin for each instance to moderate and shape the kind of conduct that’s allowed on the instance. I’m on a private instance with a few friends, after having an account on the large “” instance which is the default place most people start. You can redirect followers if you move to another instance. All your data can be exported, including follow, block, and mute lists. I can take my stuff anywhere I would like to go. A “federated” timeline view exists, which shows all the stuff people on your instance are interacting with and saying. I found it unusable on, but on a smaller, more focused instance it’s worth looking at. App support is rough, but since third party app support is a real thing, maybe that will improve over time.

Fleeing to Mastodon is not a solution I would recommend to everyone, but the thought of being on Twitter is unpalatable to me at present. Perhaps, if Twitter ever gets around to all that they intend to get around to, they will have a more pleasant experience, but I don’t need to take that journey with them. They have had enough of my time.

My Mastodon Account

2018-08-19 08:00:00

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