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I remembered how awful it is to go viral
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I Gave Into The New Twitter Algorithm And I Went Way Too Viral
After Elon Musk launched the For You feed, my engagement on the platform tanked and I basically stopped posting on it. I would put out links to Garbage Day, they would get like 5-10 retweets (if that), and I had sort of accepted that my time using the site regularly was over. But as I was lurking on the app, my very sick and compulsive content-making brain started to turn on and I began to slowly get how the site worked now. So I finally decided to put my theory to the test and it worked both times.
*Very sad man who pays for Twitter making a thread to desperately advertise his SAAS startup voice* Here’s how I did it…
My Occam's razor assumption is that the For You algorithm was cobbled together from existing parts. I fundamentally do not believe Elon Musk is capable of building anything himself and so I tried to find older metrics on the platform that could be measured to determine visibility. The For You page will say if it’s showing you a tweet because it was liked by someone you follow or posted by someone that’s followed by someone you follow. But there were a whole bunch of other tweets in my feed all of a sudden I couldn’t explain, like that woman that rotates sandwiches. My first clue as to how this was working was Derek Guy, the menswear guy. In early January, I noticed that Guy was all over my timeline. And others quickly did too. My timeline was also full of gimmick accounts, but, specifically, ones focused on very basic topics. So my working theory became that the For You algorithm initially launched using accounts tagged for Twitter Topics, the sorting tool the platform created in 2019.
I also noticed that the algorithm seems to prioritize tweets that are talking about already-viral content, as in quote tweets or tweets that can easily fit within trending topics. This would explain, partially, why users are reporting seeing quote tweets about the same posts over and over and over again. I’ve noticed that same effect tends to happen on posts that fit within different subreddits on Reddit too. A funny or cringey picture of a “help wanted” sign ending up on r/pics and r/antiwork, for instance. The fact that Musk is both a huge embarrassing nerd and also launching Twitter Coins, which are literally a thing Reddit already has, made me start thinking about Twitter as a sort of meaner Reddit.
Then, earlier this month, Musk tweeted a bit about how the initial For You algorithm was being impacted by block counts. Most of what he wrote is gibberish and, once again, I don’t think he’s capable of pushing any meaningful changes to the site, one, because he’s devoid of any imagination or creative thought and, two, because he’s laid off most of the company at this point. But I figured if he did change the way block counts impacted the algorithm, maybe my account would show up more now. As I explained in a previous issue, I’m blocked by a lot of people, which seemed to explain why I suddenly had no engagement on the site anymore. So perhaps now was the time to get back in the ring.
And, finally, I recently noticed Musk doing a very specific trick that is mainly done by teenage tweetdeckers trying to sell dildos and promote Telegram channels for hentai, NFT spam bots, and, of course, weird tech guys making long threads about growth-hacking their open relationships using their Notion second brain or whatever. He was replying to his own tweets.
Extremely cringe, but useful for me in trying to reverse engineer how this extremely broken website works now!
So my hypothesis went like this: Twitter is using invisible subreddits via Topics to algorithmically organize tweets. Because the For You page isn’t chronological anymore, viral tweets can’t be as timely as they used to be. They have to be kind of evergreen. It helps if they’re commenting on something that’s already going viral. And it really helps if you post a thread, reply to yourself, or create some kind of discussion in the replies. There also seems to be a bigger emphasis on video now.
My first attempt at gaming the algorithm was this thread about the dangers of AI. It was a long thread about a topic that I knew Twitter was tracking, AI, and it was a hot take that generated a lot of replies. And it worked! It’s the first tweet I’ve had break 1,000 retweets since November 2022.
Cool, but I wanted to try it again and lean even further into the algorithm, which meant I needed to find a video that was already going viral and getting a lot of quote tweets, reply to a bunch of replies, reply to myself, and make sure it was something totally evergreen. And if you want to go viral it’s always best to focus on something you sincerely care about, so, when I saw this video about Marvel movies going viral and getting lots of quote tweets, I decided to jump in, as well. My tweet wasn’t hugely popular initially, but I spent about 45 minutes replying to people who commented on it. Then I closed the app and didn’t check it until the next day.
The tweet went nuts overnight. Over 8,000 retweets, millions of “views,” and, immediately, I remembered why going viral on Twitter sucks so bad. Lots of Marvel fans were very angry with me because I’m an older millennial that engages in fandom as a way to critique and discuss topics that interest me, instead of how Gen Z engages with fandom, which is more of a mildly-fascist personality cult you pledge hysterical allegiance to as a way to push it further up a digital leaderboard within the greater online attention economy. But, to be clear, I like the MCU, I’ve marathoned it in one sitting twice all the way through, but I also think it’s sad how the movies no longer feature characters, you know, being characters and interacting with their surroundings. They just stand in empty warehouses and fight on highways and in front of green screens. And how nothing that happens in them has any real impact on the plot because the scripts are being changed constantly up until they hit theaters (and sometimes even after).
Anyways, I can safely say I understand how Twitter works now. It’s basically just Reddit moving at the speed of Tumblr. Which is pretty sad tbh. And I’m still unclear how I can use any of this to promote Garbage Day, which is really the only use I have for the platform anymore. But, you know what? If this newsletter doesn’t pan out, at least I know how to effectively promote Galaxy projectors now.
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Lemme Use Your Dang AI!!!
Over the weekend, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was releasing their own large language model called LLaMA. It’s, of course, impossible to tell if Zuckerberg used it to write the announcement post because of, you know, the personlessness of his usual public communication style. But there’s now a LLaMA research paper out (boring) and a Github page (also, boring).
Let us use your AI! If it’s so “state-of-the-art,” let’s give it a whirl. First, even though consumer-level AI tools are pretty dangerous and unpredictable for society, I think, right now, at least, letting people try them is generally good. It helps us play out different scenarios and, also, I think it really does go along way when it comes to media literacy. Plus, new technologies aren’t judged on utility, but access.
What’s interesting is this morning Snap launched their own AI chatbot. It’s paywalled, but at least folks can try it out. Interestingly, as The Verge points out, Snap’s AI bot is a little more buttoned up than OpenAI’s ChatGPT, but, also, doesn’t come with any instructions. Which is very typical for Snap’s product philosophy, but, also, Snap’s product philosophy is almost always correct. The company over the years has struggled with being too early, but they tend to see the future and accept it for what it is faster than any other platform.
Which really brings us to the two sides of the AI arms race: There are companies like OpenAI, Microsoft, and, now, Snap, that have accepted generative AI and large language models are here and going to be part of our lives and will let us play with them. And there are the Google’s and the Meta’s, that are still releasing research papers telling us what their AI could do without really figuring out how to build something interesting with them.
Related to this, it’s also notable that like the metaverse craze last year, once again it feels as if we’re waiting for Apple to show their hand and determine the greater direction of the market.
The Future Weirdness Of The “Teen” TikTok Filter
I’ve seen a few tweets talking about a new “AI filter” on TikTok that makes you look like a teenager. I tried it out this morning and it glitched out over my beard, but seemed to work pretty well on my girlfriend. Though, it didn’t make either of us look like we did when we were teenagers.
The reactions from Gen X’ers on TikTok using the filter has been a lot more extreme. It’s making some of them get really emotional. If you click on the tweet above you can see a thread of examples. I’ve seen some snarky comments about performative crying, but I’m going to take these users seriously for a second. I can’t imagine how profound it must feel to use a filter that sorta-kinda looks like you used to decades ago.
But, also, at the same time, I do wonder if this effect is more impactful when you grew up before Myspace or Facebook or digital cameras. I have a pretty good sense of what I looked like at 16 because 16-year-old me is still alive inside of an album of photos on the internet. Which then kind of leads you to another question which is what this kind of filter technology will look and feel like when generative -I tools get good enough to use those albums of photos to actually recreate a living avatar of our former faces.
Some Additional Torments And Indignities From The World Of Twitter
Here’s a few more updates from the wacky world of Musk’s hardcore Twitter. He laid off more employees over the weekend. There’s less than 2,000 employees estimated to be left at the company. One of those laid off was former head of Product, Esther Crawford, who wants everyone to know that debasing herself by sleeping on the floor of her office wasn’t embarrassing at all and that she’s deeply proud of the work her team did at Twitter. I imagine all of that hard work on Twitter’s product is why her account still has the “official Twitter employee” badge on it a full 48 hours after she left the company. Seems like everything is working smoothly.
The same weekend Musk was laying off employees, he tweeted about wanting to have sex with transgender rats, using the derogatory 4chan slang “trap” and Twitter user @catturd2, who doesn’t work at Twitter but might as well at this point, claimed that the war in Ukraine was fake and a whole bunch of right-wing morons agreed with him. I also found out that @catturd2 blocked me. Impact, I guess.
Audio AI Is Moving Real Fast
A TikTok musician named @gengarcade created a “Kendrick Lamar AI filter” that turned his voice, in realtime, into something pretty close to Lamar’s. He has a few videos on his YouTube channel using an AI to make music in the style of a particular rapper. It looks like he’s primarily using a text-to-speech platform called Uberduck, but I’m less clear how he got the Kendrick Lamar voice to work as a vocal filter. But it’s some kind of real-time vocal synthesis happening via a stack of Ableton plugins.
Weirdly enough, on the flip side, Google’s AI is now able to identify music samples with very little audio. If you want to go down the rabbit hole about what this means for the sample hunting community, you can check that out here. Personally, I’m a huge sample hunter and love figuring out how certain songs were put together, but I also, you know, don’t want corporations to have this kind of tool readily available lol.
Someone Painted The Gaming Chair
The painting in the video above was created by Mauro C Martinez. His Instagram is here, but, fair warning, it’s as NSFW as an Instagram can be. If you don’t know what the painting is a reference to, there’s a whole genre of image that gets shared a lot on Reddit that I can only describe as masculine desolation.
As for where the painting is currently being displayed, it’s part of an exhibit Martinez is doing at Unit London in Mayfair, London, at the moment.
There’s probably all kinds of boring conversations we can have about the relationship between memes and art and yadda yadda yadda… But I think it’s cool. It makes me uncomfortable and feels sort of pretentious. Just like all good modern art should.
A Redditor Reveals An Important Detail
A redditor posted in the subreddit for the podcast Last Podcast On The Left about seeing an L. Ron Hubbard book at their local book shop. I don’t know anything about this podcast or subreddit — I have too much to perceive online already. But another user spotted what appeared to be the original poster’s bare feet in the photo. Which then led to this exchange:
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s some really good horse content.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***