Someday soon, you will tweet for the last time
Read to the end for a good meme about British politics
Why Didn’t Twitter Become The TikTok Of Text?
I feel more than a little vindicated this morning thanks to a Reuters report that went out yesterday revealing that Twitter’s power users — which are defined as people who log in almost daily and tweet more than 3 times a week 🥴 — have been in “absolute decline” since the start of the pandemic. Out of curiosity, I went back through my own archives and it was on December 2, 2020 when I was first said that I thought the site was dying. So I’m glad my instincts are still right!
But it’s not just Twitter that feels like it’s dying. Facebook’s problems are well-known at this point. Snapchat has had two very punishing quarters. Instagram is having an existential crisis that has caused the Kardashians to question their need for the app. And this quarter, YouTube’s revenue declined for the first time. It’s enough that the New York Times’ Kevin Roose wrote this morning that “the industry increasingly feels as if it’s having an identity crisis.” Earlier this year, I argued that it was a midlife crisis — with ridiculous dreams of metaverses, live audio apps, Bitcoin payments, and NFT video game clothes taking the place of young new girlfriends and boat payments. Of course, based on what I see from Silicon Valley elites, it seems like both are happening.
Let’s tackle the obvious. Social media, as a whole, isn’t dying, but it’s changing. I don’t know where I heard this recently, but someone told me that our social networks are splitting down the middle and becoming either social apps or network apps. And I think that’s right. The smarter of these apps like BeReal and TikTok have realized they can just make their network apps optimized for the contact lists on their phones and package their content in a format that instantly identifies it as a TikTok or a BeReal when you see it in the wild.
What’s interesting is that Twitter should actually be thriving right now. And according to Know Your Meme’s excellent Meme Origins project, which I have to resist citing every week, Twitter was actually doing very well, at least culturally. It’s responsible for the majority of the memes being shared online right now. And it’s actually perfectly suited for our current moment — its format type, the tweet, is immediately recognizable when shared across other platforms, it has a good functional direct messaging system, it’s a great way to find and share memes and trends, it has a ridiculously low-friction posting interface, and it has a bunch of real celebrities on it, as well as a TV news anchors. So what gives? Why isn’t Twitter becoming the TikTok of text? Well, my best guess is it’s the moderation.
Twitter has never been able to deal with the fact its users both hate using it and also hate each other. There’s a lot of explanations for why. You could argue that by actively courting journalists and politicians early on, it just absorbed the toxic negativity of those spheres. But I think it’s largely about boundaries. TikTok, though its search is beginning to open up the platform more, is relatively siloed. Your TikTok experience and my TikTok experience are, presumably, totally different. And even if we see the same meme or trends on the app, chances are we’re seeing different lenses of it. While on Twitter, because there are no guardrails, content is constantly careening across the whole network. This is what people call the Main Character Effect of Twitter. It is not only possible, but very common for the majority of the site to see the same tweet.
What’s interesting is that other sites have attempted to address the inherent violence of too much digital attention. The most successful, I’d argue, is Reddit. The site’s community is, still, not great, but the subreddit and upvote/downvote systems actually do a surprisingly decent job of both adding context to trending content and self-moderating discussion. For instance, this morning the top post on r/all is a post from r/news titled, “Germany to legalize cannabis use for recreational purposes” (lmao god Reddit). The top comment is “If weed is not for you I can totally understand. But blocking other people from enjoying it makes zero sense.” Kind of boring, but for a casual user, it gives you a sense of where this post came from and some version of consensus about why it’s trending. And what’s even nicer is there are a few different sorting filters, in case you want to dive deeper into the discourse. Compare that with the normal Twitter experience.
The most typical way users encounter trending content is when a massively viral tweet — or subtweets about that tweet or the discourse it created — enters their feed. Then it’s up to them to figure out what kind of account posted the tweet, what kind of accounts are sharing the tweet, and what accounts are saying about the tweet. Or you see viral tweets courtesy of the app’s Explore page, which is literal hell. This morning, the top trending topic in the United States was apparently “orange chicken,” which I think is because of this meme, but it could also be because everyone is fighting over whether Panda Express is good. It’s madness and, frankly, for a platform that is old enough to drive and one so central to breaking news, civic engagement, and, during the pandemic, the transmission of vital public health updates, it’s frankly embarrassing.
Making things worse, every time Twitter adds in new features for managing discussion they inadvertently just create more chaos on the site. Giving users the ability to limit or turn off replies, but also releasing a quote-tweet option is probably the most outrageous product decision I’ve ever seen in my life.
Anyways, a lot of readers have messaged me over the last couple years saying some version of, “well, Ryan, we know you hate Twitter, but I’ll miss it when it’s gone.” And I want to say that I don’t hate Twitter. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had online has been thanks to Twitter. I’ve made life-long friends (and enemies) through Twitter. But the last time I really enjoyed using the site was sometime back in 2018. And I’m mad to look at it now.
I could go on and on, but — and perhaps this is the real sign that Twitter is on its way out — I’m actually getting kind of bored of thinking about the site. I have accepted that someday in the near future, I will log in for the last time. So I’ll end with this:
Typically, there are a few ways a social network “dies”. There are the ones that die a true death, like my sweet beautiful Vine. And there are ones that sort of shuffle along as zombies, decomposing, but never really ending, only getting smaller, more insular, and more grim as the last casual users leave. Based on how addicted some people are to the site, I assume Twitter will be the latter. Which means, I can sort of imagine a version of this classic @leyawn post, only this time it’ll be someone “checking in on how the people who are still on Twitter are doing.”
I’m performing at a Halloween-themed show at Caveat in New York tonight. It’s going to be a blast. You can pick up ticket here!
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A Good Tweet
Venture Capitalists Bet On The Wrong Future
The Wall Street Journal has a great piece out today looking at how investment firm Andreessen Horowitz has seen their massive $4.5 billion crypto fund deflate by almost 40% this year. The firm says that they’re still committed to crypto and are saying that they’re taking a “long-term horizon” view of the industry, but, I mean, I would also say that if I invested billions of dollars in a tech sector that basically evaporated overnight.
As we’ve gotten more distance on the whole crypto/web3 mania of last year I’ve come away with four areas that I think crypto evangelists were actually largely correct about:
People will pay for digital content and digital goods
(American) fintech and digital payment processing is janky garbage and laughably behind the rest of the world
Internet communities, not platforms, are currently in the driver’s seat of culture
Automation is coming whether we like it or not and those who learn to work with it, not against, will win the next era of information technology
The issue is that crypto investors and developers thought they could solve all four of these things at once by automating digital payments, online communities, and digital goods with a blockchain. It’s very ironic that the “decentralize the future” crowd only has one very centralized solution to all of the internet’s problems.
Of course, crypto could come back. And I’ve heard the theory that a lot of web 1.0 investors view the current crypto winter as a dot-com bubble crash rehash, hoping to swoop in and buy up infrastructure for cheap in time for another bull run in a year or two. But my bet is that five years from now, we’ll be looking back at the early 2020s crypto investors as the first losers of the A.I. arms race. They’re the folks who saw the future clearly, but got too distracted by quick money to grab on to it.
I Love This Possibly Very Stoned Guy On TikTok
He goes by @tonythreenuts. His videos are sorta deadpan reactions to wild TikTok content. I find him very peaceful and reassuring. (Here’s a Tumblr mirror of one of his videos if you can’t get on TikTok.)
There’s An A.I. Tweet Generator
Even if Twitter dies, we’ll still be able to imagine what it could be like thanks to this fun A.I. project created by Tweet Hunter. I definitely don’t agree with A.I. Twitter Ryan’s opinions on The Office, but I do love his enthusiasm for Buckaroo Bonzai.
Casey Neistat Made A Video About Kanye West
If you haven’t been following this, Casey Neistat has moved back to New York and seems to be going through something that feels like a creative renaissance of sorts? His new batch of New York videos are just a really captivating mix of low-stakes DIY projects, random slice-of-life moments, and, like the video above, bespoke and thoughtful video essays.
I think his Kanye video is a good and compassionate take on the current situation with West from the point of view of a long-time fan. But I also just think that now is, more broadly, a good time to watch Neistat’s videos. Especially if you’re someone who has really been craving the classic age of The Good Ass Vlog.
The Side Effect Of Tumblr’s New Porn-Free NSFW Filter Is Apparently A Rise In Diaper Fetish Content
Look, I know that sentence is… A LOT. But I also think there’s a really interesting product story here. So last month, Tumblr released a series of, I think, very smart filters to their dashboard. Users now have the option to blur or hide completely violent or sexual content. Some users mistook this to mean that pornography was allowed back on the site, which isn’t true. But fetish content that doesn’t explicitly show genitalia or “female-presenting” nipples has always been allowed on the site post-porn ban. And the new filters were a fairly smart signal from Tumblr to its users that that kind of content is fair game.
On Monday, I wrote that a gun-touting diaper fetishist was paying to promote their photos via Tumblr Blaze, the platform’s new advertising tool that lets anyone essentially shotgun blast content at the site’s users without any tracking or algorithm. But Tumblr does have two algorithmic feeds. There’s a “For You” tab and a “Recommended For You” tab, which weirdly seem to show different stuff. Best as I can tell, they recommend posts based on tags and your followers. Well, after getting the diaper fetish Blaze post in my feed earlier this week — which, again, was served to me by Tumblr itself — it seems as if my “Recommended For You” tab thinks I would like to see more adult diaper content (I don’t).
Why are there apparently aggressive diaper fetishists on Tumblr? Well, it’s a fetish that easily bypasses the platform’s moderation rules. So, in summary, regardless of what Apple’s App Store wants, extreme horniness always finds a workaround.
Some Stray Links
“What the ‘Cool Kids’ Are Super Into” (in case you want a fun thing to rage over)
P.S. here’s a good meme about British politics.