39 Comments
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

This is certainly true, but when I read this I wonder what share of Twitter it represents. Quite a few people, I’m sure, use Twitter not as a status machine, but as a genuinely unique way of finding interesting comment, information, references. This leads to a « quiet » Twitter life made of likes, quote tweets, the occasional reply or thank you note, but this apparent quietness should not mask the immense value of Twitter for these users.

Expand full comment

I agree

Expand full comment

Agreed

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

One thing that might be useful is a downvote button, like with Reddit. If I see something on that site that I thinks is stupid or harmful, I don't have to engage with it or let it fester in my brain. I can just downvote and move on. On Twitter, I'm incentivized to engage with content that I think is bad, thus raising its profile and creating a more toxic environment. This doesn't directly get at the zero-sum social climbing that you're talking about, but it could help quiet down the atmosphere of encouraging rancorous discourse.

Expand full comment

Seems like it would exacerbate the toxicity, having just a single dimension of engagement with the Likes seems to be an intentional positivity focus. Twitter does support a Report button where you can describe why in a short dialogue, and those often do flag abuse and get a moderator response.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

I'm sort of curious about the reply-guy relationship from the big account perspective. Presumably there's some incentive to pass out likes and retweets to drive engagement (and engagement of a sort that encourages further engagement with big account).

Like, all the replies are definitely seeking reflected status (I get a thrill when a big account retweets an observation of mine, not gonna lie) but presumably there's some level of replies a big account wants.

Kind of like the Greeks leaving burnt offerings for the gods. The Greeks are doing it to get favors from the gods, but the gods also depend on the attention. Zeus is probably annoyed people have stopped burning the thigh bones of cattle to him.

Expand full comment

lmao this is spot on - right down to how rival tribes of reply-guys get together to desecrate the temples (menchies) of each other's favored blue checks.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Do you remember pingbacks?

Mid-2000s, peak blog era. There was a fantasy of moving discussion away from comment sections, and into each person writing replies on their own blog. Pingbacks were the technical fix to make that possible, along with Technorati and other blog-search tools.

That dream was roughly what twitter has achieved -- making it so that you can say whatever you like, but have no control over how other people react. Twitter just did it with more centralization, and less discussion of Voltaire or London coffee-houses.

Expand full comment

Twitter could do with more of the latter.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

My hot take: Twitter should copy Reddit and partition feeds by subject. It’s nice being able to drop in to subreddits and not have more toxic topics (which lets be honest, is 95% politics) pollute discourse. If you comment inside of a feed on another subject and it’s not relevant your comment gets deleted.

When I look at the baseball subreddit or gaming subreddit, etc. I have zero clue as to the political identity of anyone and it reminds you politics is only one facet of topics you can connect with someone on.

Make verified accounts pick 1-2 subjects they can broadcast from and they have to be normie randoms in the other subjects. Also, may be nice for some verified accounts to be able to escape the toxicity of their subject area. Like if some random politician wants to just comment on the NL East without having 100 crazies calling them a communist or fascist.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

They’re trying, but the current Twitter topic setup feels so janky and forced vs the user-prompted, consensus-driven subreddit model.

Expand full comment

You missed one of the best features for this that Twitter included from the start, optional pseudonymity.

If anyone doesn't want the hateful comments that come with tons of followers, then they can just start over. Reconnect with actual friends and leave the named account as a shell to post content or whatever.

Expand full comment
May 25, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

One challenge I have with Twitter is: if it is truly something "new under the sun" then why are the demographics of it so messed up?

70% of users are male. Only 30% female.

42% of twitter users have a college degree, despite only 30% of Americans holding a degree.

353 million users but 20% (68 million) of them are in the US, despite the US making up only 5% of the world population. There are a handful of other countries with broad twitter usage -- Japan and Brazil are both notable examples. But Germany only has 5 million users. India 11 million. Indonesia 11 million. Russia 9 million.

If you look at the top 20 Twitter accounts with the most followers there are *all* American -- except for Cristiano Ronaldo and Narendra Modi.

It isn't like Twitter is still new. It is rapidly approaching its 20th birthday and it is still a relentlessly American space on the Internet. It's not apples-and-oranges but compared that to the far more broad-based success of, say, Amazon and Twitter looks very provincial to me.

(Bias: I live in Vietnam and have never met a single person who uses Twitter that isn't American.)

Expand full comment

Twitter incentivises macho, loudmouth, know-it-all personalities, of which America may have an overabundance.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Worth noting that tumblr has (almost) all the same architecture here, but not these particular dynamics, because tumblr is much more radically insulated from IRL status (both because it's a "dead" platform, and because posting under your real name would be a local norm violation.)

Expand full comment

It’s been a real trip for me because I genuinely thought the Taipei journalism community was so nice until I got on twitter. Let’s just say I lost a LOOOOOOOOOOT of IRL friends since then. It’s had to say for sure because I’ve made some great online friends too, but I quite honestly think it might be a professional L for me so far. BUT I CAN’T STOP!

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

I think you have pretty much nailed it here. I started calling myself "reply guy" in my handle sort of as a joke on myself being a small account and constantly just commenting rather than generating content myself. Like here lol.

One more aspect I would mention is that there are some who try to build up a following simply by being a major critic of certain large follower accounts. I really don't like that because it seems manipulative. I won't name any names so as not to feed it.

Expand full comment
author

Heh. I think I can imagine who a couple of those are! ;-)

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

yup, seeing the comments here this am, I agree with how great twitter is for being able to directly not only comment back to well known thought leaders like yourself but also to get a lot of spontaneous thoughts from them. I love that.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

the metaverse solves this. i'm helping to build it. status as a service is bullshit; it's time that shit stopped.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

"X should spend less time on Twitter" is a true statement for all values of X.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Girardian dynamics are what make many of the social apps sticky. I think you’re right though, Twitter’s are the most extreme. It always amazes me to see how interactions between people get worse, the closer in status they are.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

it is the damnedest thing that René Girard has as much currency as he does among Bay Area techie types.

I mean, I understand why it happened (he taught at Stanford and especially influenced Thiel). But imagine going back to 1997 and trying to explain to people that one of the favorite intellectuals of the Wired magazine dotcom crowd is going to end up being a conservative Catholic French literary critic.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Considering that twitter is the same age as Facebook and it's still small potatoes compared to the Facebook ecosystem....also considering they struggle to monetize...I don't know if this status anxiety thing is actually working out well for them

Expand full comment
May 25, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

There’s also a sense of community in some parts of Twitter as well; not quite utility, not quite entertainment. What got me to join Twitter was all the conversations going on in Speculative Fiction Author Twitter; nowadays I ignore the award lists and just buy books that authors I like are speaking well of. Policy Wonk Twitter is also an interesting place.

Expand full comment
May 24, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Thoughtful and useful, especially if one has the capacity for self-reflection.

Expand full comment