Making the blue check mark mean “This person can afford $20/month” instead of “This person is who they say they are” is only the latest way Twitter has downgraded its signal/noise ratio over the years.

Word is that Twitter’s new owner is planning to charge $20/month for a blue check mark.

Which of course, means the blue checkmark will now be useless. Well, useless to the users of the site, anyway. It won’t tell you which of several accounts is really the person you’re looking for, just who has $20/month to spend on it. (Not that it was perfect, but at least it was a signal.)

It’s sort of like when SSL certificates went from being expensive and needing verification — so they were a sign that you were on the right website — to cheap and later free. Except an SSL/TLS cert still tells you something: your connection is protected from eavesdropping. The checkmark doesn’t tell you anything valuable.

But Twitter’s been messing with the signal/noise ratio for ages.

Downgrade the Signal

Ads themselves (or promoted tweets, or whatever you call them) are already adding noise. Then they started showing you other people’s “likes,” removing some meaning from the action and adding noise to the stream. These days they even show you tweets from people that people you follow are following.

On Mastodon I’ll sometimes get distracted from something I wanted to do or look for, but I can almost always get back to it. I’ll pop onto Twitter for 5 minutes to look for something and I’m there twice as long because I can’t find it in all the attention-grabbing “features.” The other day I decided to unfollow all the corporations and organizations and only keep the actual people on the list, and I still had trouble finding things.

I suppose from Twitter’s perspective it worked, because I was there for 10 minutes instead of 5…but it makes me less interested in coming back later.

Every bit of noise you add to a signal cuts down on how much value the listener gets out of it. Eventually the ratio is no longer worth it, and all that attention you managed to extract from them by ratcheting up the noise drops to zero.

While I’m griping about Instagram, why the heck are the detailed notification preferences split between the app and the system notification UI?

That’s terrible design.

Well, if it’s intended for usability, anyway.

If your goal is to make people see more notifications, though… 🙄

Yeah.

IMO there are two sensible ways to handle granular push notification preferences:

  1. Use the system’s per-app settings for all of it. (Tusky does this, even putting your per-account preferences in the system UI.)
  2. Use the app’s settings for all of it, and let the system just be an on/off toggle for what you’ve chosen in the app (like it was before Android even had UI for it).

Either way, everything’s in the same spot so you know you haven’t missed anything you want to turn off. Or anything you want to turn on, for that matter.

One of the things I like about Mastodon and Pixelfed and the rest of the Fediverse vs commercial social networks is that they don’t TRY TO GET MY ATTENTION every time I open the page or app and offer ALL THESE THINGS I SHOULD BE LOOKING AT that might be relevant to what it thinks my interests are, to make sure I stay online and don’t stay away again for sooooo long! (Even if it’s only been a few days.)

Seriously:

  • I opened Instagram for the first time in at least a month and I was bombarded with more ads and recommendations than photos from people I was actually following.
  • I opened an alt profile in Twitter yesterday to post something off the cuff, and all the trending topics, pushing new features, etc. were like walking onto the Las Vegas Strip when all you want is a sandwich.

Never mind the normal “You haven’t logged onto Twitter in a few hours, here’s all the stuff you missed, and look, people are posting new stuff while you’re catching up, you’d better keep scrolling! What, you switched to another app for five seconds? Here, I’ll scroll it for you!”

Compared to Mastodon just showing you the latest that you’re actually following. And if you want to fill in what you missed, that’s up to you.

(There’s also the posting culture. On Twitter, people are used to discussing DOOOOOM all the time, so even curating your timeline isn’t always enough if you want to follow people talking, I don’t know, astronomy or whatever, because they’re also talking doom. And the algorithm reinforces it at both ends in a vicious circle, encouraging doom-posting and encouraging doom-scrolling.)

Choice Complaints

None of these complaints is inherent to the structure or functionality of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. They’re deliberate UI design choices to optimize for the company’s targets. A third party client could bypass it all (which of course is why they basically don’t allow those anymore).

Similarly, Mastodon and Pixelfed and so on could implement UI like this, but they don’t. The project goals aren’t engagement at all costs. And each instance can have its own goals.

Or someone could add an ATTENTION-GRABBING EXPERIENCE on top of the code and launch their own service. And those of us on other instances, running different software, wouldn’t be affected. Unless the site injected ads into the ActivityPub streams going out to people following its users, in which case I imagine a lot of instances would block them really quickly.

Or they could write an app that adds extra popups and keep-scrolling incentives to the phone experience!

I’m not sure many people would consider that an improvement.

Then again, people do use Yahoo mail. 🤷‍♂️

Expanded from Mastodon.

Two hot takes (so to speak):

Auto-updaters shouldn’t run when the system is really busy.

And installers that check to see the whether the same or newer version is “already installed” should either be really thorough about what they’re checking, or offer to do a repair install anyway.

Overheat!

I’d fired up a game of No Man’s Sky, which even after redoing the thermal paste and adding another case fan still pushes the limits of my system’s cooling, especially if I forget to wait for all the background processes to finish loading on Windows startup. I left a space station, landed on a planet, started mucking around with the structure I had found, and hit a waypoint pole to save again—

And the system shut down.

I turned it back on to get the fans running again and help cool off. Which worked. But when I logged in, I had a bunch of errors with Google Drive. Apparently its auto-update launched during my GPU-intensive game and overheated it enough to reach the shutdown threshold.

Fortunately, I’d just saved my game — or so I thought.

I spent about half an hour trying to fix Google Drive before I decided to just go back to the game for now.

No Man’s Sky picked up seamlessly…at the previous save. Maybe the write cache hadn’t been flushed yet or something. I’m glad I only lost about a minute of gameplay, though… I’ve got several hundred hours on this save file, and I’d hate for it to get lost or corrupted!

Anyway, back to Google Drive. I couldn’t reinstall it because I couldn’t uninstall it, and despite my efforts I couldn’t remove enough traces of it for the installer to be willing to run. You can read the whole reinstalling Drive saga on my troubleshooting site, along with the taskbar that lost its icons halfway through.

I eventually fixed it by copying the installed program files from another system and running the uninstaller manually. That resolved both the taskbar icons and the Drive installer being willing to run.

Then I dragged myself into bed.

Yeah, it was a fun Saturday night. 🙄

On Monday, the home laptop mysteriously started lagging on heavily-modded Minecraft worlds that it had been just fine with the day before. Katie tried all kinds of troubleshooting over the next few days: using different launchers, trying local and server-based games, disabling mods, reinstalling Sophos, rebooting the system repeatedly. Nothing helped.

Until she checked the system update panel. Sure, it had a notification dot, but it always has one because it wants us to update to Big Sur, and we’re not quite ready to upgrade the system from Catalina. So it wasn’t obvious that it hadn’t actually installed Monday’s macOS update despite multiple reboots and a checkbox to automatically install updates.

Not that you’d expect a missing update to be the cause of the problem, since the lag only just started happening. But still, worth a shot. Especially since it started around the time the update was released.

(Incidentally, 2.3 GB? It’s only been a few weeks since the previous update. Did Apple just give up on deltas a while back and start shipping the entire OS every time there‚Äôs a bug fix?)

She had to manually tell it to install, and then force-shutdown the machine, because it wouldn’t restart on its own. Then the update installed.

And the Minecraft lag mysteriously disappeared.

Which means one of two things happened. Either:

  • Just knowing that the update existed caused something to chew up or block resources.
  • The OS silently started to install the update and got stuck, leaving the system in a broken state without telling anyone.

Neither of those is what I’d call encouraging.