It’s been four years since I described the 2018 Social Media Experience. Let’s see what’s changed in that time!

#Twitter is still like a train crashing into a burning dumpster. The old owner wouldn’t let firefighters in because they did such a brisk business selling marshmallows, and the new one thinks it needs more gas because the flames aren’t hot enough and it would be unethical to keep the fire down to even marshmallow-toasting levels.

#Facebook…TBH I haven’t been there in a while, but I get the impression it’s still like a large family gathering, only now conversation is mostly drowned out by your racist uncle/in-law’s soapboxing and the TV commercials for things related to his screed instead of just being interrupted by them, unless you can hide out in a different room, where you’ll still get interrupted by commercials for things related to your own conversation.

#Tumblr is the weird coffee shop you used to hang out in but you’ve outgrown. It was bought out by a national chain and homogenized into the ground, but they offloaded it to a smaller chain and now each location is allowed to have its own personality again.

#Mastodon is like a building with a lot of small parties going on: Not as many people in each room, but you can actually hear each other talk, and people will sometimes hang out in the hall or move to another room, connecting conversations together. But finding a good room can be tough.

#Pixelfed is like Mastodon, except everyone’s brought photos and made the room into a gallery.

#Instagram is like checking out your friends’ vacation photos, but every other photo is an advertisement, and half of your friends’ pics are full of product placement.

TikTok…from what I gather, it’s like being in a crowd with people you don’t know, and someone keeps pushing other people at you that they think you might want to talk to.

Of course, all of them have people who will Judge You because You’re Doing It Wrong.

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.

Instagram is now requiring you to sign in to view public profiles. You can still look at (for example), my Instagram profile, but once you scroll down a few pages, it pops up a login form and you’re stuck.

A spokesperson said, “This is to help people see photos on Instagram and then understand how to get the best Instagram experience by being part of the community, connecting and interacting with the people and things they love”

Oh, please.

This isn’t to help people.

This is to help Instagram.

This is to force people to sign up for Instagram just so they can see users’ photos that they have posted publicly.

Admittedly, Instagram has always kept the web at a bit of a distance. When it launched, they only had an app. Later you could follow a link to a photo on the web, but it was a dead end. Eventually you could actually browse your timeline, search, and look at people’s photo collections on a web browser. (Edit: Though they’ve never let you link out from a photo back to the rest of the web, unless you buy ads.)

And now they’re moving to close themselves off again.

I wrote a few months ago about how I’ve been weighing alternatives. As Facebook exerts more and more control, it becomes less appealing to use. And that’s not even getting into the train wreck of “influencer” culture.

Since then I’ve mostly stopped visiting Instagram, either to view photos or to post them. When I do, it’s frustrating. I’ve been posting more at Pixelfed (lead dev @dansup shared a link to the article at the top) and Mastodon, or just bypassing social networks entirely and going straight to Flickr. You can look at my complete archives on all of those sites, incidentally.

I’m not at the point of deleting my account yet, but I’m thinking it might be time to pull back more actively. Pare down the list of people I’m following, at least, in hopes that it will be a little more welcoming and useful when I do visit. Though I did that with Tumblr and haven’t been back much anyway.

And maybe I should start clearing out my archive. If people are only going to see a dozen or two of my photos, I should at least make sure they’re good ones, right?

Like many people, I’ve moved away from Facebook over the last couple of years. I haven’t deleted my account, but I only visit once or twice a month, and it’s been a long time since I’ve posted there. And like many people in that survey, I’ve come to prefer Instagram to Facebook. Friends and family seem a bit more relaxed there, and I follow interesting photographers rather than “brands” that are trying to sell me something.

But lately, it feels less like a photo sharing space and more like an ad delivery mechanism. Less like its own thing and more like Facebook Lite. Every time I visit, I remember Facebook will cheerfully squeeze every drop of monetization potential out of it and keep going. Every time I post, I remember that I’m handing personal data to a company that has been caught misusing it over and over again.

It just doesn’t spark joy anymore.

Where next?

Instagram has been where I post in-the-moment* snapshots, alongside Flickr for albums and my better photos, and my blog for topical images. I don’t want to flood either of those with random snaps. Twitter and Tumblr aren’t terribly appealing at this point, either.

Mastodon takes up some of the slack. I’ve found a great community of photographers at Photog.Social, but it’s more of a place for curated shots. I have a general account at Wandering.shop, and I’ve started posting amusing pictures there, but it doesn’t feel like the right place to post snapshots.

I was an early adopter of Pixelfed, jumping on as soon as it went into public beta. It’s designed to fit the same niche as Instagram, only with a decentralized volunteer model instead of attention-based ads. Even better: I can post photos on Pixelfed and boost them directly into Mastodon instead of cross-posting duplicates. But the community is still small. It’s at the stage where it feels like you’re shouting into the void because there aren’t a lot of people listening, rather than because there are a lot of other people for them to listen to.

At this point, I’m cross-posting photos across way too many accounts. I need to simplify. What I think I’ll do is reduce the number of places I post, and then pare down who I follow on each remaining site to the point where I can check in once in a while and it feels like I’m checking in on the people, not the service.

You can find me as KelsonV on Flickr, on Instagram, on Pixelfed, on Wandering.shop, and on Photog.Social.

*More or less. Sometimes the moment was three days ago.