Watered down (and better for it)
· 2 minute read
Studies have shown that algorithmic timelines drive more engagement than reverse-chronological timelines comprised exclusively of content that the user has explicitly chosen to follow. This makes sense—the overwhelming majority of social media users don’t build and cultivate robust networks on these platforms. As such, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that algorithmic timelines “outperform” what would likely otherwise be a pretty desolate experience.
That said, the few of us who did invest in curation got something even better. Every launch of Twitter or Reddit was comprised purely of exactly what you actually wanted to see. And if you used certain clients—an option that users of both services had until very recently—you could pick up right where you left off.
Exactly what you wanted and right where you left off, always. Without ads! The pure uncut experience. No wonder so many of us were addicted.
Things are very different today. Twitter and Reddit no longer let you use clients that provide this experience. “Following” timelines, while often still possible, no longer sync one’s position and routinely switch back to the algorithmic default. Low-quality ads fill every nook and cranny.
But beyond this, most importantly, there’s just no longer a single Twitter.
When everyone used Twitter, even the algorithmic feed—a worse experience than “Following,” to be sure—was OK. It was primarily comprised of tweets from accounts that you had actually followed, just in a different sort order. Now, with users spread across a myriad of different services, “For You” is full of performative, SEO’d clickbait—the likes of previously only seen on LinkedIn.
Before the diaspora there used to be one place to look and one place to post. But everything’s now spread across Twitter, Threads, Mastodon, and (I think?) Bluesky. Before posting, one must double-check if they’re sharing the right content for the right audience subset. Before reading, one must stop to remember if the app that they’re going to open is actually the one most likely to provide what they’re looking for in this moment. The likelihood that you’ll see what you want is reduced. The likelihood that the right audience will see what you posted is reduced. The likelihood that you’ll open multiple apps only to see the same content multiple times is increased. As is the likelihood that none of them provide the high that used to be available at will.
It adds up. It’s exhausting. It’s impossible to imagine that anyone who spent years with the uncut experience would spend nearly as much time doing all of this.
So we won’t. And we’ll be so much better for it. It couldn’t have been ideal for us to have spent so much time that way, but how could we not have?
We didn’t know how good we had it. But you can have too much of a good thing, so it’s better now that it’s worse.