Thoughts on continuing to use Twitter

Context

In a previous post1, I mentioned how my experience of Twitter is actually quite nice and I don’t encounter any of the craziness that other people report.

Is that still true? Well, yes and no.

The problem: “political” content

There isn’t really any escaping (hmm, what should I call it) “unexpected content” on Twitter, as long as the entity being followed is a Person and not a Topic2.

I had earlier decided to be “casual” in my use of Twitter, which led to me randomly following and liking posts and people in my stream.

The problem is, the “information ecosystem” for all “political facts”3 is extremely polarized. There are competing narratives4 for each “event”, and being neutral as a matter of principle, I end up seeing both sides.

This isn’t bad per se, and is … at least informative, but it puts me at odds with the (hmm, what should I call them) “reductionists”, who want to neatly classify profiles (people) based on who they follow and what they like.

So there really isn’t any more “casual use” on the platform, and there is much more that could be said about why that is, why the incentives turned out this way, “what could have been“ and so on, but either way, there is a need for a more guarded interaction.

Give up on Twitter?

For better or worse, I have found, and keep finding, really interesting stuff on Twitter. There are people who share interesting images, or links, or articles. There are people who provide expert opinions on topics I like.

For me, this is a supplement to Reddit, except without strong subreddit boundaries.

Which is to say: there is real utility for me on Twitter, and I don’t want to lose that.

A task for myself: I should try to figure out what I’m really following on Twitter anyway. What are some themes in what I like, etc. Again, I don’t actually have time to do this thoroughly, so maybe just broad impressions.

Decisions/actions

What I’ve decided to do for now, slowly, gradually, is filter out any profiles where I judge most tweets are political.

I don’t have time to sit down and do this at one go5

So instead, each time I find myself scrolling through my feed, and I see too much political content6, I’ll ask myself if there is any topically interesting tweets at all from this profile, and if not, simply un-follow.

I’ve done this a bit already, and I expect it’ll be a few months before I’ll (probabilistically) get close to examining all my follows, but that’s the plan for now.

Digression: what is the best way to “thread” posts?

Retro-actively go back and apply a common tag? Create a linked list of posts? Lazy right now so will do neither.

There are a bunch of non-linear textual tools I use locally for this, but what’s the online equivalent? Again, lazy right now, will stick to WordPress, with its linear post timeline. But later … maybe one of TheBrain, Roam, or Notion.

Some other options

Just to brainstorm alternatives (for my future self, in case he has more time and interest)

  1. I could create multiple twitter accounts, for different “bundles of interest”, each me7, but a part of me.
  2. I could create a pseudonymous account and allow that one to be the one where I resume casually browsing stuff8.


  1. “Using Twitter the right way” ↩︎
  2. There are many possible ways a “topic” could be represented, I guess the spectrum runs from loosely-specified (think tags, hashtags, phrases) to strictly-specified (think subreddits) ↩︎
  3. So much of “putting words in quotes”, right? ↩︎
  4. Though well-visualized in Twitter’s new conversation view, so good on that. ↩︎
  5. The total number of profiles I’ve ended up following is surprisingly high, nearly 5000! It would take a couple hours, at least, to go through all of them. ↩︎
  6. Sometime later, I should mention how my news consumption patterns changed for the better in general. ↩︎
  7. Like namespaces within me, which is how I would really want profiles to be, dis-aggregated and reflecting our true sub-selves. ↩︎
  8. The right way for this would have been a single “read-only” view that everyone could have, of the entire graph of tweets. Imagine if we had the contract “you can either be authenticated and share/comment, or be pseudonymous and like/follow, but not comment.” ↩︎

Using Twitter the right way (!)

Apparently there was a massive Twitter hack1 yesterday, and some folks clearly made a bunch of money2 off it too.

I didn’t notice this, though I do spend several minutes a day on Twitter. I guess it’s probably because I don’t have a lot of verified accounts that I follow, and I stick to sort of the “long tail” of Twitter.

My Twitter experience is most pleasant, and (I feel) quite informative too, which is very much the opposite of what most people experience.

I think the lesson is clear, for these “giga-social-network”3: stay away from the “home page”4, stay away from the popular stuff5.

FWIW I do the same6 at Reddit (the only other7 “giga-social-network” I allow myself to use right now). And I’ve had a similar good time there8 too.


  1. all “the big names” ↩︎
  2. can I haz bitcoin? ↩︎
  3. because mega isn’t big enough ↩︎
  4. I’m aware of the implication here: to provide this enjoyable long-tail interest-driven experience, a large mass of people endure the hell of context-less random responses, trolling, centi-threads, bans, “angry speech”, and so forth; I’m not trying to diagnose any of that here. Yet. ↩︎
  5. The folks at Wired seem to have reached a similar conclusion ↩︎
  6. i.e. don’t follow overly-popular sub-reddits ↩︎
  7. No, haven’t gotten back to Facebook yet ↩︎
  8. though again, “toxicity” and “hate” seem to be widely experienced ↩︎

Journalling flow

I’ve been doing this for perhaps four years now, so … it’s something I can write about. Here’s a rough outline:

  • I use Day One1
  • Every day, I write one entry on what happened that day
  • Optionally (this is something I only started doing in the last couple months, but I like it a lot already), I add a few pictures from the day
  • Once every week2, I go through the daily entries, and summarize what happened that week
  • Once every month, I go through the weekly entries, and summarize what happened that month
  • I share3 this monthly entry in a blog post
  • Once a quarter, I go through the monthly entries, and summarize what happened that quarter
  • Once a year4, I go through the quarterly entries, and get the “big events” for the year.
  • I also share the yearly update in a blog post.


  1. An app that lives on both my phone and laptop ↩︎
  2. usually Saturday night, i.e. right now ↩︎
  3. I think this started as a way to make up for not being on Facebook, more on which later… ↩︎
  4. yup, this one is the most satisfying 🙂 ↩︎

On the flow of text on the page

Xanadu

Ever since I’ve been doodling around on apps/tools like Notion1, Tinderbox2 and Roam3, I feel constrained when I look at the flow of text on a regular book.

Of course, it had to be that way in the beginning, because the printed word began with movable type, which had to be laid out in rows, and the page was composed of rows, and so words flowed top to bottom.

But (okay, speaking for myself here) I don’t think like that, and I don’t read like that either. If someone were to track my eye movement on the page of a book, it’s not dissimilar to that of a long-form article in the browser.

I don’t go left-to-right, top-to-bottom, I’m always darting around, going back and forth, summarizing as I go along, judging whether I want to proceed.

It would be interesting to see — while keeping the medium of paper — have a more random layout, perhaps with arrows linking blocks of text … maybe using colors and labels on links …. Just breaking down the wall of text that exists right now into tiny little pieces.

I’d read that.

  1. https://www.notion.so/desktop
  2. http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/
  3. https://roamresearch.com

On Apple Maps

I keep giving Apple Maps a chance, but it just can’t seem to recalculate routes!

What happens right now, whenever I veer slightly off-course, is I see this triangle representing my car just moving along, departing from that nice blue line it was so close to just a moment ago.

Now if I can make my way back, things do resume, which is … better than if it didn’t. But there doesn’t seem to be any point where it goes “hey, I think you’re way off course now, let’s find you a route from where you are now“.

I do like the traffic-light-based directions, and telling me I’ve entered the parking lot … that’s a nice touch! … but seriously, without route recalculation, it’s hard to pay attention to these other goodies.

Notion

I’ve always been prone to trying out new apps in the note-taking, information-herding, organizing, brain-storming, storing-and-finding space, not because I like shiny new things (I used to like shiny new things earlier, I don’t any more, I really don’t …), but because I’m always looking for that one thing that will magically “improve my flow”, help me write better, help me think better.

I had checked out Notion earlier, like I checked out a bunch of other things, but I think I didn’t give myself enough time with it, or perhaps I read too many reviews of what other people thought about it.

I tried it again recently, and I’m hooked. This is not just practically useful (in many, many, many ways), but also very satisfying in the sense of “I’m glad someone is doing this!”

As someone who’s also prone to wallowing in the “how did all the magic of the 60s and 70s come to this?”, I think this is a tool in the great tradition of Hypercard, of Xanadu, of Mindstorms, of the early intentions of Smalltalk, and of the legendary “mother of all demos” itself.

(As a minor aside, the only other such tool is Tinderbox, but that suffers to some extent from a lack of evangelism, and perhaps more from a lack of cross-platform-ness).

It’s not there yet (I understand the necessity of having an Electron app, but I’ll patiently sign up for the personal plan and wait a few years for the native app), but it has made its place as a tool to think.

(I expect I’ll have much more to say about this, over the next year)

Angst about the static blog (again!)

This is beyond frustrating … after I moved everything this year to a different layout and thought I was “finally done”, I’m now wondering whether the static site is a good idea at all.

The big bottleneck turns out to be having to SSH somewhere and regenerate/refresh the site that way, which was okay earlier, but feels like a drag now.

I really want to write whenever I get time, since I’m not always onmy laptop. So I resorted to making it “async”, decoupling the writing from a separate time when I go and copy-paste everything into new posts and re-generate … except I then forget to do this sometimes, and every time I write something, I realize I have to now remember to do this other step at some point.

It would be so much better if I could just publish whenever I write. This seems to suggest one of the usual hosted platforms, and then I have to wonder why I even have two separate blogs, and I think of all the effort it would take to convert what I have into a new format (sigh!).

I’m sure there’s a sweet spot that exists somewhere. Is this the kind of thing that Ghostwould provide? Or is this what Tumblr was supposed to be?

Is having a personal hosted site simply too old-school and I need a new kind of place for this?

Or should I just have this WordPress place and — I do want to keep these two “worlds” separate — have two sets of posts? Is that possible?

I just want to be able to write and publish and forget about it 😦

On writing with pen and paper

Very quickly: I love Baron Fig notebooks, both the larger, hard-cover Confidant, and the smaller, soft-cover Vanguard.

After a few years of trying different styles, I realized I vastly preferred white paper with light dots to either plain paper or ruled paper or grid paper, and simply will not use either of them again.

While we’re here, you can’t go wrong with a simple Lamy Safari to write with.

Continuing adventures in Tinderbox

Been using Tinderbox, in fits and starts, for a bit over a year now. I use it for all sorts of different stuff and the crazy bit is that I haven’t even scratched the surface,

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 9.19.11 PM
A sort of high-level daily work to-do pane .

 

I’ve used it for daily writing, for brainstorming, for just taking notes, and slowly but steadily trying on more of its feature set. The above shows an adornment for each day, with notes on them, and “task notes” outside, with todo/done states (based on a simple boolean done attribute), both of which are based on prototypes. The entire bunch is part of a composite within the main doc (yes, there’s a bit of vocabulary in the beginning).

The closest parallel I can think of, in a meta-sense, is Emacs — in the sense that it seems to have a huge learning curve and seems a bit useless at the outset, and unsophisticated, compared to a dozen other better-looking, niche tools.

And yet, both are completely programmable. You can define simple rules for the color of a note (as above, toggling between red and green based on a checkbox I added), or more complicated agents that gather notes based on arbitrary criteria.

It’s hard to even make a case for using it — though The Tinderbox Way is the closest I’ve found so far. I’d strongly recommend, on a day when you feel you have an especially open mind, to giving the free trial a try out.