Are Twitter’s changes really that bad?

Before I start with the meat of the article, I’d like to stipulate several things:

  1. I disagree with what Twitter is doing to third-party developers.
  2. I disagree with Twitter’s potential idea to force tweets of alternates opinions into someone’s feed.
  3. I agree with Twitter not kicking Alex Jones (I am not a fan of Mr. Jones in any way, shape, or form). Although if they would kick him off for the reason they gave (IIRC Inciting violence – in this case against the parents whose children were killed in the Sandy Hook shootings) it is a defensible position. 

Now that we have gotten the throat clearing out of the way I want to look at the technical issues of Twitter shutting off some API to third-party developers. 

Here is a screenshot I took from the latest update to my favorite Twitter client, Tweetbot:

When I look at these four big changes, I don’t get the feeling that they are so bad. In fact, I would argue it’s not a bad thing for your timeline to not be automatically refreshed and instead be refreshed every 2 minutes. The biggest thing to me is the loss of the activity tab. However, is not having that information a deal breaker? I don’t think so. 

Let me reiterate, I am not looking at any of the “political” choices Twitter has made and is looking to make. Just looking at the technical limitations Twitter is putting onto third-party developers. From what I can see you can still use third-party apps and not be affected all that much. 

Birds and Mastodons – A Brief Comparision of Twitter and Mastodon

We’ve known for a while that Twitter will be limiting third party applications (like the excellent Tweetbot which I use on both macOS and iOS). There is even a federation of third party developers trying to fight the change Twitter wants to make. It’s understandable why Twitter is making these changes; they want all the eyes on their web site for the advertising. It’s ironic because a lot of why Twitter became popular in the first place is because of the third party applications that were out there flogging Twitter when it first came into existence. 

With this change about to happen combined with my wanting to leave Twitter (something I have been thinking about for a month or two) I started looking into alternatives. The first one I heard about was a service I am not going to link to or really mention because it has a lot of neo-Nazi types there and quite frankly it freaked me out. Needless to say I wasn’t going to participate there. 

A few days ago I heard about another service that was running called Mastodon. It is open source and distributed and looks interesting. I decided to sign up and give it a try. Here are some initial thoughts about it and how it compares to the 800-pound blue bird

  • It’s distributed so this means there are multiple instances with different focuses (Sci-fi, politics, etc) and you are able to follow people from these different instances on the instance you are on. I decided to sign up for the general instance. These different instances may have different rules so you need to be careful.
  • The interface is four columns across. One for your post (which they call a toot – ah open source don’t ever change!), the second for your home feed (those people you are following), a third for any notifications (replies, favorites, and the like), and the fourth can be a big firehose (the local timeline – all the people logged into the same instance) or a gigantic firehose (the federated timeline – everyone on all instances). Be warned, the information comes fast and furious.
  • On the desktop side, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of options for a client. I’ve tried out one from the App Store and it is OK, I guess. The story on the iOS side is better. I went with an app called Tootdon and it seems to be a good solid app.
  • I wish it had a way to remember where you were up to on the site. When there are new toots in the local or federated timelines you go straight to the top. I’d like to be able to pick up from where I left off and see what’s new from there.
  • One of the things that I’ve really liked about Twitter is Tweetmarker (the brainchild of Manton Reese), it allows you to sync where you are up to and pick up on any device that supports the service. This is a feature. service that would be wonderful to have on Mastodon. 

There have been other services out there that tried to beet Twitter at the microblogging game. Can Mastodon do that and gain a critical mass of people? To be very cliché, only time will tell.