Sunday, 18 September 2016

Ditching Social Media for Good Ol' Blogs

Don't worry, this isn't a Twitter-hating, "I'm leaving social media forever because I'm more enlightened than you" story. I'm not deleting any accounts or pleading for some kind of social change. I am however, in my own small way, attempting a small step away from the increasingly chaotic social networks of Facebook and Twitter.

There are two primary reasons for this.

1. Algorithms = Mayhem

Social media is becoming increasingly non-linear, and I don't like it. I'm not sure whether I'm in the minority on this. I enjoyed Facebook a lot back when the most recent content was always displayed at the top of the page. It was so easy to comprehend, easy to stay up to date, easy to check if you'd missed anything. Cut to today, and there's no sense of control over one's Facebook timeline. It's a madhouse. Facebook presents content in whichever order its mysterious algorithms believe to be most pleasing to me. Not only does this ruin my pleasurable sense of continuity, but if Facebook one's primary source of information, I see this system as socially damaging. Where is the learning in consuming only content that is pleasing to the reader? If I see only posts I like, by people that I agree with, am I not limiting my capacity for growth?

But hey, maybe it's perfectly logical for Facebook to use these algorithms. It's a website designed primarily for people to interact with their friends, and in that respect it's helpful for the site to understand which friends I genuinely want to see in my timeline and which I don't. Okay. But Twitter—that's a different story. Twitter has always been set apart by its free and simple nature. 140 character tweets, always displaying the most recent at the top, follow whoever you like. It's a design capable for great stories, interactions and discussions. But Twitter hasn't been doing so well financially, and they think they ought to become more like Facebook. So they're throwing away all of their fundamental rules. Soon Twitter will be non-linear and will have a greater focus on graphical content. Just like Facebook.

Also contributing to the chaos is the increasing volume of advertising on both Facebook and Twitter, but that's a whole nother thing. 

The "While you were away..." feature was an early sign of Twitter's non-linear plans.


Here's a patchy analogy for you. These social networks want to be like sitcoms, with long 24 episode seasons and no continuous plot, so you can jump into any episode at any time. That's fair thinking, the sitcom is a very successful genre. But personally I want my social media to be like serious, serialised TV. If I like content I want to see it all, in order, without missing anything. And this is why I'm preferring the blog format to people's Facebook posts which forever pounce around my Facebook feed, impossible to pin-down.

All of this would be perfectly palatable if not for my second grievance.

2. A Desire for Effort

This is pretty obvious, but Facebook and Twitter don't demand much from their content-providers/users. At the top of both websites rests a variety of the insatiable question, "What are you thinking?", which implies a valuable property in the answer, whatever it may be. Thus, the user is encouraged to contribute crap. Certainly, it doesn't have to be crap, and there's loads of brilliant content on both social networks, but the very nature of this permanent question, "What are you thinking?", suggests that whatever you've got right now will do. Feed me, it says. Anything. Right now.



And so it is between these heaving masses of thoughtless crap that we wade to find the brilliant content that Facebook and Twitter have to offer. I don't know about you, but years of scrolling through such brain vomit has elicited within my a strong desire for good-old considered publication.

Even a personal blog, as an individually-owned and permanent home of the posts within it, demands far more thought and meditation from its author than anything on the big social networks.

Trakt.tv is currently one of my current favourite social media networks, and this is partly because it works to foster effort from its users. On Trakt, a thoughtful user review of any length can not only receive likes from peers, but looks really good on the platform. In the chaotic clutter of Facebook and Twitter, people don't care as much about making themselves and their content look smashing. Perhaps these social networks are simply not designed to be fonts of useful content anymore. But many people do use them as precisely that.



All of this may never have been an issue for you, if you've always stayed true to official news media. But for people of my generation, social networks have replaced formal news formats.

I think it's all gonna be okay though, as long as we don't forget about the humble blog. (He said, on his blog.)

My hip new working setup for online information consumption is "the Google Reader method". Google Reader was a big RSS feed catching app back in the day, til Google ended it (RIP). Now there are a bunch of apps populating that void, the most popular being GReader, Inoreader and Feedly. After some research I have decided to use the latter of these.



And so this weekend I've slowly been punching in the RSS feeds of my friends' blogs, favourite news sites, authors I like and hey-why-the-hell-not the BBC. Feedly then produces my new go-to timeline, filled with a variety of thoughtful articles with real sweat and grease behind their creation.

I've always struggled with the concepts of Snapchat more than any other social app, primarily due to the temporary nature of its content. If something's good, and really connects with me, I want to be able to hang on to it. So I like that with Feedly you can easily save and keep your favourite articles or blogposts.

Of course I'll still be using Facebook and Twitter as communication tools and to see what people I know are up to lately, but I'm excited about this new setup. I'll let you know how it's going in a few weeks' time.

I feel like an old man.