Is this the last exodus from Twitter?

There have been reasons to leave Twitter since its inception. But it's increasingly compelling to post somewhere else.

Why read about what random people do all day? In the spring of 2007, I wasn't sure why I would join Twitter. All the cool web folks at that year's SXSW Interactive had started using (and hyping) it. I worked at a small web agency at the time. My colleagues convinced me, I think. So I made an account on this new website that had just one text field with the question ‘What are you doing?’.

When I started, I mostly bored my readers with facts like “I drank a cup of tea” or “waiting for a bus”. Mentions and retweets didn't exist yet. For the first, maybe, 5 years, my account was private and I had way under 100 followers. I tweeted mostly in Dutch, even in Frisian sometimes. There was a generous API so you could trivially display tweets on your own site. There were local in-person Twitter meetups, at least where I live, to hang out with Twitter folks, including one that had Dries Roelvink perform.

two twitter screenshots, the left one says: a global community of friends and strangers answering one simple question: what are you doing? answer on your phone, IM or right here on the web Twitter homepage in 2007, the logo was a piece of art

In the years after, the platform expanded beyond the web developer crowd and interesting journalists, authors, musicians came. I used the platform more and more to follow folks I saw speak at conferences. Over the years I found a collection of hundreds of people whose stuff I really enjoyed reading. On web development, but also other interests. Some posted often, others occassionally. Either way, I learned so much from the tweets, links to other sites, discussions and what not. More people started following me too, and I managed to develop real friendships. My DMs got busier too. Twitter, the platform got useful new features, but ultimately, it's the people that attracted me to the platform and people that kept me on there.

Yet, there were always compelling reasons to leave. The platform and tweets became more engagement-focused, the Twittersphere started to attract (and reward) grifters. The algorithmic timeline was introduced, although that could be turned off.

Abuse also increased, especially for minorities on the platform. Under Jack Dorsey's leadership, Twitter systematically failed to act on reports of racist, homophobic and misogynist accounts, it made Twitter more dangerous to anyone not a cis white male, even got users in physical danger. Some of that was described in a 2018 Amnesty International report on Twitter called “A toxic place for women”, a document full of details on how the company failed to respect women's rights.

And then there was the risk of making content on a platform that you don't control. My friend Manuel got permanently suspended, for reasons unknown to him. I can only imagine what it was like for him to lose access, just like that. A lot of us tried to change the minds of “@TwitterSupport”, but until today, it wasn't resolved. For a lot of folks this situation was a wake up call to reconsider where they post. I realised my new ambition was to like, Zach, take ownership of my tweets.

Last week, I still didn't feel like leaving the platform just because the new owner was an arrogant troll with world views orthogonal to mine. I imagine more services I use have unpleasant owners. Last time I tried Mastodon, I didn't stay. The thing is, I don't even think I really believe in decentralised social networks, I would rather have all my friends in one pub than spread across pubs. I will probably find out I'm wrong about this, as the web at large was designed to be decentralised and it is one of the charms of it and arguably what made it so successful.

But then that new owner fired Twitter's entire accessibility team, its ethical AI team and large parts of trust and safety folks working on problems that have very real life consequences (like meddling in elections, spreading of conspiracy theories, hate crimes, impersonation), he unfolded plans for a new ‘Verified’ program that made the feature for sale rather than for security and then he recklessly and cruelly fired half of the staff (and seems to be trying to get some back)… it's chaos!

So I decided to go ahead and hang out elsewhere, at least to put my content there. That other place is ‘the Fediverse’, and it has a different focus:

the Fediverse is different: it isn’t trying to glue your eyeballs to the screen, and it’s harder for things to go viral. There is less media, fewer memes, no advertising. And there are humans explicitly in the loop: Mastodon instances are moderated on an instance-by-instance basis — and should an instance descend into a hellscape, it may find itself defederated. But because of all of this, there is also less opportunism, less trolling, less dunking on your enemies, less nastiness. So it also feels more relaxing, more earnest — and easier to put down.

(from Bryan Cantrill's Twitter, when the wall came down)

Maybe the decentralisation aspect could actually work. It's a bit like email.

It seems like the new owner and his behaviour is driving people in my bubble away from Twitter, towards the Fediverse, personal blogs, RSS and other platforms. Probably mostly in that bubble, but maybe it is a wider thing, time will have to tell. It's probably not the last exodus.

I didn't suddenly stop caring about the people I follow on Twitter, I understand not everyone wants to leave, so I will also stay on Twitter for the foreseable future. To catch up on tweets, to DM and to share posts like this one. But for the next while, I plan to hang around on Mastodon more.

Comments, likes & shares (43)

@hdv "tried Mastodogn before"...yes, I'll point out spelling mistakes on here as well ;)

@bnijenhuis you are a hero, thanks

Reckon I’m pretty close to signing up for Mastodon, my finger is hovering over the button. Even more so after reading this. But I’m with you, I would much rather have “all my friends in one pub” 😢

I’ve not written any weeknotes for a few weeks, either because I’ve been enjoying the down time or visiting friends across the country. These will be brief because a lot happened over the last three weeks, including me wrapping up my role at NHS Digital.1 I’m going contracting for a while, with my first stint on the GOV.UK Design System.

Things I started

I helped the service owner and programme manager get the service lined up to go through the assurance process properly. The platform wasn’t required to go through assurance at the point it was created because it was built quickly for rapidly emerging needs during the pandemic. But everything was given a waiver briefly, expected to be assessed against the Service Standard eventually, and we initiated chats to make sure it’ll go through.

One of the other teams in our programme, arguably an internal stakeholder, wasn’t keeping abreast of our team’s work, which I found out through a one-to-one meeting. Although we do show & tells and give updates at a programme meeting, they’re swamped with work and don’t have time to attend the show & tells or watch the recording (which is a shame). I started a set of internal weeknotes to be emailed out each Friday, at their request, which they appreciated.

Spent a fair amount of time thinking about how we’d build a support & community hub for the service. This is referred to in the Better, Broader, Safer report as a ‘national open library’ of documentation, how-tos, re-usable code and tips on best practice. I compared a few options, did a benefits analysis, and spoke to people across the data science and RAP community of practice. I also hosted support & community hub prototype on GitHub Pages, so that we could host it for free now Heroku is getting rid of its free tier.

I wrote a recommendation for Tom, our lead product manager, because he is bloody brilliant. I think it took less than a week for things to just click between us. We think about and do product in the same way, and we have overlapping interests to boot. I’d have no hesitation in working with him again, and you should do so too if you’re able!

Things I shuffled along

We did a fair amount of work on the learning & onboarding journey, building prototypes and preparing a plan for testing. This got swerved by another team at the last minute, so we had to adapt our approach. I’m hoping the team get to complete the tests in my absence.

I themed up the outputs from the cross-programme workshop to highlight the gaps in the service that needed working on. I took a few hours so I hope it gets used.

Some puzzles

It’ll be interesting to be a contractor. I expect I’ll need to do more organising of one-to-ones with senior management and stakeholders, to check they’re getting value out of my contract. What’s lucky is that I’m joining a team where I know half the people and a directorate where I know most of the senior management, so there won’t be as much bridge-building to do as elsewhere.

Other things

I’ve not done anything cultural recently, or not that I can remember. I’m playing more video games which is a nice change.


  1. For the avoidance of doubt, the only reason I’m leaving is money. Sure, NHS Digital is merging with NHS England which will create some kerfuffle, but the subsequent transformation it’ll go through is a good thing. And the Data Services directorate is a super interesting product & design space! But my five-year plan needs capital, so I’ve got to earn it.