When I explained that linking your feeds is hurting your friends, I flippantly suggested people who aren’t following you on that other service are probably ignoring you for a reason. While I’m still ready to argue that this is generally true, I don’t want to claim that it’s always true.
Somewhere among the horde of people who aren’t following you because they don’t like you, aren’t following you because they don’t like how you use the service, and aren’t following you because they hate everything the service represents, there is a small huddled group. These unfortunates would like to follow your updates on that other service but for one reason or another, the prospect of having to check yet another inbox drives them to tears. I can’t say that I blame them.
How to accommodate this group without driving all your other followers to distraction and riot?
My first answer is handcrafted updates. Choose your most important messages and post them in medium-appropriate ways on each service. This answer is cheating. It doesn’t meet the parameters I specified above: what if someone wants to read everything you post to that other service, but they can’t bear to sign up for that other service?
The real answer is right up there in the title of this post: instead of everything boxes, publish single-purpose streams. If you must dump everything you post from one service into another, have the decency to do it in a separate account that the rest of us can happily ignore or subscribe to as we see fit.
While I get the sentiment, I respectfully disagree with TwitterIsntRSS.com. I think that there is no harm in allowing people who want to use Twitter as an RSS reader the option to do that. Just don’t bundle it all together and drown the rest of us.
The goal here is the same as always: give your friends/followers/attractive people fine-grained control of their user-experience. If they want to keep up with your blog on Twitter instead of inside an RSS reader, more power to them. If they’d rather get an email, so much the better. By all means, publish widely. Let us decide where and how to keep up with your insights and cat pictures.
Here’s the mantra: Time is precious, accounts are free.
Let me tell you about my Buzz inbox. This morning I logged in to find 34 unread items. Here’s the inventory:
Let’s count Buzz’s crimes:
Buzz at least allows me to mute individual posts, but guess what I don’t want to do? Play whack-a-mole with unwanted content. Buzz is a mess and most infuriatingly, it’s a mess with the occasional gem of interesting discussion amongst the slurry.
Hey Google, when you’re done fixing Buzz’s egregious privacy flaws, could you circle back around and take a look at the user experience? It’s so bad right now.
Over at his blog, Alexis Madrigal wonders if Twitter should be an exception:
Twitter has no memory, though. It’s the goldfish service, forever forgetting where it was just a few moments ago. (Perhaps that accounts for the irrepresibly happy tone of Tweets. “Wow” is probably the most common descriptor for a link.)
But what if you want to have a conversation — or just a feed — that is preserved? Twitter can’t do that for you. It won’t do that for you. Under those circumstances one can be forgiven for wanting to pipe one’s Tweets elsewhere.
Go read the whole thing. It’s nicely argued and brings in Russian literary theory which lends the kind of gravitas that I’ve always felt my strong opinions about the manner in which you update people about your sandwich choices have lacked.
What I like best about Alexis’ post is how it turns my logic to his end. The argument that you should unlink your feeds is really a client-side solution to a server-side problem. Piping your Twitter feed into another service is a client-side solution to a different server-side problem.
I shouldn’t have to be asking you to unlink your feeds because every social networking service should give me the ability to mute subsets of your output. At minimum, I should be able to mute any of the accounts that your choose to import. Ideally (for power users), I ought to have a set of filters as robust as an email client’s. Currently, most services don’t offer that, so unlinking your feeds is a way to give everyone that ability manually. If all of your output is separated into streams, then I can decide on my end which of them to follow.
Alexis sees a different server-side problem: Twitter is bad at archiving Tweets. It’s pretty terrible at threading conversations too, so when you want to preserve one of the better discussions that sometimes flare up, you have to do it manually (an awkward process, as both he and I recently learned).
I’m convinced in the abstract - indeed nothing I say here even begins to address the most interesting parts of his post - but there’s one question that Alexis didn’t address: To where?
Twitter posts are an especially weirdly shaped peg. The necessary brevity mixed with the auto-linked @names and #hashtags means that a lot of tweets feel very out of place when you feed them to another service. The stream-of-thought culture of Twitter means a frequency and tone (“wow”, indeed) of posts that’s often inappropriate elsewhere.
So while I get the desire to archive and preserve, the question must also be: upon whom are you inflicting this solution? If you are preserving just for yourself, do you need to feed it somewhere public? If you are preserving for others, how will it impact the people reading that other feed? In that case, all of my concerns and objections come back into play.
A possible solution is feeding your tweets to a dedicated account. More on that soon…
You need to unlink your feeds.
I understand why you did it. I’ve made the same mistake myself. But it’s hurting your friends, it’s hurting you, and it’s hurting the Internet. You need to stop.
You need to stop automatically dumping your feeds from one account into another.
Look, I know it’s tempting. New service, not sure how you’ll keep up with the ever demanding maw and there’s the “import your content” button, right there in the sign-up process. A quick trip through a login screen or an OAuth link and there you are: All your stuff automatically aggregated into a new one-stop-shop of the genius things that pop out of your head.
No muss, no fuss, right?
This is an illusory solution. It’s a false idol. It’s contributing to noise pollution on the Internet and the only people it helps are company execs who want to make spurious claims about “user engagement”. It’s diminishing the quality of your output and of others’ experiences.
You need to unlink your feeds and put a tiny bit more effort into using each service for what it is.
Look at this from the perspective of your friends/followers. Say you start importing your feed from service B to service A. The people who are following you on service A can be divided into two groups. 1: Those who also follow you on service B. 2: Those who don’t follow you on service B.
The people following you on service B are already reading your messages. Now, you’re forcing them to read your messages twice. They’re stuck on the horns of a cruel dilemma. If they unfollow you on one of the services, they lose out on the portion of your messages that aren’t mirrored to both, such as conversations that only crop up on service A. If they stick with it, they have to filter through your redundant messages to find the few that are unique.
The people who aren’t following you on service B might be grateful that you are dumping your messages into service A but I doubt it. It’s very possible that they aren’t following you for a reason. Maybe they don’t like service B. Maybe they do like service B but they don’t like how you use it. Maybe they use it in a different context to connect to a different group of friends or colleagues.
So here’s what you’re doing when you start importing your feeds. You use an automated delivery system to dump a series of messages that may or may not be wanted and may or may not be relevant into the streams of your friends. Sure, some percentage of them might appreciate it, but some percentage of people respond to urgent requests from African royalty.
You know what that is? It’s spam. You’re spamming your friends so that some VP of marketing can tell the press that they’ve had 9 million new messages in just a few days.
Unlink your feeds.
This is bad for your reputation. Each social networking site has a slightly different culture, with a slightly different grammar and set of conventions. When you dump your feed from one into the other, it can be jarring. It sends a message about your respect for the mores of the site that’s receiving the feed. It tells us that you don’t really care. It tells us that you aren’t really paying attention.
Context is important. Great television is not just radio with pictures. You don’t talk the same way to your friends as you do your boss. So why are you dumping the same content to two different services? It weakens your message.
There’s a different group of people with different expectations connected to you on each service (if there wasn’t, you’d only need to post once). You owe it to yourself to craft a message that will be most effective with each group.
Unlink your feeds.
It’s hurting the Internet
There are a lot of pages on the Internet. More than a thousand! A lack of content is not the problem. And if it was, Demand Media is going to take care of that right quick.
The real problem is finding the good stuff. No, the best stuff. That stuff can be pretty hard to find. The thing is that there’s so much stuff out there and we all have so little time to sort through it. We need all the help we can get in reducing the amount of stuff we have to sort through. There’s a lot of noise, a lot of redundancy and a lot of stuff that isn’t quite worth paying attention to.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Aha! My stuff is some of the best stuff, so by repeating it, I’ll make it easier to find.” Stop that! That’s spammer thinking. That leads to hundreds of SEO’d pages all linking to something that some marketer is convinced is THE BEST way to impress ladies with the size of your back pain, all in an effort to trick Google.
Stop thinking like a spammer and starting thinking like a person.
Post the best stuff you can manage, tailor it to each context and audience, and really work at increasing the level of signal to noise. Remember that a message that’s really appropriate for one service is probably garbage on another. Think of your friends. Think of yourself.
Unlink your feeds.
I have a vision of a new social networking paradigm. Handcrafted social networks.
I imagine a world where people take each network for what it is and participate (or not) on those terms. Instead of a firehose slurry of everything buckets, I imagine separate streams of purified whatever-it-is-each-service-does. I envision users that post when they’re inspired and don’t mind skipping a few days if nothing particularly interesting comes up.
I’m like Thumper’s mother. “If you can’t think of anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.”
I imagine people taking the extra 10 seconds to reformat a post for each service if the message is so relevant and important that it needs to show up more than once. I imagine being able to choose who I follow and what subset of their postings I get with a high degree of granularity.
There may come a day when this vision gets implemented on the server side. When all the social networks give me fine grain control for hiding subsets of the updates sent out by my contacts. But until that day comes, it’s gotta be solved on the client side.
Unlink your feeds.
The case I’m making for why you need to unlink your feeds is based in part around the importance of context. A message that works on one social network is often garbage in another. I’d like to walk you through an example of what I mean.
Consider this tweet by @Wired. Here it is on Twitter, full of rich microsyntactical information and metadata.
The RT and @names place the post in a context of communication. The RT tells you that this is a repeat of a message by someone else. The @names tell you who said it and who it’s about. The @names are also links which allow you to find out more about the people involved, see what else they have to say and check their follower count (or whatever it is that you do when you look at someone’s profile). The #hashtag offers additional metadata. You can click on it see the message alongside other tweets that purport to be about the same theme or event.
In fact, for this post, more characters are given over to placing the message in relation to the social network than are given to conveying the message itself (the message being “your sales pitch worked”).
Here’s the same Tweet if it’s automatically fed to Facebook.
All of the characters used for placing the message in a context on Twitter are noise now. They aren’t clickable. They don’t make any sense. They don’t refer to anything (there is no @chr1sa on Facebook). They may as well be assembly code. Why are you polluting your Facebook stream with assembly code?
Here’s how you compose the same message for a Facebook status update:
Watching Chris Anderson demo the Wired app at TEDactive… Suddenly want an iPad.
See the difference?
Dear friend/colleague/attractive person,
This is just a quick note to say thank you for being my friend on this social networking service. I really value our time together and appreciate the many pokes, @s, and invites that we’ve shared over the weeks/months/years. The last thing I’d want to do is sour our relationship in any way, but there is one small thing that I wanted to talk to you about.
I noticed that you’ve started automatically importing your feed from that other service. I can certainly understand why you’d want to do that. Heaven forbid that anyone miss any of your incredibly insightful commentary and linking, just because they don’t use that other service. But it creates a problem for me.
You see, I already follow you on that other service. This means that I see everything you post twice/thrice/quarce.
This puts me in something of a bind. I don’t want to stop following you on this service or that service. For one thing, sometimes you post things to this service that don’t appear in that service. For another, I’d miss out on the unique constellation of contacts and conversation that each service provides. But neither do I want to keep filtering redundant updates in each service.
There’s another, more subtle problem. This service and that service have a slightly different culture. There is a different grammar, a different tone, and even different acceptable subject matter. When you automatically import stuff from that service into this service, it can be jarring. Not dangerously so, but in a way that makes your friends/colleagues/attractive people feel like maybe you just don’t care.
So I’m writing to ask you to unlink your accounts.
You may be thinking “but what about all my friends/followers/attractive people who don’t follow me on that other service?” Well, I hate to say this, but it’s possible that they aren’t following you for a reason. Maybe they don’t like that other service. Maybe they do like that other service but they use it for a different reason and context than this service.
By all means, keep posting to each service. I value your insights, which is why I friended/followed you in the first place. And from time to time, by all means send the same message to both services, when it’s especially relevant or important. Though if you do, please take the time to format your message for each service.
I hope this letter does not come across as mean or censorious. I really do enjoy being socially networked with you in all these different ways.
It’s just that I already follow you on that other service.