Twitter was a Bad Idea

Along with all of its copycats

Jan 13, 2022

It has now been a year since I quit Twitter and a year since I wrote my article telling people to quit social media (which may be the one I reference most) so I figured that now would be as good of a time as any to write something I've been meaning to write since probably a week or two after that. Facebook is of course evil, but one could make an argument as to why a service like that should exist, I'm not going to make that argument but it is important to acknowledge that the argument could be made. The same could be said for Instagram, the argument for that would be harder to make but it could still be made. I even think that an argument for the merit of TickTok could be made if it wasn't designed to be as addictive and exploitative as it is. But unlike these other forms of social media there is no good argument for why Twitter should exist, it is just not a good idea.

Now I guess that I have to clarify that statement a bit. Twitter is of course a multi-billion dollar company so if we judge its merit based off of how much money it made it wasn't just a good idea it was a great idea, probably better than any idea I'll ever have since its founders and early investors are now obscenely wealthy from it. I'm also not talking about the implementation of Twitter, nobody does Twitter better than Twitter does, in fact I'd argue Twitter's mobile app has the best UI of any app I've ever used. When I say that Twitter is a bad idea I mean that the concept of sending out random tweets to the world about absolutely random things is a bad idea. I guess I could have made that sentence a bit less clunky by simply saying that microblogging is a bad idea, but Twitter was not invented for microblogging, microblogging was a word invented to make Twitter sound like a good idea.

Also since I'm arguing that the sole concept behind Twitter wasn't a good idea my criticism isn't exclusive to Twitter, it applies to every alternative service that tries to do the same thing Twitter does. Parler was just echo chamber Twitter with bad UI and no porn. Gettr (which apparently is the hot new alternative platform) is just Parler but secretly funded by China. Mastodon is just federated Twitter with bad UI and no normal people. And Gab is basically just a fork of Mastodon (I'm sure there is someone out there who wanted me to phrase that differently but I don't care). All of these different services do things slightly different but they are all still doing the same thing so you shouldn't use any of them. A bad idea doesn't turn into a good idea when you change management.

Friend Dispatch System

To fully understand why Twitter is a bad idea it is important to look at its origin story. When I was in high school I watched a really good documentary about this but unfortunately I have no idea what it was called and haven't been able to find it since, but I did find this video that does a good job with it. Before Twitter Jack Dorsey was interested and working on dispatch systems for emergency vehicles, honestly that would have probably been a fun challenge back in the early 2000s because the infrastructure back then was much more limited than it is now, messages had to be informative yet concise like, "Ambulance A534 has arrived at Destination X366" or something like that. Dorsey's idea back then was to create the same sort of thing for friends, in fact before the name Twitter had come to be they were calling it a friend dispatch system.

The scope of what they thought Twitter would be was a place for people to announce to the world that you were watching the waves on a beach somewhere, although why anyone would care is beyond me, the whole concept of it was not thought through. I distinctly remember a story from the documentary I can't find where the Twitter founders were at a tech conference somewhere way back when Twitter only had a few thousand users and many if not most of those users were also at there (not really because of Twitter but because the early adopters of any technology are the type of people who go to tech conferences). At some point during the conference one of the Twitter developers, maybe Jack himself I don't remember, tweeted something along the lines of, "Lets meet at Jimbob's Ice Cream Shop at 8:00" (intending just for his close friends to be there) then when 8:00 rolled around there was eight hundred people at Jimbob's Ice Cream Shop. This showed that a friend dispatch system, at least at that scale, wasn't a good idea.


Luckily (for Twitter's founders, not the rest of us) Twitter found its place in the world. I think Jeremy Clarkson describes it best as, "an opportunity for very left-wing people to express increasingly left-wing views to other left-wing people." Now I will admit that that statement only 85% true, but Twitter really isn't good for much else. Because much of Twitter's early functionality was tied to SMS, tweets could only be 140 characters. 140 characters would be fine for a friend dispatch system but that is not what Twitter became, Twitter became a place for people to share opinions and ideas and unless those are simple statements like, "All steak should be eaten rare," then 140 characters is not enough.

Eventually Twitter was able to cut its dependency on SMS and allow tweets to have an arbitrary maximum length of 280 characters but it is still impossible to fully present and contextualize any view with that sort of a limit. Almost by design Twitter became a place where everybody was talking but nobody could understand what anyone else was really saying, but of course it wasn't by design because Twitter wasn't meant to become what it has turned into. The most common difference between Twitter and its clones is that the clones almost always increase the character limit, despite this the benefit of the increased character limit is rarely seen because users have become accustomed to the short bursts of garbage Twitter is famous for so that is all that they post and when they do find someone who actually puts in the effort to write something half the length of this paragraph they are too lazy to read it. Twitter made us dumber by making us accustomed to reading less. Twitter has primed us to make judgments based off of very little information rather than to wait to learn the whole story.

There is also the problem that there aren't that many unique ways that you can string 280 characters together. Sure there are some people who can come up with clever ways to put things but really everyone seems to tweet about the same things and they all do so in similar predictable ways, it's boring, especially now when Twitter is governing speech.

Twitter is not social media

People consider the three big social media platforms to be Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but why is it that Twitter is the only one with actual alternatives? People go to Facebook to connect with friends and family, that's what makes it social media and in order to replace it someone would have to bring all of their friends and family over to the new platform which would prove to be impossible. Instagram these days is really just Facebook for people who can't read and yet manage to operate a smartphone, most people go there for the same reason they go to Facebook and it can't be replaced for the same reason either. People go to Twitter either to throw poo at the wall to see if it sticks or to look at the poo that managed to stick, 90% of Twitter users never write a tweet, there is nothing social about that and because of that its functionality can be replaced by crappier alternatives.

There is no reason to use Twitter or any other service like it, there is almost nothing interesting or uplifting posted on these sites, each good tweet is not worth the thousand garbage ones you had to tread through to find it. If for some reason you do feel inclined to throw poo at the wall on the internet you should start your own site to do that on, but once you've gone through the effort of doing that, and especially if you've attached your name to it (which is something everyone should do), you'll realize that you don't want to be putting crap up on there and instead you'll start to create something great, something that can't be done in 280 characters destined to only be read by an army of sheep.