Social media in the age of Mastodon and Bluesky

Dear H,

You kindly asked me to contribute my thoughts on social media in the Brussels bubble following the decline of X/Twitter. I’m afraid I’ve missed your deadline – first week back after the hols – but you’re welcome to quote from the below anyway. I can’t speak for the Brussels bubble, I can only speak for myself.

X/Twitter is still going, but feels very much on life support. There have been some improvements since last October – most notably that the length limit for Tweets (as I still call them) has been drastically increased. I notice also that engagement seems to be creeping up again after cratering a few months back. But I get the sense that the ownership cares very little about providing a good user experience, and it feels like it’s just a step away from becoming MySpace. As Hemingway put it, the end comes in two ways: gradually, then suddenly.

I was a fairly early adopter of Mastodon, but I am increasingly frustrated with it. The lack of a search function – which is entirely deliberate – removes a lot of the point of social media for me; I want to find out what other people are saying about the political crisis in Grand Fenwick, and if people are talking about it on Mastodon, I won’t see it if they are not in my feed – or even if they are, and I happen to miss the twenty minutes when their toot about it is top of my screen. I am hanging on, because there are rumours that this will be fixed, but I feel it’s not being designed for people like me.

Bluesky is much more promising, though I have been there for only a couple of weeks. It’s easier to Find Good Stuff, and the tone of discourse is noticeably more civilised than on Twitter. However so far, it’s much more useful and interesting for my cultural interests (particularly science fiction) than for following politics. Perhaps this is a critical mass issue, and if in particular Bluesky can market themselves in non-English-speaking countries, we may see an uptick in political relevance for my local interests.

LinkedIn, that venerable beast, seems to me to be the winner for now of the decline in Twitter, at least as far as my professional interests are concerned. I personally find it rather an annoying platform – you have no idea of how the algorithm decides what you want to see, you get little information about how successful your own posts have been. But on the other hand, an increasing number of stakeholders are posting important content there – not just their own thoughts, but reblogging others. And, again, the tone of discourse is markedly more civilised and professional than on Twitter. Discussions on LinkedIn are very different in feel from Twitter threads, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Facebook and Instagram continue as ever, mainly as places where I read personal news and views from friends and look at their holiday photos respectively. Facebook has much less relevance for my work life than ten years ago, and Instagram never had much at all. Let’s see what happens when and if Threads ever comes to the EU.

And finally, we of a more venerable generation are getting completely left behind by the young ‘uns using TikTok. I know that there are concerns about its use of data, but there’s already a clear and growing demographic who are there and nowhere else. I myself featured briefly in a TikTok last month; probably not for the last time.

It’s all a work in progress, and I think my prediction is that LinkedIn will continue to grow at Twitter’s expense, and that none of Threads, Bluesky or Mastodon can become what Twitter once was (and neither can Twitter). But who knows?

Edited to add: I was not in fact too late for H’s deadline, and his piece quoting me and others is here and here:

One thought on “Social media in the age of Mastodon and Bluesky

  1. With Mastadon, the app has been a serious quality of life improvement. The lack of sports fans problem is also slowly solving itself. Now I just need the Saints twitter and Impact twitter to mirror onto Mastodon, and I’m all set.

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