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:

My top social media and blog posts of the year

Both Twitter and Facebook have made it much more difficult to extract the data about how successful my own posts of my own material have been. A bit of manual number-crunching leads me to the conclusion that my top post on Facebook for the year, with the most likes and the most comments, was my birthday celebration at work (in fact, three days after my actual birthday).

The second highest number of likes was on a photo with my half-first-cousin-twice-removed:

And the third highest number of likes was on a virtue-signalling post about getting vaccinated.

The second highest number of comments was on a post about trans people in sports, which unfortunately turned very nasty; I was disappointed in a number of people who contributed to it, and won’t link from here.

The third highest number of comments was on a post commemorating another calendar milestone, when I turned 20,000 days old.

In previous years I was able to state for certain what Facebook posts of mine had been shared most. This year I note that the following were shared three times, but I am not sure if that was the most. One is about my family connection with the death of Rasputin, one about rescuing your data from Twitter.

And as for Twitter; well. I used to be able to extract all kinds of information about what sort of content had worked well. But they have now restricted that data to posts published in the last ten months, which is not much use if you want to do a twelve month retrospective. At least we can still check engagements and impressions from the Twitter Analytics page, from which it is clear that my top tweets in general were during and after the May 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly elections. The tweet with the most impressions was this:

And the tweet with the most engagements – people disputing whether particular groups or individuals could be counted as Nationalists or Unionists – was this:

I remain an occasional visitor to Instagram. As with Facebook, my top post of the year related to my birthday.

And as with Twitter, my second most successful post was related to the Assembly elections, a week later.

My third best post by likes was the same COVID-related virtue signalling that did well on Facebook:

The Instagram video with most plays was a little bit of art for Ascension Day brought home from school by U, here put into action by her mother:

LinkedIn is getting better at showing how successful your posts are. You can easily see how many impressions and likes you have received. My top post by impressions was a job advertisement (which gives you an idea of how the algorithm works):

My top post (again by impressions) with content by me was a Guardian piece that quoted me:

And my top post by likes was a piece on this month’s elections in Tunisia – in which I totally failed to foresee the main headline, that the turnout was so pathetically low as to cast the credibility of the whole process into question.

One of the many advantages of having moved this blog from Livejournal to WordPress is that I now have much more satisfactory statistics for user engagement. So the three top posts on here since I moved in March are, in third place:

In second place (now updated with the actual results):

And in first place, by a long long way:

See you next year!