Kevin's Blog

Being present online during platform enshittification

Being present online during platform enshittification

6 minute read

As I scrolled through Mastodon today and learned that the dumpster fire that is Twitter is experiencing an episode of decline, I decided it was time to put a little more effort into a slow project I've been poking at here and there to finally remove myself from a lot of the traditional social web. Most especially, I've been thinking about how best to stage my exist from the platforms I find most reprehensible. How can I explore being present online as all the platforms I used to love are in decline? 

This started years ago with all of the Meta-related entities. I started by simply uninstalling Facebook and Instagram. As years passed, and more came to light about the way these services enable racism, social decline, destruction of democracy and so many other ills - while being piloted by clueless would-be presidential candidates - I began to feel more and more complicit and guilty about a company like this being able to generate revenue from my efforts to simply stay connected to friends and family. The idea that the selling of an ad to me makes money for a company that traps people in a disjointed view of the internet to enable the distribution of genocidal propaganda while enriching people who watch the world burn - well, that felt a little bad. 

So, I ditched WhatsApp (at least one of my friends still harbors significant resentment towards me for bullying everyone into Signal for our group chats) and logged out of everything Meta on every device I owned. I stopped short of deleting the accounts because it felt like a permanent severing of social connections I might be able to resurrect one day after, perhaps, the positive effects of future government regulation or a thrilling bankruptcy caused by vanity projects that have no real purpose

I didn't mind too much - I still found online joy in Twitter and Reddit. They both had a fair set of cons. Despite those, Twitter as a company often felt more responsible and thoughtful and the simpler, more structured medium of just a tweet was easier to digest. And Reddit, well, it had always been a little bit wonky and problematic but it was much easier to simply be a passive observer of content I found interesting, so I stuck with it. 

The next ball to drop of course, was the change of Twitter's ownership and leadership. It was about this time that I came across the concept of enshittification as I jumped ship from Twitter to Mastodon, and I finally had a word to describe the thing that was happening to services I used to enjoy. Many others have said smarter and more eloquent things about the incompetence at the top of Twitter, and it's yet another sad reminder the in the American capitalistic society, incompetence usually wins, generates wealth, and the cycle continues. Twitter's decline was so swift that I left much quicker; it was different than when I left Facebook and Instagram because I didn't feel the need to replace them.

Twitter though - in contrast to Facebook and Instagram - was full of really smart people with smart opinions, who's content and perspectives I was sad to leave. I followed certain segments of them to Mastodon, but the variety of non-fediverse friendly offshoots and the fact that the complexity of understanding the fediverse has meant there are still large chunks of the discourse I could no longer enjoy.

At least, not directly - but thankfully there was still Reddit, and because content is often just someone else's stolen content, screenshots of the best tweets and internet moments still made it in front of my eyeballs! One of the big long term problems with Reddit of course, which was different from the problems with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter - was that the interface was just truly horrible. The desktop website, the mobile website and the app are just true UX abominations. Luckily - there were plenty of ways around this - for desktop, for mobile, and so many good third party mobile apps. My preferred Android option was one called Boost. 

I began to wonder if the journey on Reddit would come to an end after they yanked Admittedly, it was quite rudimentary and even a little dysfunctional relative to certain features of the site given its age - so I thought, ok, maybe they are just genuinely retiring something that needs to be retired. That's when I started using Boost exclusively, which was a real pleasure. Then of course, the enshittification went all the way as Reddit went the Twitter route and used API changes to destroy the ecosystems that built up around its services. Boost - along with nearly every other decent app - shut down today

And with that I thought, well, there's not much left out there that operates at the scale and depth to be useful in the same way. The only big name I've stuck with is Snapchat - they continue to have flecks of thoughtfulness amongst a misstep here and there, and seem committed to their product in a way that still appeals to me. 

Beyond that, when it comes to being present online, I've got some small experiments like Mastodon and BeReal, and a couple professionally or single-use focused things like LinkedIn and Github. 

As I try to figure out how to round out this journey, I thought - wouldn't it be fun to pretend it's 2001 again and start a blog? Blogs are where many things started long ago, and it seems to me like we're in for a weird reversal and reordering of the usefulness of the internet, so here begins a new blog and homepage journey for me. 

We'll see how it goes! The next step is certainly to actually delete those other accounts. That'll make it feel real! 

Cover Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

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