For a while now, every time some curmudgeon came along to complain about "how terrible Twitter has gotten" the Twitterati would shame said curmudgeon with a simple argument: "Twitter is what you make it." It cast blame on the complainer, not Twitter. But that argument has evolved. That last big round of whining centered mostly on conservative blogger Matt Lewis, but his was just the latest lament to be met with a swift It's all your fault. You can find that exact cycle here, here, here, and here at The Atlantic Wire. But now those very Twitter apologists are starting to vent their complaints with the social sharing platform. Now, apparently, it's okay to hate Twitter for being Twitter.
Today, Mat Honan, the Wired writer with nearly 25,000 followers, took that approach in his column "Twitter's Big Challenge: Too Much Twitter." He writes: "If you use Twitter actively, it almost inevitably becomes unwieldy." So Honan ended up agreeing with one of those much hated "Twitter sucks now" columns by an even bigger Twitter star, Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, who has 311,453 followers. Using his own experience on Twitter, Klein had concluded:
Twitter elicits a more poisonous information anxiety. It moves so fast that if I’m not continuously checking in, I completely lose track of the conversation — and it’s almost impossible to figure out what happened three hours ago, much less two days ago. I can’t save Twitter for later, and thus there’s always a pressure to check Twitter now. Twitter ends up taking more of my time than I’d like it to, as there’s a constant reason to check it rather than, say, reading a magazine article.
Anticipating the backlash that would come with hating on Twitter, both Klein and Honan were sure to add the necessary apology for their anti-apologist opinions — they are of the Twitter elite, they admit. "The problem isn't Twitter, exactly," wrote Klein. And Honan put in those famous words: "Twitter is what you make it," he wrote. "If you're overwhelmed by its flow, that's easily fixed by simply following fewer people." Honan echoed that sentiment on Twitter: "I don't know how to use Twitter, apparently," he wrote, before tweeting out a link to his column whining about Twitter.
But even with those justifications and clarifications the sentiment from these two newfound Twitter haters is not as simple as the dismissal of haters past. The new argument is complex: Twitter doesn't let you make it good enough. Now, it would appear, it's not you; it's Twitter. And so the Twitter elite fall in line with all the Twitter complainers before them. Because there are just so many people on the service—Twitter had 170 million active accounts, as of last July—things have gotten too chaotic for the Ezra Kleins and Mat Honans of the social media landscape.
While that overload makes sense to people who spend a lot of time on Twitter, the reaction to Klein's column last week was largely negative, generating a lot of hate on—well, on Twitter. But, Honan has escaped the wrath so far. That might have something to do with Honan's positioning in the tech world: He's an early adopter who is friends with all the other Twitter early adopters, who generally rail on these things. But it may also reflect a changing attitude about social media: Our participation is still our choice, so maybe it's time to talk about our problems with it, to think about ways to make our social lives better online.
Both Honan and Klein do something that a lot of other complainers don't: They give prescriptive advice to Twitter on how to improve things for its too many users. Honan suggests a better Discover tab, while Klein is a bit more vague: "If someone could come up with a really effective way of separating the wheat from the chaff in high-volume Twitter feeds and then letting users engage with it at their leisure, there’s got to be an audience for it." They want to like Twitter again, but for now, they hate it — and it's officially okay for you to feel the same way, because they said so.
- Arts & Entertainment