Opinion: How many social networks does one person need, anyway? There’s never been more social networks you could be part of… but keeping up with all of them can be positively exhausting.
So, over the weekend, I joined Bluesky. Yeah, I’m a little later to that party than many others, but that’s at least partially because it’s still doing its rather odd “invite-only” thing. A friend of mine offered an invite, I figured, sure, why not, if for no other reason than it fits my motif as a tech journalist. It’s a tech product, after all.
It’s also so very, very, VERY like Twitter that it’s almost exhausting.
OK, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, and it’s a bit unfair too.
It’s not quite like the train wreck that is Twitter, sorry, X, now, where I’m randomly served up Tweets/Xs/WhateverTheHellTheyAreNow from US Nazis for no particularly good reason I can see. Hey Elon, if the objective is to burn the site to the ground, you’re doing a bang-up job. Otherwise…
Getting back to Bluesky, the Twitter similarity shouldn’t come as a surprise given it’s a Jack Dorsey product, he of (checks notes) Twitter fame.
However, in adding Bluesky to my social stack, I’m now, in one way or another, to be found on Twitter/X, Mastodon, Threads, Instagram (more than once), Facebook (also more than once), LinkedIn and Bluesky simultaneously.
That’s a lot. There’s only so many doom scrolling minutes in my day, and it does feel as though more than one of them is either going to be ignored a lot, or just be an effective ghost town anyway. Naturally, nobody’s holding a gun to my head (or yours) and insisting that you have to be on any social network at all.
Some will falter by the wayside. Threads launched while I was on the first large scale holiday I’d been able to take for years, but I still joined dutifully to grab the correct handle for myself, as did (apparently) around 100,000,000 other people.
Problem there seems to be keeping hold of them, with even Mark Zuckerberg admitting that less than half of them have stuck around, according to reports.
For my purposes, it sure doesn’t help to endear me that Threads is smartphone-app only, not a proper web app. Maybe that’ll change, or maybe Threads will be like the HTC Facebook Phones — remember them? I bet you didn’t until I brought it up, if you even knew that they existed in the first place. Just to prove I’m not making them up, here’s all the excitement of the HTC Salsa. Try to contain yourself, won’t you?
While there’s a degree of professional obligation in my case to keep at least mildly au fait with social network trends — you might notice that TikTok is absent from that list — it does strike me that I’m also quite guilty of having different personas on specific networks, as well as different levels of privacy.
Facebook itself attracts an older demographic that I’m part of, and I’m largely locked down there for my personal account, interacting with friends — mostly folks I’ve known for decades looking through my recent interactions, really.
I’ve also got professional presence there via my freelance journo page and Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News, the award-winning weekly podcast I co-host with Adam Turner… where, not-entirely-coincidentally, we talked about the whole Twitter/X thing last week:
Well hey, that was a not-subtle plug, but one with purpose. For many of the other social networks I’ve not really hit that “social” connection in the same way, so I’m finding increasingly that mostly what I’m doing there is just promoting my professional work, just like I did above.
That’s a core premise for LinkedIn (amongst others; I do join in on professional discussions there from time to time, but it’s rare amongst all the posing), just about all I’m willing to do with Twitter/X, and most of what I’ve done on both Threads and Bluesky to date.
That just leaves a couple of networks left. There’s Instagram, where I’ve got a private account, as well as one for my constant travelling companion.
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Then there’s Mastodon, and if there’s anywhere that’s grabbed my social-for-the-sake-of-being-social attention, it’s Mastodon. Yeah, I get that it’s not for everyone, and you do have to work a little harder to find people, but that’s part of the attraction. I’m not at the whims of an algorithm, or the weird way that some platforms deliver content, or for that matter a whole lot of advertising. I’ve written about this before, but it’s still holding true for me, that Mastodon works very nicely for what I want and need in terms of wider interaction with the online community.
Where is does leave me pondering is in where all of this goes. Twitter worked (with problems, yes, but it functioned, bear with me) because it absolutely had the scale of users and general attention of the wider populace.
Strictly speaking, I still have way more followers on Twitter than anywhere else by a factor of about 10 at least. That doesn’t translate into engagement in any measurable way; experimentally I’ve tried pitching pieces of mine through most networks, and where Twitter once would have delivered a steady stream of traffic, it instead is now a bit of a ghost town. It’s even true for just basic responses for the most part too.
But can it be replaced? That needs scale, and everyone’s got their own problems with that right now. Threads seemed most likely with its 100 million signups, but if people aren’t sticking around, that boulder rolls right back down to the bottom of the hill, Sisyphus-style.
Yes, I like Mastodon, but it’s not for everyone; it doesn’t quite have that easy-lazy thing that human brains do prefer.
Bluesky absolutely nails the “feeling like Twitter did about four years ago” vibe for the most part, but it feels like its moment to go viral was when folks were begging for invites… not now, when it’s just another in the long list of apps that were going to be Twitter killers. Elon seems to have that concept nailed down anyway.