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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Twitter Lists are having a moment

Twitter recently released an updated UI that allows you to “pin” Lists you’ve created to your Home timeline view. This makes it possible to swipe between each List quickly. It is a nice feature – especially for those with only a few lists or for those just starting out with them*.

Since this update was released I’m noticing more and more people mention Lists. So I believe this update is working how Twitter wanted it to.

Here is something I wrote about Lists 7 years ago:

I suppose my favorite part about using lists is that I can check Twitter whenever I want without the feeling that I’ll be overwhelmed and distracted by tweets. I can choose when I want to be distracted. When I want to sit down and catch up on Twitter I can go through a few of my lists depending on my mood.

This remains true today. If I’m in the mood to catch up on some outdoor activity lists – fishing, hiking, kayaking – I can dip into that List and catch up. But if I’m in the mood to catch up on technology – I can scroll through that List. It sort of reminds me of reading a particular section of the newspaper, rather than skipping around the newspaper randomly. It allows me to focus a bit more.

Also, Lists do not suffer from the Home timelines terrible algorithm. For that reason alone it is worth building a List or two.

One List of mine that has stuck around is the idea of a “Scratch” list. Today I call it “Heap”. Call it whatever you want, but this allows you to add random accounts to this List and see if they stick. If they do, it is worth taking the time to categorize them.

Not all accounts fit into a category. People, for instance, tweet about all sorts of things. So I find that my relationship with them ends up becoming the name of the List. And for everything else, I have a List called “Lump of People”. I have no idea where I get these names.

I cannot imagine using Twitter without Lists. So I’m glad they are investing in the feature rather than removing or ignoring it.

If you haven’t tried Lists on Twitter I recommend you give them a spin.

Now, if only Instagram would give me some way do to this same thing I’d use it a lot more.

What I saw this week #58: March 22, 2019

Here are some things I’ve seen recently:

Twitter isn’t going anywhere

Stephen Hackett, at 512 Pixels:

Regardless of all of that, I think it’s clear the leadership at Twitter has no idea what they are doing, and I think the network’s time is ticking away faster than ever.

Not to be contrarian but I disagree.

Update January 24, 2019: I must have misread Hackett’s post. I thought he was writing that Twitter wasn’t long for this world as a result of their leadership. But, based on this comment thread, it seems more that he meant that he wasn’t long for Twitter. My bad.

Taken cumulatively, Twitter’s leadership has always been objectively bad. The product decisions have been objectively bad. The policies and the enforcement of them have been objectively bad. In a way, Twitter’s leadership has tried everything they possibly can to kill the platform and the business. And yet it still exists.

Somehow Twitter has embedded itself into the world in such a way that I do not think it will go away. It is nearly an internet utility.

It is unlike the other social networks. Facebook has diversified itself enough (Instagram, Oculus, WhatsApp, Messenger, and so much more) that it can survive based on its breadth rather than its depth. But Twitter’s depth is what will save it. I think as of today it is an indispensable tool for politicians, journalists, organizations, and even celebrities to share their message.

So while individual users may get sick of the leadership, the product, the hate — as a whole it is only becoming more important. I don’t know exactly how it will stick around but I think it will.

Is Instagram about to plummet?

When Instagram first started to hit popularity – long after their failed attempt at being a check-in service – the app was all about photo filters. Anyone could snap a photo with their phone and quickly add a filter to make it look “better” or at least more interesting. It made everyone feel like a photographer.

At first “true” photographers balked at the platform. But then they saw the power of the network it was building so they started to sign up. Which created a boon for the platform and its Explore page because whenever we opened the app we saw gorgeous photos of the people, places and things we are interested in.

But this created pressure. I dubbed it Instagram pressure. It meant that the “anyone” (those that do not consider themselves photographers but enjoyed adding a filter to their photos) I mentioned before felt out of place. Incapable of producing such high quality, and often composite, results. So their usage began to wane. They were still looking but not posting as much.

Then the algorithmic timeline. Which made for completely different issues. It meant that really great photos from people with less of a following were getting little to no attention. And like-fatigue set in. Instagram had a problem but they had smart founders. They new they needed to act quickly.

So Instagram gobbled up Snapchat by stealing the medium of Stories and (in my opinion) improving on them. Which created another bolt of energy into the platform as there was now a way to create and publish far more content that didn’t need the same polish as a photo.

But then Facebook happened. True, Facebook purchased Instagram 6 years ago but it has only been the last 24 months that Facebook has taken a nosedive in public opinion. And with the founders of Instagram leaving the platform my own personal confidence in Instagram is at an all time low. In fact, I’ve stopped updating the app. I love Instagram as it stands right now. But I fear the next few updates.

Anyone that has been online for many years has seen the rise and fall of countless services for a variety of reasons. Mostly, though, the fall of a platform has something to do with some mass of individuals that originally embrace a platform eventually leaving a platform. Teens jump on Snapchat and move to Instagram and then move to TikTok or Musically. Tech people blog then tweet then blog again (yay!). Photographers use their own sites, then Flickr, then Instagram, then their own sites (and/or Flickr) again. At least, that is what seems to be happening.

Instagram has a huge backer, otherwise I think it’s decline would be as meteoric as its rise. So I don’t think it or Facebook will be gone any time soon. But I do have the feeling we will see photographers slowly leave the platform behind in order to publish elsewhere – whether that be their own web sites or Flickr or SmugMug or an as-yet-unreleased platform.

RSS is not dead. Subscribing is alive.

Sinclair Target, writing for Motherboard:

Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was.

This isn’t the first nor the last article to cover the creation of the RSS standard, its rise to relative popularity with Google Reader, and its subsequent fall from popularity.

But the big point that many of these articles dismiss lightly or directly omit is that RSS is still used as the underpinnings of so many widely popular services today. Apple News, Google News, Flipboard (each with likely tens of millions of users or more) and many others use RSS it is just that people do not know it.

We should likely stop talking about RSS. We need to simply start calling RSS “Subscribing”. “Subscribe to my blog” is the only thing we need to say.

Also, tools like Inoreader, Feedly, etc. should create far better ways to surface content for readers from their active subscriptions. When people subscribe to more than just a few sites it quickly can be overwhelming to people that don’t like to wake up to “inboxes” with 300 unread count. People just abandon those. It is why Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all use algorithms to select which content people should see when they open the app. I’m weird. I want to see everything in reverse chronological order. But “most people” want to see something interesting for the few moments they devote to reading their subscriptions.

RSS will never be as popular as Facebook. Let’s all get over it. But please do subscribe to my site. 🙂

Matt Haughey and I disagree about Instagram Stories

Matt Haughey, on this blog:

Instagram stories feel like work, like being forced to watch ads from my friends’ lives instead of casually browse stuff at my own pace. The feed: I can just scroll through quickly, and stop on interesting photos, but Stories slow down the whole process of popping into Instagram for just a moment.

Also? I understand it’s better to give people the right to forget their work, but when a true pro photographer does stories of their previous day with breathtaking shots, it makes me sad I can’t share those with others since they’re going poof in 24 hours.

Lastly, not being able to like or send some minor signal of support feels missing from Stories. I can only send them a DM, which feels invasive. I often want to send someone a congratulatory way to go! but sending them a direct message feels like too much contact.

I still like the main instagram, even though I can’t sort it by last uploaded and can’t pay to get all those ads removed, but I’m still tepid on Stories.

He and I disagree. We talked about it briefly on Mastodon. I understand his point of view. However, I really like Instagram Stories. I like making them. And I like watching them. For a good example of Stories take a look at my friend Dan Rubin.

Systrom and Krieger resign from Instagram

Kevin Systrom, former CEO and co-founder of Instagram:

We’ve grown from 13 people to over a thousand with offices around the world, all while building products used and loved by a community of over one billion.

What a run! Talk about leaving while on top. A Seinfeld-esque move.

Leo Laporte leaves Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook

Leo Laporte:

Yesterday I deactivated my Twitter account and kicked Tumblr to the curb. A couple of weeks ago I did the same with Instagram. A month or so before that I killed Facebook. And I survived. No, thrived!

I had deleted my Twitter account in the past and lived. And while I haven’t deleted my account again I am on Twitter far less than ever. I spend much more time in my RSS reader (like in 2003 era), dabble on Micro.blog, and now on Mastodon a bit. It feels so much better even if decentralized.

Early thoughts on IGTV

Instagram launched what some are calling a direct competitor to YouTube, IGTV.

First, I’ll start by listing some reasons I think this is the perfect time for Instagram to have launched this product.

  • Smartphones are just beginning to get real horsepower and amazing battery life to enable this kind of experience and the amount of time people will want to watch longform video on their phones.
  • Portrait video is no longer thought about as terrible. Even by pros.
  • YouTube hasn’t innovated nearly enough with video formats. They’ve supported 180, 360, VR, etc. but haven’t messed much with things that work best on mobile phones like portrait video when maybe they should have been.
  • “Content creators” now have powerful mobile tool sets even more than they did before.
  • Instagram has 1B monthly active users. Content creators cannot dismiss this platform flippantly.

Second, I’ll list why I don’t think this will kill YouTube – but why it might move some of the content creators onto this platform.

  • Portrait video is intimate. So for things like “talking head” videos, make-up tips, and sharing an adventure, or vlogging it may even be better than YouTube for these things. For this reason, a lot of this type of content may move from YouTube to IGTV.
  • That being said, YouTube doesn’t make their bread and butter on these videos – nor even on vloggers. Though these internet celebrities suck up a lot of the oxygen around YouTube news (meaning, they get headlines)… by far YouTube is the video search engine. No time soon will you be fixing your toilets plumbing with a video from IGTV. YouTube’s business won’t be hurt much at all by losing vloggers or “Vine-like” funny videos to IGTV. In fact, it may help with issues like Logan Paul.
  • Tablet and TV — YouTube is saturated into the market of available devices. They are built into TVs, TV-connected devices like Alexa (I think?), Apple TV, Roku, etc. They also work on iPad. IGTV will never be on iPad and may not ever be on TVs. This is a smartphone medium.
  • Search Index – If you do a Google search for “Jeff Bezos interview” or “New Tesla commercial” or “Star Wars movie trailer” or “How Air Conditioning works” you will land on YouTube. And that will be that way for years to come.

Third, here are my general thoughts on the app experience:

  • Coming from Instagram Stories some of the gestures are odd. But I think I’ll get used to them.
  • I wish there was a quick way to pause or mute a video but it seems at least 2, if not 3, taps away from anywhere.
  • Discover-ability will need to improve. At current, you can only see the thumbnails for 4 popular videos at a time. Compare to Instagram’s Explore area, where you can quickly see dozens.
  • It eats battery. But, as I said above, I think the timing is right. Phones are going to greatly improve CPU which will help battery life.

Overall, I think IGTV is a great app and a good move for Instagram to make. I’m also happy that it is a separate app. While I believe that “creation apps” like Boomerang and Hyperlapse could have been strictly within Instagram’s main app – I believe consumption apps like IGTV belong outside of it.

Dan Kimbrough, a videographer, shared his thoughts on IGTV on his blog. I disagree with him on one point though. He says this is only important for those with Instagram or Facebook audiences. He writes:

Again, I’m talking about those who’s audience base comes from Instagram, not YouTubers or Facebook. If YouTube is your home base, this won’t matter to you today.

I disagree. And so does MKBHD who has 6M+ YouTube followers. Instagram’s 1B monthly active users (Dan cites 600M in his post but Instagram announced 1B MAUs yesterday) make it so that these creators cannot ignore this platform.

What I would write about Vero

Colin Walker wrote his hot take on Vero and it is exactly what I would have written (only his post is far more eloquent than mine would have been). Go read the entire post but here are a few highlights.

As soon as I saw what Vero was all about – the idea it “makes sharing online more like real life” using selective audiences I was immediately taken back to the promises of Google+ and its circles.

This is an apt comparison. As he rightly points out, managing ones Circles on Google+ and deciding who to share what with is exhausting to the user. On paper it seems like an excellent approach. But on every social network that has this feature – Facebook included – it is rarely used. Who wants to move people from one list to another only to move them back again when your relationship with them shifts?

Although Vero promises an algorithm free feed and no ads (it will monetise using subscriptions and charges for selling via the platform) I’m not sure that jumping from the frying pan of one silo straight into the as yet unproven fire of another is what we really need right now.

I thought about this when I signed up. However, it doesn’t take much for a platform like Vero to support the open web and be less of a silo than Facebook or Twitter. An open API, data portability, and support for one’s own domain are the main features. I can’t presume that no other platforms will support the open web eventually. In fact, imagine if Twitter did this like Medium has? Then what would people think of Twitter?

I wish them well and hope they prove me wrong but, while I think the noise about Russian developers and the CEO being the son of a former Lebanese prime minister is stupid and tantamount to inciting racial hatred, I’m afraid I won’t be signing up.

I’m very glad he brought this up. When I saw the drivel on Twitter about these details about this platform I was saddened. Are we saying all Russian developers are bad? Or all Lebanese billionaires? I would always urge caution when signing up to brand-new platforms but to think we’d all call these people out simply based on where they were born is… well Colin already said what it is.

Eliza and I poked around with Vero as much as we could while the app crashed and timed out. It won’t stick. Not because of the scaling issues – most platforms have those. It won’t stick because it will be far too noisy for users right out of the gate.

When Instagram pivoted from a check-in app to a filtered photo app it exploded because it made photo editing and publishing one simple step. It did one thing well. Slowly it has added other features but this primary feature is still the foremost one today. Vero has photos, music, links, books etc. Once the hype settles down people just want to post photos. Instagram should be scared of whatever comes next. Obviously people (including me) do not like the current algorithmic feed. But Vero is no Instagram killer.