It has been eight months since I stopped posting on Twitter. I don't regret that decision at all, and had found my time on the platform slowly declining with each bizarre business decision or stunt. Then around mid-July, as the service was undergoing its most radical/annoying redesign since the Musk era began, I just stopped visiting entirely. The combination of the new, laughable brand, and the way the platform was sharing ad revenue, turned out to be the final nails in the coffin.
In some ways, leaving Twitter entirely was surprisingly easy. Thanks to Mastodon (and particularly Elk) my muscle memory for opening the app had entirely vanished already, so now days would go past without me even wondering about the service. In a sense, I was over it and had moved on.
But then something would happen and I'd wonder what so-and-so would think about it, and realise that my answer was locked behind a self-imposed barricade. Several people I used to rely on for news, updates, and general information are still only posting on Twitter. One or two may have set up BlueSky accounts, but I have yet to bother hunting down an invite, so that's no use to me. And I've been slowly trying to build back an RSS habit and follow people there, but whilst I'm loving that for certain things, it doesn't replace social feeds for their vibrancy and timeliness.
So I'd occasionally be tempted to dip my toes back in. In particular, it was the breadth of voices that I was missing. Mastodon has been a decent replacement for most web development and internet news, but it still sucks for things like science, palaeoart, world-building, birding, and my various other hobbies. And even within the front end and accessibility worlds, it's noticeable that most of the people in my timeline now look quite a bit like me; there's a good range of genders, to be fair, but it's very white and Western. Again, even in a relatively large social circle, the information and experiences I have access to has shrunk. As Ethan Marcotte put it so eloquently:
Because it’s not really Twitter that I miss: it’s the activists and artists and writers I followed; the voices who weren’t like mine, the people who walked different paths than I did, each of whom taught me so much.
A week ago I clicked on a Twitter link without realising, and I was briefly sucked back in, falling into old habits, and finding so much worth reading and catching up on. So I began considering my options again, and in doing so, I stumbled onto a potential compromise.
Readwise & Twitter Lists
As part of the aforementioned attempts to improve my RSS reading habits, I've been experimenting with a service called Readwise; specifically, their (still in beta) feed reader/read-it-later tool, currently imaginatively called Reader. I've got a lot more to say about the service as a whole, but that will have to wait. Right now, I want to focus on just one possible use case: replacing Twitter, without replacing Tweets.
Y'see, Readwise has had quite deep Twitter integrations for a while now. They have bots on the platform that can automatically roll up threads and send them to your reading queue as mini blog articles; there are other bots which can grab individual tweets and automatically tag them into your notes; and, most usefully for me, they can "subscribe" to Twitter lists. I'm not sure how many of these integrations are still working in a post-Musk world, but that list one appears to be chugging along just fine.
I've dabbled with Lists in the past, and know quite a few people who use(d) them extensively, but they've never really clicked for me. I always preferred the open firehose of the main feed, and preferred to curate this by only following a certain number of people, rather than feeling like I needed to split it into different timelines or inboxes. I think I'd even heard somewhere before that Lists had some kind of feed behaviour that could be followed from other services, like feed readers. But I'd also heard that these extraction paths had been firmly closed earlier this year, so I was (more than) pleasantly surprised to see that Readwise was still advertising the feature.
Setting it up was extremely simple. You do have to log in to Twitter at least once to do this, but my hope is that I'll never have to do that again now it's up and running.
Once logged in, open the Lists panel from the sidebar and create a new List. You have to give it a name, and can also add a description and image. I called mine "The Holdouts" because I'm edgy like that, and left the rest blank. The final option allows the List to be private; I'm honestly not sure if you can subscribe to private lists, so I left mine open and public, but if you'd like the added, well, privacy, then give it a go and see if it works 🤷♂️
Next, you'll be prompted to add some "Members", which are the accounts whose tweets will populate the List feed. For the most part, searching people's display names brought them up pretty quickly, and it usefully highlights accounts that you are already subscribed to, so you can verify that it's the right one before adding them. There were one or two people I failed to find, so your mileage may vary a little, but I think that's probably a me problem rather than a common issue.
With the List populated, you should see it under the Your Lists section of the page. Open it up and copy the URL; the format should be along the lines of:
You should also see the most recent posts (going back at least a couple of days) from the people you just added as Members, ordered in a chronological feed.
Head over to Readwise, open up the Reader app, and in the bottom-left, you'll see a plus symbol with a blue background. Press this and choose "Subscribe to Twitter List"; alternatively, use the Shift + A keyboard shortcut to skip straight to the input.
An input modal will open, where you can paste your copied List URL. And that's it, you're done 🎉
If you open up your Feed panel in Reader, and select "Manage Feeds", you should now see the name of your Twitter List (plus any descriptions or images you added) listed as a new feed. Personally, I've chosen to stick this in a custom filtered view (called "Twitter"; oh so imaginative! 😅), which lets me add a shortcut to my sidebar (note the "Tw" in the screenshot above). With the counter enabled, I can effectively see and triage new "tweets" as they roll in.
Under the hood, this appears to simply be using RSS, so updates are not in real-time, but rather appear as rolled-up "catch-up" posts a few times a day. These are nicely formatted by Readwise to work with their note-taking tools, and preserve elements like quote tweets, embedded links, etc. You also can't respond, like, or share; this is a one-way sync. But if you're like me and have already stopped interacting with the service, that won't be an issue. Effectively, this turns Twitter into a semi-curated, regular newsletter, which is exactly what I wanted. No ads, no spam, no algorithm. I can cope with a minor delay for that.
I guess Musk may turn off this feature at some point for those very reasons, but my hope is that Readwise will be able to weather that storm. They seem to have managed to keep most of their integrations running, somehow. Perhaps that means they're paying for API access, I'm not sure. What I do know is that I'll likely stick with Readwise regardless, so if they are giving Musk some money, then there's nothing I can do about that. Though, if that isn't something you're willing to risk (understandably) then the same technique should work in any RSS reader (if my assumptions are correct).
For now, I feel like I've effectively found a way to keep in contact with the people and news I care about on Twitter, without ever having to interface with the service directly. It's another step in an overall pattern of retreat for me, but hopefully it achieves the next goal of being able to delete the app from my phone, without worrying I'll suddenly need it again. So far, it's been working well. Hopefully, that lasts 🤞