After I started thinking more about what I posted on Twitter, I started posting things I cared more about. Then I realized I needed a way of making sure it didn’t disappear.
Over the years, I’ve used Twitter for different things.
Initially, I used it for the kind of banal, stream-of-consciousness updates that were in vogue at the time: an archive of AIM away messages, essentially. (I think I even entered them in all-lowercase at that point—eeesh!) As I got more comfortable with Twitter, I’d share more developed opinions on things, and actually talk with people. For the past couple of years, though, all Twitter really has done is give me a headache, and I’ve been thinking more closely about how I want to be using it.
I have two major problems with social media: I don’t like what it does to people, and I don’t like how it works. I’ll avoid getting into the first one.
Design-wise, I’m frustrated by the ephemeral nature of profile feeds. Nothing really lasts. Your most visible public presence is the handful of things you recently posted, and everything else is buried. (I call this the tip-of-the-iceberg problem.) The only way to get to older posts is to scroll. Features commonly found on most blogs that make it easier to browse or find old posts—categories, dated archives, etc—aren’t there. Hashtags are the closest thing there is to any means of classification, and they’re better than nothing, but I think the current implementation is flawed. That’s for a later post, though.
There’s a reason this problem hasn’t been solved: social networks don’t consider it a problem. Most users don’t care about their old posts getting buried, and I’d bet a lot of us are secretly glad to see our random outbursts settle into oblivion, given how many of our social media contributions are disposable things we knocked off on a whim. Some of us even go back and delete them. Why worry about making them more visible or accessible?
In short: because at least for me, I’m starting to see my social media presences as a portfolio of sorts. I think one major—admittedly idealistic—role of our online identities is to help other people see the better parts of who we are and what’s important to us, and it’s that understanding that guides a lot of what I put online these days.
I have a somewhat rose-tinted recollection of Twitter’s first couple of years, before it developed a reputation for being one of the web’s worst neighborhoods. I joined in the summer of 2007, and I remember it as feeling a lot like a lab/hangout/group studio; a place where work—often unfinished—was shared, similar to what Dribbble was in its early days. Twitter gave me a chance to look over the shoulders of all the smart people whose blogs I was reading, seeing what they were thinking before they put it into a post or article. I felt like I was in on something, like a backstage pass or sneak preview of sorts. It was a great way to stay on top of the industry and see who was experimenting with what.
That’s my model for what I wish Twitter was. That loose, experimental spirit is still there, to some degree, but it’s buried in a lot of other stuff now. (The fact that Twitter is forcing increasingly less relevant content into the timeline does not help.)
With that in mind, I’ve shifted what I post towards creative experimentation, and less about opinionating.
I’ve always done a lot of experimenting on a regular basis: illustrations, typographic doodles, design approaches that I’ve wanted to try. Most of that work never makes it into the world, piling up in the various recesses of my hard drives and devices. Lately, I’ve been putting it on Twitter; it feels like a healthier, more satisfying use of the service than just snarking about stuff all the time. (Not that I’ve abstained completely from the more typical uses of Twitter; I’m just trying not to do that as much.)
I’ve been posting a lot of that work under my daily sketch project, but I’ve also shared more fully-formed illustrations and typographic experiments. I’m proud of this stuff. I want it to still be findable, even after it’s shifted down.
I’ve decided to experiment with a device for making certain kinds of posts more accessible. It’s a time-honored concept: have a simple table of contents. Rather than linking to specific posts, each index item links to the closest Twitter lets you get to a WordPress-style archive: search results for a specific hashtag, limited to posts from my account. I think this provides a decent summary of what I’ve posted, and what I want to post. This is the important stuff. The rest is casual, and I’m happy to let that fade.
How it works
I’ve had this planned for a little while now. I started hashtagging certain kinds of posts a few months ago: posts where I shared an illustration, typographic experiment, or daily sketch. (It felt weird at first—I associate classificatory hashtags with growth-hackerish, “biz-dev”-style posts that I usually find fake and annoying—but I only used one for each post, and I think I used it tastefully: short, lowercase, as unobtrusive as possible.)
It’s not particularly elegant—I would have preferred a title that was a little less cluttered than something like “(#sketch OR #dailysketch) (from:_csilverman)”—but you work with what there is.
Given the simplicity of the design, you wouldn’t think I’d have that much room to be creative. I actually thought about the design a fair amount. I wanted it to be visually interesting and understandable—more than just a list of links.
First thing I considered was the title. Twitter doesn’t offer the ability to style text, of course, so I needed to find some other way of emphasizing the title. (I could have used the Unicode styling I see frequently on Twitter—𝕝𝕚𝕜𝕖 𝖙𝖍𝖎𝖘—but it always looks jarring and out of place to me. The kerning is often poor and it just doesn’t match Twitter. Also, it’s not always treated like text.)
So I went with emoji. Isn’t this pretty?
⭐️⭐️⭐️ #Contents ⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’ll admit here that I love emoji. I think they’re beautiful. I keep emoji to a minimum in personal communications, but I’ve always liked small, self-contained visual designs. (My first indication as a kid that I wanted to be a designer was an obsession with logos.)
And I’m fascinated to see people repurpose emoji as design elements, especially in situations where, as with Twitter, the options for visual customization are pretty limited. I’ve noticed designers on Twitter use emoji as elements to 🚨emphasize content🚨, underscore specific content, or even do editorial design. Creative visual design in 280 characters—how cool is that?
So when I was thinking about the list of post categories, I knew I’d be using emoji.
🌈 Daily Sketch ··· url
✏️ Illustration ····· url
🔠 Typetest ·········· url
I originally considered going with the 🖼 for the Daily Sketch, but I don’t like how it looks. It’s not immediately recognizable as “picture”—it’s just a colored square. My first kneejerk impression was that it looked like a missing-image icon you see in browsers.
The other thing is that I don’t really think of the Daily Sketch work as finished art, even though I do put a fair amount of time into them. They feel more amorphous, like experiments, and I thought a more indeterminate icon—something that suggested color and visual interest without a specific art-ish meaning—was more accurate. I’ve always liked the little 🌈 icon, so I went with that.
Typetest was a tricky one. Really makes me wish there was an alphabet block emoji. (Maybe I should suggest one.) I tried the 🅰 icon, but the letter was too prominent, like an alphabetical bullet point.
I’m still thinking about the use of middle dots as ruled lines. I like how it looks, but it’s expensive character-wise. Might have to do something else as I add more categories.
I’m not really happy with the bare URLs sitting out there—it’s ugly—but what can you do?
You’ll notice I don’t have a lot of results for the different sections right now. Those will come; I’m getting better about tagging the important stuff at this point. (The cool part is that this doesn’t just make some of my posts more accessible, it helps me think more clearly about what I’m sharing.)
I also won’t be tagging everything. I share plenty of things that I’m perfectly happy to let settle into the past.
Most importantly: this is a living index. I’ll be adding hashtags—and perhaps removing them—as I get a better sense of what I want to keep available or how I categorize work. What’s interesting is that the inability to edit Twitter posts, which I usually find frustrating, means that each modification to the index will require a whole new post. Hence the reason why the index title—#Contents—is itself a hashtag. I thought it would be interesting to scroll through the various iterations of the index: see what I started with, what I added to it, what I took away. Sort of a built-in version control.
Anyway, that’s the plan. Let’s see how this goes.