Try Topical Alternatives to Social Media

Originally published at: Try Topical Alternatives to Social Media - TidBITS

Triggered by the addition of comments to the popular blog, Adam Engst encourages participation in focused online conversational spaces rather than scattershot social media.


It’s great to see comments coming back. I am an outlier, but I used to read thousands of RSS feeds and comment frequently on posts across a wide spectrum of interests.

I’m also very interested in what the IndieWeb movement has been up to.

You can find me at

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Yep, moderated fora… who knew?

I guess when you have a commenting system that functions as a forum which has been prompted by considered writing it is structured to win. When you have a system that is structured via rewards by nerve jolts the rot sets in, eventually.

It’s interesting to consider where fora disappeared or foundered or withered. I’m a subscriber to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which used to have a very active forum apparently. I’d love an academic forum, well maybe…maybe not. I’d love to try one. I am curious as to why they shut it down.

I’ve had great photography forum experiences (mainly on the technical side rather than the creative) and cookery ones (cooks are either fun or tough, I found both useful). Perhaps a technical base helps.

I was an early member of Cafe Utne, and a host on their Food forum. That functioned like a community, felt more like here, folks checked in every day, again around a common area of interest. It was the early Ninties and before FB and all the rest. Social media plucked people away steadily including myself. It is still going I have to note, though I never go now. It is the one online community where I actually met folks, where people came and stayed with us.

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Topical social spaces (TSS) - that really describes online platforms I am active on since I deleted “scattershot social media” (SSM) in 2020. I think the differences between the two is that in TSS, we have much greater control over our attention and engagement - whereas in SSM, our behaviours and attention are constantly being manipulated by the algorithms in the platform owner’s interest, which is very different from that of their users. I am not missing the days of using social media - and I guess those sites do not miss me too.

Speaking of behavioural manipulation and conflict of interest, there has been accusations that Google tried to increase search queries through means other than improving search quality. The accusation was widely discussed as part of the reporting on Google altering search terms to boost ad revenue (Wired via, but the Wired article was retracted apparently due to inaccuracy.

I think there is also some sort of self-selection effects among the audience. Thanks to the stewardship of @ace and friends, TidBITS are a safe, pleasant and productive space for Apple-related discussions. I will not name names, but the tenor of the discussions here is very different - in a good way - than other Apple-related fora.


Social media didn’t always manipulate what you see.

Years ago, they would give you the option to just show everything in all your subscribed feeds, presented in chronological order.

Then they added the “feature” to present only what their algorithm considered important. Then they took away the ability to view the entire contents of your subscribed feeds.

I definitely miss the old days, when I was in control over the content I saw. But those days are never coming back. Nobody with that kind of power over others ever voluntarily gives it up.


FWIW, there is no algorithmic feed with Mastodon. It’s basically replaced twitter for me.

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That’s good to know. But I’ve never used Twitter or any Twitter-like service (which seems to be what all the new social media sites are doing).

What I’d love is what Facebook was 12 years ago. But that isn’t ever coming back. And I don’t think my friends and family are ever going to migrate elsewhere.

Another tip: on iOS, tap “feeds” in the tab bar at the bottom of the FB window. (On iPadOS, for some reason, it’s “menu” and the “feeds”.). This gives you a reverse chronological timeline, newest to oldest.

Similarly, there is a (mostly) reverse chronological view of Facebook that is available on desktop browsers. I’ve bookmarked the link, and it’s by far my preferred way to access Facebook. Just use as the link, with the ?sk=h_chr part being the key.

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I’m aware of this option, but FB won’t show you all of your friends’ feeds in chronological order. Their algorithm is still going to filter what you do and do not see, no matter how you choose to sort the feed.

If you want to see everything, including what FB think you shouldn’t be seeing, you need to visit each friends’ page individually and scroll through them separately.

I won’t get into why they’re doing this or what their algorithm is really doing - that’s a discussion that can’t possibly end well - but the fact is that they do it and there is really no way to turn it off.

I’m a fan of discussion forums; I used to be a moderator of the programming forums over at JavaRanch, way back when that wasn’t moribund, and to this day maintain an open source Java forum web app (JForum2 download |, but with the advent of Q&A sites like StackOverflow, forums seems to have fallen out of favor.

For German language tech content, have a lively comment/discussion section for their articles that is generally of decent quality. Unfortunately, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

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I think that’s a good way of thinking about it. And some level of stewardship has to be present, ideally from thoughtful people who want the forum to be the kind of place they want to hang out.

Strava had that, moved to an algorithmic feed, and then brought back the chronological feed. Much more sensible!

Back to bulletin boards!

You joke, but back in the days of dial-up BBSs and expensive long-distance phone calls, electronic discussion forums were all local. You knew (or could easily get to know) the other members, and face-to-face get-togethers were not unusual.

It was a very different kind of experience from what we have today.

It has been (sort-of) recaptured via local-area social media sites like Nextdoor, but it’s still not the same thing.

I also think that slow modems and 80x25 text-only screens forced people to be more concise in their messaging, because huge messages were really annoying to read.

And I have fond memories of reading a feed of messages scrolling by without any pauses, because I can usually read faster than 1200 bps (about 120 characters per second).


Thanks for pointing this out. It’s one thing to write a book and send it out for all the world to read. It’s another thing entirely to provide a space for people to actually interact as human to human. I think even Facebook, with it’s push towards groups, has recognized that we can’t actually operate in a global “town square”. We need digital spaces that are much smaller in scope.

In fact, I have begun to think that many more physical communities - churches, schools, work places, sports clubs, etc - should provide digital spaces that correlate to their physical, in-person communities. People want to communicate digitally. The benefits of online, connected communication are obvious. And I am hoping that we can have places to communicate digitally where we are the customer (patron, member, etc) and not the product.


I’ve contemplated setting up a beefy virtual server and running Discourse for any and all local groups and organizations that wanted an online space. It wouldn’t be technically difficult or all that expensive, but would probably require a good bit of tech support and training. And then there would be the moderation headaches when someone acted truly badly.


I’ve thought about doing something very similar! But you’re right: the tech is not the hard part. It’s all those dang people who will give you headaches! :smirk:

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Bravo and thanks for this article!

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Nice little piece about this topic, though it’s perhaps telling that the author identifies Web forums as providing community he’s promoting but then goes on to say that he doesn’t use them anymore.

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