In the wake of Twitter’s ongoing uh reinvention, and my departure from the site, it’s really become apparent how much I was leaning on Science Twitter as a front page of the Internet — the place I went to find out what news items, and what new scientific results, were worth my attention. Nine months after deleting my account, I think I’ve got much of that function restored, and in some respects the new normal is better than what Twitter had become by the time I bailed on it.
In a daily scholarly Internet practice, I want to see new scientific publications relevant to my interests, and I want to see what my colleagues are saying about them. I also want to see relevant news stories and events, and what people are saying about them. “Saying”, here, is broadly defined — anything from short-form reactions like Twitter posts to the in-depth reflections and critiques you get from blogs. Twitter used to be a place that covered all this stuff, with people posting links and reactions to new science, as well as links to longer-form discussions. There isn’t, unfortunately, a single platform that covers all these bases, but I’m getting close with a patchwork of social and social-adjacent apps:
I’ve been on the evolution and ecology community instance ecoevo.social since last year, and it’s held up moderately well as a venue specifically for that crowd, or at least a subset thereof. People post about papers that catch their eyes, and the major journals and scholarly societies in the field have at least some presence there.
The Fediverse is pretty well developed as a platform, with established third-party apps (I use Ivory) and conventions for posting and following, and a fair bit of useful and/or entertaining automated content. Getting set up and finding people on there remains challenging, though, often because of specific choices made by developers and established community members’ expectations that newcomers will rapidly assimilate and conform to etiquette developed over years. The lack of algorithmic curation and in-depth search (you can search and follow hashtags, but searching the text of Mastodon posts is severely limited) is exhibit A, here. To make Mastodon useful, you need to spend a lot of time finding the right people and hashtag searches to follow, and even after that work it can feel more limited that Twitter once did.
There’s a lot of ex-Science Twitter folks from beyond the evolution and ecology world on the other federated social media app, as well as much more representation of the general news media. Bluesky is sort of the inverse of Mastodon, in that it has the kind of community and engagement I remember from Twitter, and has some nifty options to select and harness algorithmic views of the platform with customizable feeds.
But it’s also still very much under development, and the ways in which it’s under-developed have not been good for important parts of the nascent community, especially Black users. Also, though federation — a network of interoperable servers managing their own moderation, membership, and hosting choices, like Mastodon — is a goal for Bluesky, at this point there’s just the one server. As long as that’s the case, the whole network is subject to moderation decisions by the folks running that one server, who are also the folks occupied with building the software itself.
Real simple syndication
Where Mastodon and Bluesky mostly pick up short-form chatter and commentary, a real simple syndication (RSS) reader can be a one-stop shop for all the article-length material I want to keep up with in a day. The late lamented Google Reader used to be the top choice among RSS readers; last fall, I paid for an installation of Reeder. Almost any serially updating website, from the Washington Post to The American Naturalist to this very blog, offers one or more RSS feeds, which are just standardized ways to transmit the contents of blog posts or news articles. A browser plugin from Reeder lets me add a subscription to a given website’s RSS feed by clicking a toolbar icon, so new updates from that site go into the Reeder app’s single interface of topic-specific folders I’ve created. Reeder also syncs over iCloud so I can read, preview, and save articles on my phone and find the results on my other devices later.
I’ve gotten used to using Reeder for daily news reading — but also keeping up with scientific journals, reading science blogs, and following my Google search alerts. Currently I’m finding Reeder is a lot better for following new scientific articles than journals’ table-of-contents emails ever were, in no small part because I can flip through a bunch of titles in the feed from, say, Ecology Letters, and save just the ones I want to read in depth. Lately-fashionable newsletter platforms even offer RSS feeds, and this turns out to be a source for a lot of content that feels closer to the old Science Blogosphere days — including updates from science journalists like Bethany Brookshire and Ed Yong, or from TME alum and newly-minted faculty member Ethan Linck.
Finding and following people, wherever they are
The challenge remains to find people to follow across a patchwork of platforms and personal websites. RSS is very close to tying it all together, but there’s no direct link between the feed updates in Reeder and the conversations on Mastodon or Bluesky. Some people are only on one platform or another; and others I’m following on both Mastodon and Bluesky AND via the RSS feed of a personal blog or a newsletter platform. This is starting to feel like it might be the new normal, though, and that might be okay — if nothing else, the lesson of Twitter is that the only secure basket for my Internet-reading eggs is one I’ve woven myself.