October 2015 May Be a Quiet Month for AltSciFi. Here’s Why.

After the Patreon hack was disclosed (Patreon’s database and source code where stolen), it seemed like a good time to change passwords. This included the password for AltSciFi’s Twitter account.

Naturally, after changing the password this morning, it became impossible to log in. Any further changes would have to be verified using a “password reset request” sent to email.

The email account at mail.com that was the address on file at Twitter is now blocked because of “suspicious” or “automated” behaviour. In other words, the email is locked due to use of Tor (Tor is a program that helps you stay a bit more safely anonymous online). Anonymity also enables “cybercriminals” to make mischief, so many services block Tor indiscriminately. Of course, that sloppy catch-all blocking solution also denies access to many people who simply want to stay safe while browsing the Web.

Also, Twitter apparently does not offer real support in any way, via Tweets or email — “real” as in a real human being.

Hence, all attempts at contacting Twitter result in autoresponses that redirect the user back to a password reset form. The form sends a message to the email address that you have on file with Twitter.

What does that add up to, then?

October 2015 may be a quiet month for AltSciFi unless mail.com unlocks our email account.

It’s ultimately a good thing, though, in some ways. Here are some cautionary notes in case you want to start a community on Twitter.

1. Maintaining AltSciFi’s Twitter account was becoming unexpectedly time-consuming

Sifting for new material had grown to take up to three hours daily. It was an experiment in using Twitter to build an audience, and we were earning about one new subscriber per day as a reward for time spent.

The key in “curating” content online is that the real skill is invisible. It’s not what you include that matters most. The pieces that you don’t include give your Twitter account its distinctive tone and style.

The problem there is that most people don’t notice the absence of noise. Therefore, the value of tight focus and carefully selected content can be easy to miss or ignore. That’s a problem when your ultimate goal is to ask people to pay for the hours it takes to find high-quality information in a sea of nondescript Internet chatter.

It may be far more effective to create and upload original material for Twitter to devour, rather than painstaking shape the data that’s already there. Unless you have a knack for dumb-yet-funny jokes, or you’re an unusually pretty woman with a magnetically narcissistic personality (or lots of cleavage-baring selfies at least), Twitter is a very slow, time-intensive way to create a community.

2. The Twitter stats are either misleading or almost completely meaningless.

Statistics gathered by Twitter fall into two main categories:

1. Followers: “follow” is creepy Twitter jargon for “subscribe”, and “followers” are the stalker-lingo equivalent of “subscribers”.

Many Twitter denizens conform to the label, too. Most subscribers offer little response or input aside from their silent presence as an addition to your voluntarily voiceless army of Followers.

2. Impressions: an “impression” on Twitter is the moment when a user is shown one of your tweets. They don’t actually have to do anything in particular aside from (perhaps) see the tweet. Even though AltSciFi was averaging over 30,000 “impressions” per month, only one or two people would click through to read blog entries or look at the prototypes for our zine.

Lesson: impressions are nothing like page-hits across the rest of the Web. The have almost no value in terms of gauging your digital reach or popularity.

The Not-So-Holy Grail of Social Media

For many Twitter users, a high Follower count is akin to the Holy Grail of Social Media: at all times, you must increase your number of Followers. From experience, though, Twitter gladly obliges by failing to curb the rampant proliferation of spambots roaming free.

Spambots are accounts that are not run directly by humans. Instead, spambots are semi-autonomous programs unleashed into the wild, untamed environs of the Twitterverse where they attach, Succubus-like, to any account that seems viable, selling sex via nubile young webcam girls or shilling for shady Internet marketing schemes.

Perhaps the number of impressions was also being boosted by spambots as well. Taken together, Followers and Impressions can be eye-poppingly large numbers that add up to nearly zero.

Our Next Mutation

AltSciFi has been through over two years of continual cataclysmic evolution.

We started out as a reaction to shoddy community moderation on Reddit, calling ourselves “AllSciFi”. Then Reddit shut the AllSciFi subreddit down for “spamming” when we sent invitations to other users (there’s no discovery mechanism on Reddit, so messaging people by hand was the only option if we wanted to grow).

From there, we became “AltSciFi” and spread to Twitter, WordPress and Tumblr so that we could never be completely shut down.

This little hiccup of being locked out of Twitter has one major upside: three hours are now free every day for doing what matters most — creating new indie science fiction.

Maybe we’ll get our Twitter account back. The zine prototypes here on WordPress are still improving and will likely continue. We’ve faced setbacks before and they turn out to be blessings in disguise. So we’ll see about the next steps for AltSciFi. Stay tuned.

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