Twitter’s overrated dissemination capacity


Many of us are worried that Twitter’s increasingly erratic post visibility and user verification policies will curtail our ability to disseminate our work and ideas to a wide audience. Having spent years to attract followers on Twitter, setting up shop on Mastodon sounds like a tough call. Fortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that dissemination via Mastodon can be more potent than Twitter, even with a fraction of a follower base.

On March 30th I posted a link to a blog article I wrote regarding the call to pause AI research, detailing why I considered the call hypocritical. I posted the link both through my Twitter @CoolSWEng account and through my Mastodon account. On Twitter, where I have posted 3,344 tweets since 2012, I enjoy 6,774 followers. I also retweeted the post through the Twitter @DSpinellis account I use for posting in Greek, which has another 16.9k followers. On Mastodon, where I set my account on February 2023, I have just 280 followers.

On Twitter the post was retweeted 14 times, received 50 likes, and appears to have been seen 4,699 times. On Mastodon it was boosted 10 times and received 9 likes. (Mastodon does not keep track of how many times a post has been seen.) Through these metrics Twitter appears to have an edge. However, my interest was engagement with the actual blog post, not with the tweet.

To measure blog engagement I tagged the links in the two posts with a URL parameter. This allowed me to track through the web server logs the platform used for accessing the blog post. (Most big platforms obscure the referrer-URL.)

Amazingly, the blog post was accessed 731 times through the Mastodon link and only 163 times through the one on Twitter. With Mastodon leading to more than four times as many blog post accesses as Twitter, these numbers seem to suggest that, at least in this case, Mastodon was much more potent than Twitter for disseminating the blog post, despite being posted to two orders of magnitude fewer followers. Martin Fowler has written about a similar asymmetry between the two platforms regarding followers and engagement.

It seems that moving to Mastodon is not as scary as it appears. On the contrary, it may increase your posts’ impact.

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Last modified: Sunday, April 2, 2023 8:26 pm

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Unless otherwise expressly stated, all original material on this page created by Diomidis Spinellis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.