Twitter Is a Hellscape, So this Plugin Sends Tweets to Your Inbox

For those of us whose jobs require at least some use of the social network, there are now ways to take a bit of a break.
December 3, 2018, 2:00pm
The Twitter logo filled with flames
Image: Wikipedia, illustration by Kaleigh Rogers/Motherboard

Complaining about Twitter is one of the most popular uses of the social media site. We love to hate on it but we can’t seem to leave, either from fascination or legitimate work reasons. So when I saw that there is a new tool that lets you get tweets from specific users e-mailed to you in a daily digest, rather than having to endure the daily shitshow of the site itself, it sounded perfectly 2018.

TinyFollow works as a Twitter app allowing you to choose specific accounts whose tweets you want to stay on top of. Then you pick how often you need to be updated and you’ll receive a simple email with all the tweets that user shared since your last digest.

A screengrab of the TinyFollow app

Charles Han, a Vancouver-based developer who created the app, told me he made it to try to give people a simple way of getting the information they need from Twitter without having to sit through the onslaught of the actual site.

“I see today's news feed as a dietitian who's incentivized by the amount of food you eat,” Han told me via email. “It does not care about the quality of the food (content) and the main goal is to get you to consume as much as possible. This leads to dangerously addictive and unhealthy diet.”

For many users, particularly those of us in the media, Twitter is a double-edged sword. It’s a constant, toxic deluge of bad news, arguments, hot takes, and out-of-context comments. But it’s also a valuable way to share and stay on top of breaking news, find sources, and even make new friends IRL. For that reason, many of us don’t want to delete our accounts entirely (although that’s a perfectly valid and effective option.) Tools like TinyFollow, allows users to have more ways to interact with the platform.

However it’s limited in how much it can help, particularly for journalists. Take the breaking news use case, for example. Reading a Tweet about breaking news in an email four hours later isn’t very useful. Not seeing it at all, because you didn’t happen to subscribe to any accounts that shared the information, is even worse.

Still, while talking about how bad Twitter is is basically a Twitter meme by now, many researchers have found that these sites have a negative effect on our brains and behavior. Constantly dipping into a stream of information like Twitter can raise our stress hormones and anxiety levels, which is not something you want to be doing on an hourly basis just to keep up with the news.

TinyFollow is far from a panacea to our modern woes. For one thing, each account’s tweets arrive in a separate email, and a flooded inbox is hardly a relief to Twitter. Han said he plans to update the tool to put all tweets in a single digest to alleviate this issue. But the best part about modern technology is that we don’t have to accept it and use it as packaged—we can integrate external tools and tricks to make these sites work for us, not the other way around.