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Andy Piper
Andy Piper

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Thoughts on Dev Rel in the post-Twitter era

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

The wonderful Brian Rinaldi just shared some thoughts on Developer Relations in the post-Twitter era.

quick additional shout-out to Brian here: he runs the excellent community which is great for keeping up-to-date with the latest developer tools and tech, and just started a new Dev Rel talk show with the equally wonderful Erin Mikael Staples, DevRel(ish)

I left a pretty extensive reply over on that post, but it got long enough that I thought it warranted a post of my own - not least because, as of yesterday, I am no longer working at Twitter (technically, that has been the case since November, but the process took until this week to fully play out). This is more than just a re-post of that response.

Since we're hitting the topic of "the birdsite", I'll start with a disclaimer, and point out that I may be referred to as a "disgruntled former employee" by some people - I'm certainly a very sad and disappointed one, but I have had a LOT of love for Twitter. It got me two fantastic jobs in Dev Rel, and a huge network and community of friends around the world. Don't mistake my commentary here as hating on it!

➡️ follow me on Mastodon!

To qualify further:

  • I joined Twitter as a user on Feb 21 2007;
  • I got my first full-time / "titled" Dev Rel role through having been on Twitter, in 2012 (as Developer Advocate for Cloud Foundry, whilst it was originally part of VMware);
  • I joined Twitter as an employee (in the Developer and Platform Relations team, “DPR”) in March 2014;
  • I left the company as an employee - and, in the end, also left the platform as a daily active user - in November 2022

To address the question posed by Brian's post title (Can DevRel Be Done Without Twitter)... absolutely Dev Rel can be done without Twitter!

Some would argue that Developer Relations as A Thing, started well before Twitter was invented. Guy Kawasaki was an evangelist for Apple in the 1980s, and many folks trace the idea of developer evangelists and technology advocates to that period of personal enthusiam and direct connection with others to spread awareness of a product and technology.

Before I was at Twitter or Cloud Foundry, I was advocating for MQTT, the Internet of Things messaging protocol. We had a lot of success growing a community around that via Twitter in ~2008-2012, but there were also forums, mailing lists, and code repositories before that. Helping to set up the Eclipse Paho project and the Eclipse IoT Working Group - and seeing that technology continue to thrive in so many different places we could never have imagined - are among my proudest achievements.

That said, as Brian correctly identifies, for a long time there was a strong resonance between Twitter, and Developer Relations. If you were in Dev Rel, you needed to be on Twitter. Twitter began as something of a niche platform for the (then) technorati - famously, it really “took off” during SxSW in 2007, around the time that I created my account - so it was a great place to find other developers and follow tech events. Once the search feature emerged (Summize was acquired by Twitter in 2008 and the feature was then added to the core product and API), and hashtags became linked to search results, it became an even better way to find where the conversations were. In the later period, Twitter became a great megaphone for getting news out about software releases and events, and a popularity contest for a few folks as well[1].

In the meantime, several other things also happened:

  • GitHub became the predominant place where code was shared; and in tandem with that, the decentralised and OSS movements created tools like GitLab, CodeBerg and others with their own communities, that act as a (slight) counterweight to the gravity of the GitHub galactic spiral.

    • there's a whole side discussion here as well about the growth of formats like Markdown to underpin both CMS and other publishing systems like Forem, as well as documentation and so on; today you're potentially expected to "speak in Markdown" as much as I thought of us as expected to "speak in (X)HTML" in the early 2000s...
  • IRC remained; Matrix happened; Discord and Slack happened and grew. There's a lot more expectation today that projects will have a live and active chat type community based on something like Matrix or Discord.

  • personally-owned and operated blogs appeared to wither, perhaps (in my own case, I regret that I didn’t keep up regular long-form writing, and hope to get back to it); but long-form never really fully went away.

  • Reddit became... useful for things, especially search (vs the enshittification of Google results)

  • alongside all of these: the Fediverse quietly grew and established itself.

    • the new normal - many loosely-connected services - is definitely a challenge to the convenience of having a single place to go to take part in a conversation (as it might be if you were on Twitter, where there's a single and mostly universal[2] search feature, as well as a single source for hashtags).
    • the culture of the Fediverse and Mastodon is almost explicitly the reverse of the popularity contest / public exposure-driven latter stage Twitter: you're much less likely to be greeted warmly if you slide into a conversation you discover, than on Twitter; the lack of built-in quoting (itself a later innovation on Twitter, based on usage) can make it less easy to build on existing conversations; the risk of defederation or fediblock makes it even more important to know your audiences, and to be respectful.

I look at this as a user of things / a member of a developer audience, too. For example, I've recently become a part of several communities:

  • MicroPython, which itself moved from its own older forum, to GitHub Discussions, and IRC+Slack to Discord;
  • 3D printing, both as an overall Thing, and also, on a per-brand basis;
  • Bird Buddy

In each of these instances, I've sought out where others are talking about the Thing - forums, official and unofficial subreddits or Facebook Groups, and elsewhere. I’m not especially missing Twitter in those cases, because the discussions are elsewhere.

Fundamentally, for me, a core tenet of Dev Rel remains: go where the community is. Don't expect to "own" the community around your Thing [ product | project | technology | idea ]. Earn the respect of the community, in the spaces where it has formed. You can (by all means!) host your own Discourse forum or Forem instance, but that's almost certainly not the only place where folks are discussing your Thing.

At Twitter, I constantly and consistently advocated for my team to be present and to respond on Stack Overflow, to post on and follow others on DEV, to share via individual social profiles on LinkedIn or wherever, to hop into third-party Slack and Discord communities related to the API and third-party libraries - because the Thing was wider than just "our API as delivered by us", and not everyone always wanted to join our own community forum and discuss things there.

... and this line of thought all reminds me of Nick's post from earlier in the week - Where Do You Find Community?

... this set of ideas is also why I don't love the title "Community Manager", but personally have preferred "Community Lead"

It may be a bit more of an effort to map out where developer communities are, today, but it's also a great opportunity to learn those new platforms, and adapt to that new environment.

That evolution - of communities, technologies, and opportunities to learn - is why I love Developer Relations (as part of "my Thing").

➡️ follow me on Mastodon!

post-script: yesterday marked the 16th anniversary of the creation of my Twitter account. Funny story - you know those "happy Twitterversary" images that Twitter sends you each year? There are only 15 of them, so I never got the 16th.

Screenshot of Mastodon post about Andy Piper's 16th Twitterversary as a user

[1] I include myself in the "popularity contest" thing here, I admit. I was "proud" of my follower number, though it was not astronomical... it was all entirely organic, and grew somewhat steadily over the ~15 years I was active posting on the platform. I also do not yet know what the impact will be on my future opportunities when I don’t get to list “audience of xx,000 on Twitter” as an asset, and that’s something I am very aware that I’ve walked away from.

[2] note: Did You Know? Search is not a complete index on Twitter, either in the UI, or in the API. This is true for a number of fairly nuanced technical reasons. It's definitely good enough for Dev Rel use cases, and most others (barring really detailed data science, which typically needs additional access to the firehose), but this is worth knowing about, particularly if the API ends up behind a paywall for the majority of users.

Top comments (5)

missamarakay profile image
Amara Graham

It may be a bit more of an effort to map out where developer communities are, today, but it's also a great opportunity to learn those new platforms, and adapt to that new environment.

Learning and growing and evolving! A bright spot in the dark.

Andy, I'm so thankful for YOU. I think we "met" on Twitter and then met IRL at DevRelCon London. I love that we are in the DevRel community together and we are connected on multiple platforms!

While I've paused any engagement and activity on Twitter a few months ago now, I've started engaging more on other platforms and its different, but it's good! It's reminding me that there are pockets of users and community on every platform and there isn't always an overlap. Community is not a single place.

The goal of DevRel varies from company to company, but whether it's reach, engagement, awareness, enablement, share of voice, what have you... community will never be isolated to a single platform.

andypiper profile image
Andy Piper

"Community is not a single place" - what an excellent way of phrasing it, thank you!

Also, you're right about goals being different from place to place, and fundamentally, we should work back from the goals to figure out how to maximise success...

Appreciate the thoughts here - and, I hope it's not a very long time before we meet again IRL 🙌🏻

jonrandy profile image
Jon Randy 🎖️ • Edited

Why "post Twitter era"? Seriously. I've seen many articles espousing similar sentiments, as if the platform is dead. I want to assume that with the title, you're referring to your own life and your decision to leave.

Nothing has really changed on the site - I still use it daily and it works the same as ever, has the same content etc. Sure, some of the (over-publicised) business side stuff has probably been difficult for the company and it's employees (yourself included) - but it really looks like it is being done to cut costs and actually keep Twitter from going under.

All that 'pausing engagement' or leaving the platform is doing is jumping on the irrational bandwagon that seems somehow bent on hastening the destruction of a platform that 'we used to love' - when (from the perspective of normal everyday use) it is really pretty much the same as it always was.

I obviously understand that you very much had your own reasons for leaving the site and I'd possibly be considering the same too if I was in your position, but outside of that, the amount of irrational commenting and reporting around the issue just because of the personality who runs the company is insane.

imthedeveloper profile image

Agree - still use it as I did. Casual browsing and the odd community related thread to read through. I was never an overly heavy user so from my perspective there has been no change (Just a lot more blue badges). I like the convenience and familiarity.

moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair • Edited

I joined Twitter in 2009 and this is the first time I've heard about these anniversary pictures.