Peak Twitter is behind us


Twitter has peaked. The shareholders got paid handsomely, showing yet again that in a ‘well-functioning’ capitalism – by many people’s definition – capitalists can benefit from the destruction of what they nominally are stewarding. (See too many owners of rented housing, and forest & mine land-owners.) In this case showing that public assembly spaces in particular ought not be entrusted to capitalists, even relatively benevolent ones such as the previous ownership which was certainly very imperfect, but did moderation better than FB, TikTok et al. They still sold out to make a buck.

Musk will reinvent it as something, no one knows what, or how ‘big’ it will be five or ten years from now. Maybe he’ll make a ton of money. Maybe Twitter will still be very influential in some circles. And many networks & communities who do not yet have a home elsewhere ought to be supported whatever that looks like. But a critical mass of technologists (including Tim Bray), activists (including a major upcoming instance for climate justice activists), academics, journalists (and journalists), maybe not yet businesses (fine with me so far), but some governments (and electeds), and cat lovers have already set up alternatives or are considering or preparing moves. Twitter is on a rapid track to being less central to the web, and I doubt there is anything that can turn that around. (Advertisers are pausing or pulling out. The head of Apple’s app store closed his Twitter account. If they drop the app, Twitter’s value and income instantly drop substantially.)

The independent web is buzzing as it has not for almost 20 years. I have heard this spontaneously in my own head multiple times, and have heard the same from many geeks I have not been in touch with in a while as we run into each other on Mastodon, formerly-quiet mailing lists, etc. I’m not sure what else Musk could have done that would have been more effective in achieving this outcome.

a Mastodon mascot (laughing while holding a phone)
A Mastodon mascot, by dopatwo.
Free software – more about rights

If Zuckerberg and the TikTok folks would do some of their more obviously evil things right about now that would be super-helpful (kidding not kidding). Tumblr is joining the Fediverse (the open system Mastodon is part of), Flickr is considering it, a better Mastodon plug-in is in development for WordPress (open software which runs ~40% of the web by some measures), and the for-profit which hosts many WordPress sites is Tumblr’s owner, so they are likely to join as well if Tumblr’s experiment works out. (They are also capitalists ultimately, but as part of the Fediverse if/when they go full evil it will be far less disruptive because people can copy their blogs elsewhere. Just like it’s hard to disrupt email – even if GMail went down, email would continue.)

The Mastodon commons is buzzing with technical considerations (scaling, security, interface challenges, inefficiencies as things stand, how federation really works, etc.) and substantial moderation issues, and there have been & will be many more missteps and outright fails ahead but I see enough positive developments I feel very hopeful. You will hear about many alternatives over the next while if you have not already. My hot takes (largely standing on the shoulders of the giants I follow): Post – ew, Hive Social – yuck!, CounterSocial – no, Cohost – okay that one actually may be interesting, and many others most of which are too different to be even be very relevant (e.g., Discord). But the way things are looking now, micro-blogging is sliding toward the Fediverse and Mastodon. The last time I felt this positive about technology might have been when I first found wiki.

Feel free to comment, would love to hear your perspective even if you are trying to change my view. :-)


8 Responses to “Peak Twitter is behind us”

  1. Twitter has created some new possibilities. That’s true.

  2. A while ago I saw someone smarter than me write that Musk bought twitter to have access to all the text to be able to train AI. Would you buy trillions of pieces of semantic raw material to own the biggest database of human meaning for a mere $44 Billion? I think he bet on that.

    • I’ve seen a lot of “it was this” ideas, but I’ve gravitated toward that Musk had no specific plan which he was counting on working. Just 1) massive cuts and build *something* to achieve big profit, trusting he would find that something, somehow tied up with 2) clear out the (in his eyes) ‘far left’ employees 🙄 and replace them with people closer to his views – conveniently eliminating unionization risks.

      He dares regulators to hold him accountable (FTC’s consent decree, European employment and other law). If they do, many of his plans won’t fly.

      But sure, I can imagine he had AI training and many other possibilities for the data.

      • My heart goes out to the visa holders who wanted to leave, but felt they had little choice.

  3. This is going to sound very petty, but already years ago, I found Mastodon’s 500 character limit way more conducive to actual microblogging than Twitter’s 140 (or 280). 500 characters make a paragraph, perhaps enough for a link, a one-sentence description with some context, and a take. 280 requires you to strip the entire context.

    The upshot is that at least so far, Mastodon is a very explicit, low-context culture. Twitter is the opposite, even though the American tech culture that birthed it is low-context. Twitter quickly became cliquish, and the 200-follower account who doesn’t get what the emoji used in a tweet means in this context has been a target of quote-RT cyberbullying since the quote-RT was invented.

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