Twitter is dead. That appears to be the consensus in social media circles this morning at least. Or are the reports of the blue bird’s demise greatly exaggerated? On the face of it, things look bleak. You’d be hard pushed to find anything remotely positive to say about the platform in recent times, exacerbated since the take-over by Elon Musk. A new owner looking to stamp his mark, misjudged changes to the platform, a workforce in revolt, and a shell of a once-great communications platform that revolutionised how we talk to our audiences. So, what next?
This period of uncertainty for Twitter opens a window of possibilities for other applications that share similarities with the original ethos of Twitter. But how many of these are truly viable alternatives? Is Twitter likely to just disappear overnight? A quick scan through the platform itself today raises more questions that it offers answers. “Just setting up my Mstdn” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
When it comes to abandoning Twitter in search of other platforms, the same problem arises: the number of users. Twitter has more than 300 million profiles, including major media outlets, government institutions, multinational companies, political representatives, celebrities, and so on. To have a true Twitter-like user experience, the alternative application in question would have to be able to attract a mass audience, with impressive scalability, otherwise it would just as quickly lose its appeal as a thermometer of global societal opinion.
The platform that has grown the most since Musk’s purchase of Twitter is Mastodon. This project by young German programmer Eugen Rochko, started in 2016, has managed to reach one million users, with a growth of more than 200,000 accounts in the last week. Its design and functions are very similar to Twitter, but not the way it operates.
Mastodon is not owned by a single person or company, but is installed on thousands of computer servers, largely run by volunteer administrators who pool their systems into a federation. This is known as ‘Fediverse’; by running software that supports the same set of standardised protocols, independent servers or instances can connect to the general channel, allowing their users to exchange information between one server and another regardless of which platform they do so from.
The main disadvantage of this approach is that it is more difficult to find people to follow in Mastodon’s anarchic feed than in the centrally managed, ordered square that Twitter can offer. Similarly, the beta version of Bluesky, launched by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, also has a source code that is open to all users, although for the moment it requires an invitation to explore.
Originating at the dawn of social networking in 2007, Tumblr also presents itself as a microblogging platform for sharing opinions and concerns and having conversations with other users. However, it lacks the institutional character that many companies and governments present on Twitter. That said, the cries of ‘what of a Tumblr revival’ are ringing loudly today.
A more alternative initiative is offered by CounterSocial and Plurk. CounterSocial is similar in style to the ‘TweetDeck’ version of Twitter but advocates a zero-tolerance policy for accounts with bots, trolls, and people with hostile opinions. Created in 2017, it already has more than 60 million users. Plurk is a hybrid between Twitter and Facebook, which eliminates so-called toxic users and has a “good karma” system to gain popularity on the platform, which is most widely used by the Asian community.
On Twitter – either because of a search or because of daily interactions between users – numerous communities are created every day to share the latest news on a specific topic. Reddit, Discord and Telegram are a much better alternative in this respect.
Discord warrants a deeper dive because it is arguably the platform which is already cited as a platform of the future. Already a popular space for creators seeking to build a bespoke community, there is huge untapped potential for individuals and brands to deliver community-led conversations.
The same is true of Telegram, which, while functioning as an instant messaging app in the style of WhatsApp, its conversation channels (groups) bring together communities of different interests. Check out Steven Bartlett and Jake Humphrey / High Performance as engaging use of this channel to build a community.
Therein lies the future of social media: community. Bringing together people with like-minded interests to share experiences, opinions, and ideas in a safe space. To generate a true community feeling, as was the case in the early days of Twitter, the users themselves are the ones who should shape the platform and the experience. But leading by example from the top. That is unquestionably Twitter’s biggest challenge – but is it already too late?