I have no intention of quitting Twitter, the social media site that I’ve dutifully scrolled through nearly every day since I joined in 2009.
I intend to stick around and watch this train wreck happen. The sight of Elon Musk getting his comeuppance will be at least as entertaining as the dozen or so accounts the algorithm masters in Twitterland have decided to send my way on too regular a basis.
Three things you need to know here:
- Twitter was/is already dying. Its window to the world outside my silo has been steadily fogging over. The value of the content has dropped rapidly as the lizard brain became the target market.
- Nothing is forever. Remember UseNet? How about Yahoo chat rooms? MySpace? Tumbler? All these forums are effectively extinct. I track my Substack readership by origin, and Twitter is now down to 2% or less on a good day, even as my overall readership has grown by 152% over the past few months.
- Elon Musk ain’t that smart when it comes to dealing with customers. Much of Tesla’s (and SpaceX) income comes by way of tax credits and government subsidies. At Twitter, us customers ARE ultimately the product. Given that he’s gutted the inner workings of the company, the days until a technical or social failure are counting down. It’s going to be glorious to watch, miserable to use.
Lots of allegedly smart people think Musk bought Twitter with the intention of sinking it. I say nope. He’s just making it up as he goes along, driven in part by the looming one billion dollars in interest payments dictated by the people who loaned the money. His lack of success this past week certainly does raise questions about whether or not he can take it where it needs to go.
There’s also the theory saying Musk bought Twitter to turn it into a right-wing beacon. He and his fellow billionaires do believe in technical and algorithmic solutions allowing users to have a rewarding experience and company management to suppress “woke” ideology. Think communist China, with ads.
As San Diego mogul Doug “Papa” Manchester discovered when he bought the local daily paper, thinking and doing are different creatures when it comes to media. I suspect he was surprised by the amount of ridicule directed at what he saw as “common sense” actions.
Like many people with paper wealth. Elon Musk thinks he has a magic touch. The My Pillow Guy and the other entities that throw money into right wing propaganda don’t have enough money to keep the company afloat. The company is on track to lose $700 million next year. And that number was generated before the institutional advertisers started fleeing.
I don’t think the social media company will actually close down anytime soon. I just think it will lose what little relevance it has left over the coming months. Musk can always sell it at a loss, like Uber sold its self-driving tech division. It’s all blue smoke and mirrors, except for the little people getting screwed.
Here’s Cory Doctorow explaining how we could have a better social media world.
Casey Fiesler penned a timely essay at The Conversation sharing insights from a two decade long study of two thousand people on transformative fandom which provides some insights on what the future will hold:
- Regardless of how many people ultimately decide to leave Twitter, and even how many people do so around the same time, creating a community on another platform is an uphill battle. These migrations are in large part driven by network effects, meaning that the value of a new platform depends on who else is there.
- In the critical early stages of migration, people have to coordinate with each other to encourage contribution on the new platform, which is really hard to do. It essentially becomes, as one of our participants described it, a “game of chicken” where no one wants to leave until their friends leave, and no one wants to be first for fear of being left alone in a new place.
- For this reason, the “death” of a platform – whether from a controversy, disliked change or competition – tends to be a slow, gradual process. One participant described Usenet’s decline as “like watching a shopping mall slowly go out of business.”
Here’s the real issue for users of Twitter and the rest of their brethren in the social media world– like it or not, you’re being held hostage. Social media’s plan has always been to lure people in with their friends, and keep them with the threat of losing those social networks.
The answer to this dilemma won’t come from Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk; the ways their companies are structured are dependent on a walled garden.
If past experience is any measure, there won’t be any single replacement for Twitter (or Facebook, which is about to drive off a cliff, thanks to a –premature– big bet on virtual technology).
What makes all these entities attractive are the “communities” that spring up within. Like any gang of friends, once the space they function in disappears, so do (most of) the social relationships.
Facebook does have one advantage: serving as a crossroads to past relationships. I still have “friends” in Washington DC from my rock and roll / restaurant business years. The same holds true for twice-removed cousins who might otherwise be forgotten. Unfortunately, visiting with your network on that particular platform now involves negotiating a minefield of clickbait and out-of-date posts.
As Cory Doctorow says, the solution to The Way Things Are is interoperability, i.e., being able to see and communicate with like minded people across platforms. It is, he assures us, not so much of a technical challenge as it is a business model problem.
If you’ve looked into making a switch away from Twitter or Facebook, no doubt you’ve seen a bewildering number of choices, most of which are small companies hoping for a big break. Signing up for them is risky because they’re not stable, or inhabited by keyboard trollsters, or –worst of all– not overlapping with your interests, leaving you standing in a virtual corner, alone.
I’ve been there, done that, and am still getting spam from some outfits.
The discussion I’m seeing the most from people looking to leave Twitter concernsFederated Social Media. It consists of a network of interest groups, each with its own ethos.
Mastodon, Cohost, B-Heard, and CounterSocial are names frequently present in those conversations. I sampled all these sites; none of them appealed to me. I’ll wait for a review somewhere that tells me about what I didn’t see.
Doug Porter was active in the early days of the alternative press in San Diego, contributing to the OB Liberator, the print version of the OB Rag, the San Diego Door, and the San Diego Street Journal. He went on to have a 35-year career in the Hospitality business and decided to go back into raising hell when he retired. He’s won numerous awards for his columns from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Doug is a cancer survivor (sans vocal chords) and lives in North Park.