What’s a Twitter user to do?
In older days of the internet, an app called Trillian was created to allow users to connect with their friends via multiple messaging services like AIM, Jabber and Yahoo! Messenger, IRC, and other.
Lately, I have been longing to find a Trillian-like service to keep up with Twitter users who are leaving the platform. It would be similar to Trillian’s ability to connect users to multiple IM services.
I’m not sure that this would be a good idea, but.
In the days since the Elon Musk Twitter takeover, a good chunk of Twitter’s network has exited to other apps. According to internal documents, the most engaged users have been leaving. However, many of those who are now distancing from Twitter have not abandoned their networks. They are trying to keep in touch with their friends who have left via new sites. This leads to multiple open tabs on new sites and new apps being stuffed into iPhone folders.
The problem is that the market has yet to pick a winner for “new Twitter”, and it’s possible that it will never.
It’s a difficult problem to solve. It’s not as easy as creating a microblogging tool that has similar functionality to Twitter’s. Twitter’s greatest draw was its community, and not its feature set. And it’s fair to say that network has been diminished in recent days — despite Musk’s tweets to the contrary. Twitter is losing users at the same rate as it gains, even though it’s growing, Musk claims.
If Musk succeeds, Twitter may see an increase in its sheer numbers, but it will not be the same Twitter it was before. Like the company itself: when the original people leave, so goes the vibe, spark, and sense of belonging. Myspace, after all, is still around. It’s not MySpace anymore.
Or, in other words, Twitter is gone.
You’ve probably felt it, too. Since the Musk takeover, a lot of my Twitter engagement comes from crypto trolls, who tag me into threads and give Musk bizarro, hashtagged praise from accounts that aren’t easily discernible from bots. Real conversations are taking place elsewhere, and they are occurring with increasing frequency.
Twitter, however, seems to be doubling down on its reward-and-punishment system for only the most performative, most snarky, most zingy of posters, led by twit-in-chief Musk. It seems that Twitter will continue to exist as an entertainment network and community.
In the meantime, many of Twitter’s OG users have fled to different parts of the web.
Those with more technical expertise may have managed to navigate the complicated onboarding process to find a home on Mastodon, but it’s not a Twitter clone despite the initial similarities. Universal search doesn’t exist. Direct messages function differently. Quote tweets are not a thing. The mobile app is slow. It is slow to add friends. There are many rules. (You are even required to add content warnings to discuss Twitter. It’s so depised over there! Yet, Twitter users’ collective sadness at its apparent decline is all we want now. )
Elsewhere, some of Twitter’s media crowd have been trying out Post.News, which is being advised by tech journo Kara Swisher. It hasn’t launched yet publicly and there is no mobile app. Plus, the network itself, with its journalist base, is sort of… serious and boring. (Sorry, Twitter was not media Twitter that made it fun. )
Some young people left Twitter for Hive, whose three-person team can’t keep the darned thing functioning. Currently, it’s offline as the team addresses significant security concerns. Trust is not built in this company due to its lack of transparency about staffing, funding and security.
Then there are the numerous alt Twitters: Cohost, CounterSocial, Tribel, Koo and so on.
But wait! There’s more. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is building his own decentralized Twitter called BlueSky, which is both a protocol and an app. But BlueSky says it won’t use ActivityPub — which means it won’t be able to talk to Mastodon. Sigh.
Many Twitter users aren’t really leaving, even though they have reduced their postings and/or are cross-posting. They have one foot out, but they keep looking back, as if asking, “Should I really leave?” Is this the right time? (Points to self). It seems that there is still too much happening on Twitter for anyone to sign out forever.
I’m tired. This problem needs a solution. Or at the very least, a decision. Please, can we have a vote?
Eventually — hopefully — the issue will resolve itself.
Maybe, we’ll decide collectively that we don’t choose companies based on our morals or values. Or else, Amazon Prime would be a threat to our small business. With our heads down, maybe we’ll return to Twitter and pretend that we never left.
Or maybe we’ll all finally gravitate toward one network over the others, which will then gain enough traction to consider itself the real “Twitter 2.0.”
Or we might decide that we don’t really need Twitter 2.0 and spread our efforts across smaller networks. Perhaps that’s the right decision. Perhaps it’s time for the global town square to be retired, along with the dunk factory or the algorithm.
Perhaps we should look for people we want to talk to, not perform for, and get rid of Twitter.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.