Twitter is dying: Who could be its successors?

12 minutes
Twitter is dying: Who could be its successors?

"I hope this space brings a swift and final death to Twitter," writes author Molly Knight. "Okay, I already like this better than Twitter," writes journalist Alex Kantrowitz. Both posts are welcome messages to Notes, a feature recently launched by Substack that aims to emulate Elon Musk's platform. Although it could hardly become a competitor of Twitter in the short and medium term, Musk welcomed his incipient competitor with a very eloquent gesture: blocking or marking as spam on Twitter the publications that included links to Substack.

The move reflects Musk's impatience to keep users locked inside his social network, where he has implemented all sorts of experiments to somehow make the $44 billion investment he made last October pay off. The messages from Knight and Kantrowitz, as well as from so many users who are new to the Notes home page, in turn reflect the weariness of the old Twitter community in the face of the platform's turnaround in the hands of its new owner.

Since Musk's arrival at the company, its demise has been predicted, as his decisions have been far from resolving the crisis in which it found itself even before the purchase. Six months later, the loss of vital signs is still latent: platform crashes, failures in the moderation systems, massive revenue losses and little success in new business models, such as Musk's bet to have a subscription service that in three months has only collected 11 million dollars.

Twitter has been a place for the dissemination of ideas, a meeting place for journalists, a press office for government leaders and a public square for candidates and activists. Now that the bird network is faltering, many aspire to be the successors. Here, some of them:

Mastodon: the arid promised land

It is the port of arrival for many users who migrated from Twitter last year as a response to Musk's early shake-ups. Unlike the major social media, Mastodon is a decentralized service, which means that users have the possibility to belong to different communities, each with its own characteristics and moderation rules. According to Eugen Rochko, its founder - and sole employee for six years before the exodus from Twitter - each server can be thought of as a distinct social network, but with interoperability, allowing contact with other networks.

Mastodon is a non-profit organization, funded largely by voluntary contributions received through Patreon. For Rochko, ads are not part of the spirit of his company, but since it is a free and open source service, it is possible to modify a server to experiment with this form of business.

Although a few months ago it emerged as the main replacement for Twitter, its growth is still limited and the model has not managed to penetrate sufficiently, partly due to the difficulties of navigating a platform that is far removed from all conventional social media. In addition, it is affected by the rise of other similar projects, with friendlier user experiences and infrastructures necessary to offer a product capable of scaling massively.

Bluesky: the father of Twitter reappears

In 2019, when Jack Dorsey was still CEO of Twitter, the company funded the first steps for the development of Bluesky, a project presented as an open and decentralized social networking standard. Out of that matrix, a test model of the app was released in early February on the AppStore, to be used by invitation only.

For Dorsey - who as co-founder and head of Twitter had to face scandals and pressure from civil society and regulators - such a system could reduce the power of private companies over users' freedom of expression, among others by allowing recommendation algorithms and moderation services to be provided by third parties.

The project includes a protocol called AT, which aims to give rise to a federated model of social media. However, this initiative could work against Bluesky's growth, since Mastodon and other similar projects -which make up what is known as the fediverse- already operate under another similar protocol: ActivityPub, which has also been recommended as a standard by the World Wide Consortium.

P92': Meta's hidden card

While these non-profit projects are looking to open up their field, Meta is preparing its own application. After having experimented with the Notes function within Instagram, it was learned that, under the internal name of 'P92', the company is developing its own decentralized social network that will also rely on ActivityPub.

Unlike other initiatives, Meta has the necessary infrastructure to present a project with global potential. It is known that it will be possible to enter this new social network with Instagram credentials, a gateway from a platform that already has more than one billion active users. This base supposes an additional advantage when considering that public figures and celebrities from all over the world have accounts in Meta, which could guarantee the automatic presence of influencers on the platform, a focus of attention and economy of scale that competitors aspiring to take Twitter's place do not have.

Despite its technical and financial capabilities, Meta carries a burden that its competitors in this area are currently free of: that of having a history of criticism and bad practices that have put it in the crosshairs of regulators and public opinion. While, as Dorsey suggests, a decentralized model may diminish the power of private companies, Meta would end up concentrating more power, raising questions about its role in phenomena such as election disinformation, hate speech and other potentially harmful content.

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