Exactly sixteen years ago on this day, I wrote about Twitter, a service I had been using for a few weeks. I documented how confusing yet compelling it was.
Twitter grew and grew after that. But at some point, it began to feel more like it was shrinking, shrivelling into a husk of its former self.
Just over ten years ago, there was a battle for the soul of Twitter from within. One camp wanted it to become an interoperable protocol, like email. The other camp wanted it to be a content farm, monetised by advertisers. That’s the vision that won. They declared war on the third-party developers who had helped grow Twitter in the first place, and cracked down on anything that didn’t foster e N g A g E m E n T.
The muskofication of Twitter is the nail in the coffin. In the tradition of all scandals since Watergate, I propose we refer to the shocking recent events at Twitter as Elongate.
Post-Elongate Twitter will limp on, I’m sure, but it can never be the fun place it once was. The incentives just aren’t there. As Bastian wrote:
Twitter was once an amplifier for brilliant ideas, for positivity, for change, for a better future. Many didn’t understand the power it had as a communication platform. But that power turned against the exact same people who needed this platform so urgently. It’s now a waste of time and energy at best and a threat to progress and society at worst.
I don’t foresee myself syndicating my notes to Twitter any more. I’ve removed the site from my browser’s bookmarks. I’ve removed it from my phone’s home screen too.
As someone who’s been verified on Twitter for years, with over 140,000 followers, it should probably feel like a bigger deal than it does. I echo Robin’s observation:
The speed with which Twitter recedes in your mind will shock you. Like a demon from a folktale, the kind that only gains power when you invite it into your home, the platform melts like mist when that invitation is rescinded.
Meanwhile, Mastodon is proving to be thoroughly enjoyable. Some parts are still rough around the edges, but compared to Twitter in 2006, it’s positively polished.
Interestingly, the biggest complaint that I and my friends had about Twitter all those years ago wasn’t about Twitter per se, but about lock-in:
Twitter is yet another social network where we have to go and manually add all the same friends from every other social network.
That’s the very thing that sets the fediverse apart: the ability to move from one service to another and bring your social network with you. Now Matt is promising to add ActivityPub to Tumblr. That future we wanted sixteen years ago might finally be arriving.