Gold rush ensues as platforms vie to become the new Twitter.
By Tim Culpan.
Twitter Inc.'s demise is imminent.
At least that's the declaration from those who’ve announced their move to another platform. That they’ve made these pronouncements on Twitter itself, and then stuck around to watch, highlights how difficult it is for users to cut their addiction since Elon Musk took a machete to the network.
Amid the dysfunction comes an increasing number of alternatives vying to lure Twitterati. Some were created out of the ashes of Twitter, while many are getting a fresh start after languishing in the shadows for years. Here’s a look at the alternatives for those seeking a Plan B, and how they stack up against the Blue Bird.
The German social media platform founded by Eugen Rochko six years ago is the early favourite for the title of "the next Twitter," yet it has polarised opinion. For one thing, it’s not even a single site. Mastodon is actually open-source software that enables anyone to run their own social networking service. If you choose to do so, then you can link to other Mastodon-based sites to create what’s called a “fediverse,” so that a member of one site (also called an instance, or a server) can interact with those on other sites. The website www.movetdon.org allows people to automatically find those they follow on Twitter, easing the transition.
Proponents love this decentralised, censorship-resistant approach. Content moderation is done at the individual instance by that group’s appointed hall monitors, and users can get blocked or booted if they don’t comply. As a result, censorship can be erratic — what’s allowed on one server can get you banned on another. In addition to the uneven approach to free-speech, opponents complain that it’s too confusing. The on-boarding process is complicated, and merely choosing which server to sign up on is a mind-melting decision which turns people away. Detractors complain that Mastodon is a poor copy of Twitter, but that criticism is unfair. It was never meant to replicate the original, and instead aims to offer an alternative way to imagine and run social media. In this respect it’s a resounding success, but that doesn’t mean it will become the new town square.
According to its founder Noam Bardin, the startup "will be a civil place to debate ideas; learn from experts, journalists, individual creators, and each other; converse freely; and have some fun". The former chief executive of traffic app Waze (later bought by Google) has put Post behind a velvet rope as it builds the product and scales up, so it could take time before new users get access. Among the innovations are headlines, text-formatting, longer posts, and tipping. It marks topics with a #hashtag, similar to Twitter, and has both favourites and trending categories so users can easily find what most attracts them. You can respond to someone else’s post, but are reminded that "discussions are moderated for civility".
More centralised than Mastodon, Post is likely to suffer the same content-moderation challenges as Twitter, though discourse so far seems civil. A glance at the user base hints that it may end up attracting Twitter's progressive crowd who want more control over how they share information and engage. If it can manage to scale and onboard users quickly, while at the same time ensuring conversations remain polite and friendly, then Post has a good shot at becoming the new hub of conversation. But Bardin and his team will need to make tough decisions about design, content, and business model in order to make it work.