I’m sorry, Twitter, I really am. I’ve been a user for exactly a decade, and though I’ve never been a fanatical tweeter, I have been active all these years.
But right now the state of Twitter is such that pretty much anything resembling it could replace it. The main requirement of this new service? Just don’t be Twitter.
Case in point: Mastodon. The open-source, decentralized Twitter clone grew rapidly over the last week; so fast that the main server (at Mastodon, they call this “instance”) had to shut down its doors for new users. And it’s not hard to guess where all these users are coming from: If you join one of the other instances right now, most of the messages you’ll see will be sighs of relief from users who finally feel freed from the shackles of Twitter.
But Mastodon is not a huge improvement over Twitter. Besides being decentralized and a little more rule-heavy, its only major advantage is having a character limit of 500 characters (instead of Twitter’s 140). It also has a host of drawbacks, the main one being the inability to control your identity over multiple instances.
Imagine if Twitter was not Twitter, but you had Twitter Asia, Twitter NYC, Twitter Dodgers Fans, and you had to register your username separately on every instance. It’s not ideal.
Sure, Mastodon’s decentralized nature has its uses. It’s like when Reddit released its source code: Anyone could build their own Reddit, and some of these tiny Reddits, like Hacker News, have been moderately successful. But Reddit, the big one, has not been replaced by them; they’re not even a blip on its radar, traffic-wise. Mastodon can be your private Twitter, but — unless something changes — it can’t be the new Twitter.
Twitter has somehow managed to alienate its user base so much that it can’t wait to go elsewhere.
That doesn’t mean Twitter doesn’t have problems. In fact, Twitter has somehow managed to alienate its user base — with one unwanted and (mostly) unneeded feature after the other — so much that it can’t wait to go elsewhere.
Take, for example, that time when Twitter said it’s considering expanding its 140-character limit. A lot of users were unhappy, and the social network never went through with the idea. And yet, tens of thousands are flocking to Mastodon, which has a 500-character limit?
In fact, nothing Twitter has done in the past couple of years managed to kickstart user growth or help the company make money. These things sometimes happen to social networks: The community grows toxic to the point of everyone, even the instigators of that toxicity, hating it. Or it just gets old. It happened to Digg, and it happened to MySpace.
But we still need Twitter. Where do you go to vent when Facebook is down? Where do you go to share that random thought, aimed at no one in particular? How do you complain to the airline when your flight is late (you can do it on Facebook, but it likely won’t get the same attention). Where do Hollywood stars go to build semi-honest relationships with their fans? Finally, without Twitter, what would President Trump do while he’s waiting for the next executive order signing ceremony to begin?
The world needs a new Twitter.
If there ever was a moment in which a new social network needed to rise from the ashes of the old one, this is it. The world needs a new Twitter.
In fact, the world needs it so badly it’s ready to jump on whatever bandwagon comes next. But if some of the essential features are broken — like being able to have the same nickname across the entire network — it won’t last long. Mastodon got some things right: No nazis, no gore, no excessive advertising, no harassment. 500 characters. But it currently doesn’t look poised to replace Twitter.
So I’m hoping that something better comes along. Either an improved Mastodon or something new entirely. Because it doesn’t even have to be vastly different or vastly better than Twitter. It just has to be new.