As Twitter slowly collapses, what will replace it for furries? The answer might be: a lot of small things, rather than one big thing again. But maybe that’s for the best.
The Furry Social Media Diaspora
So, Twitter is kind of a trash fire now.
Sure. Twitter has always been kind of a trash fire. But new owner Elon Musk, Super Genius, appears to have decided the new business model is “drive users away and make it up in volume.” In the last few weeks as of this writing, he’s fired literally half the company just because he thought there were too many employees; hired some of them back because there was no forethought put into who to keep; kept them so in the dark about company plans that they’ve had to follow his fucking tweets to make guesses; made criticisms of Twitter’s tech stack that engineers who actually work on said stack pushed back on, because it was clear he didn’t understand what he was talking about; fired the engineers who criticized him, even internally; made verification open to everyone who paid eight bucks; pulled back on that when it was immediately the disaster everyone told him it was going to be; and, oh yes, declared “comedy is legal on Twitter again” shortly before deleting accounts that made fun of him.
Look. I didn’t expect Musk to be a particularly good owner for Twitter. But I didn’t expect that he would charge out of the gate flinging monkey poop and stepping on land mines while insisting that anyone who asks if maybe they should go around the monkey poop minefield instead of through it be fired for insubordination. I still don’t think Twitter will go under, but I think there’s a high chance it’s turbocharged its inevitable journey toward LiveJournal-style irrelevancy. Like LiveJournal itself, it’ll still be around, but it’ll be around as a shadow of its former self after being sold to someone vaguely shady. (To clarify, I don’t mean the vaguely shady Elon, I mean whoever he sells it to for pennies on the dollar.)
We’re already seeing people either migrating completely off Twitter or, in more cases, setting up accounts in other places “just in case”. The popular choices seem to be:
- Mastodon, a “decentralized” microblogging service which has some great ideas but desperately needs fans who can describe it in ways that don’t make it sound like it’s only for people who recompile their Linux kernel for fun
- Cohost, a new centralized blogging platform optimized for people who’d like to see the same posts reshared in their entirety dozens of times, wrapped up in an unchangeable theme straight from LiveJournal circa 2006
- Pillowfort, another new(ish) centralized blogging platform whose thematic premise seems to be Tumblr but with better filtering, NSFW content with fewer asterisks, and new major security vulnerabilities on a roughly annual schedule
Personally, I have a Mastodon and a Cohost (and, obviously, a Tumblr). But they’re all, well, different. They’re smaller. Dispersed. None of them have the center of gravity that Twitter does yet, and I doubt any of them ever will.
Yet: maybe this diaspora is a good thing.
I don’t say that just because it’s bad to put all your eggs in one basket (although it is), or just as a critique of internet capitalism (although it sure deserves critique), but also as a critique of Twitter specifically. As Brent Simmons, a pioneer of the early RSS-driven web, wrote on his website recently,
The internet’s town square should never have been one specific website with its own specific rules and incentives. It should have been, and should be, the web itself.
Having one entity own and police that square could only deform the worldwide conversation, to disastrous ends, even with the smartest and most humane people at work.
Twitter’s new owner is certainly not one of those people. But it doesn’t matter: he unintentionally brought the change that needed to happen, the break in the consensus.
Simmons writes that the “fall of the Twitter consensus” energizes him, remembering the “liveliness and sparkle” of the mid-2000s on the web. And he’s not wrong.
I don’t suggest dialing the clock back to old tech, but I hope we use the good parts from those days to help us build new and amazing things. There is so much to do, and so many grand problems to solve.
The web is wide open again, for the first time in what feels like forever.
“Decentralization” feels like an of-the-moment buzzword, but it arguably describes the internet as originally designed: servers all over the world that link to one another and that anyone online can access from anywhere. Mastodon, for all its problems (and I’ll write about them in a future post), has a better handle on this than any other “after Twitter” technology.
Well, any other technology except one: owning your own domain and choosing your own “engines,” whether that’s your own blogging engine or just pointing that domain at Tumblr like I’m doing on this blog. That’s always been a big ask, though, in ways that people who find it easy (like me) too often fail to appreciate. And I don’t have any perfect solutions to that. I have no guarantee that Tumblr won’t go the way of the dodo; owning a domain name means I can point it somewhere else if I want, but that’s just half of the problem. Setting up my own “microblogging” system would be a capital-P Project, no matter the technology. And not everyone with the ability and will to put in that work has $5 a month to spare on a web host. For the record, I did actually set up my own personal Mastodon server. (I have both the $5/month and the ability, but whether I have the will is debatable.)
I can’t end this post with any advice but the most tentative. If you want something the most like Twitter, you should probably find a Mastodon instance to join—which one you pick is mostly not a big deal, although if you’re a furry, look for a furry-friendly one. Ask people you trust who are already on Mastodon, perhaps.
As for the other services, well, it remains to be seen. I’m not a big fan of Cohost’s UX design, but the site’s getting popular, so I’m reluctantly keeping my eye on it. I have no experience with Pillowfort. On a tech level, Tumblr is head and shoulders over most other free blogging services, but their mercurial policies/enforcement around NSFW artwork make them a non-starter for some. (They don’t seem to care at all what you put in text, though. Mwahaha.)
What I’d really like is to see these services make more effort to be interoperable with one another. If Cohost and Pillowfort supported ActivityPub, for instance, you could follow people who used those services with your Mastodon account, and if Mastodon supported RSS, you could follow anybody using a service—like Tumblr here—that uses that.
In any case, we’re in for an interesting next year. Wave goodbye to Elon and hang on to your tails.