Let’s replace Twitter with something much better.

(There is also a Russian language version of this post available, translated and published by SoftDroid on 2017-04-12.)

I love Twitter.

I love that by following certain people, my timeline has become a stream of interesting and entertaining information. I love that sometimes I am able to fit my little publication just so into the 140 characters given to me. I found The Trumpocalypse truly depressing, but the joke tweets were golden:

2016-11-19-112633_665x359_scrot

I love that Twitter is so widely accessible and utilised. For example here in South Africa, if you make a small effort, you can get great, grassroots-level inputs from all corners of our political spectrum. This has helped me tremendously to try and understand our complicated environment a little better.

However…

I really don’t like that we are all putting our content, including those golden joke tweets, into someone else’s silo. You’re giving Twitter full control over all of your content. That’s a huge price to pay for the exposure, especially in the light of the fact that there are user-controlled alternatives.

Also, with Twitter’s commercial survival often being debated, can we really trust this budding public service (it has become that central) with our public history?

Far more importantly, Twitter is doing a really bad job at keeping abusive users and abuse out of the system. Users have very little power against abusive groups. There have been a great number of cases when users were forced to leave Twitter, in effect being muzzled, due to direct and concerted abuse.

This can’t be right.

Could we replace Twitter with something better?

Yes, I think we can.

Blogs and RSS, the latter a system for subscribing to a collection of blogs, and being able to read their posts in a single chronological stream, almost exactly like Twitter, have been around forever.

Setting up a blog at for example WordPress.com is not much more complicated than creating a new Twitter account. Readers can subscribe to your blog using any number of apps, for example the WordPress.com Reader or any other so-called aggregator, such as Inoreader or Feedly. Your list of subscriptions can be freely exported from one aggregator and imported into another.

Instead of posting your 140 character masterpiece via the Twitter app, you would do so via the WordPress app. You can write short tweets, or long essays, with as much embedded media and with as much typesetting as you like.

By default, you have to moderate (approve or deny) comments on any of your posts. Bye-bye abusive users. In fact, you’re able to muzzle them, which is how it should be. This is your content and your voice after all. However, they are also free to start their own blogs of course. Everyone else is free never to go there.

Furthermore, your content can be easily exported into a self-hosted blog (using the open source wordpress.org software), such as this one, where you truly control the whole system. In all cases, the content is yours to do with as you please.

What needs to happen?

It looks like all the components of the solution have been right here all along.

However, to become as accessible as Twitter, they definitely require some polish (this used to be “a little polish”, but commenter AJ made valid points) .

If for example the WordPress app became as straight-forward as the Twitter app, for setting up a new blog, for posting and for reading all of your followed blogs, that would be great.

If the WordPress app, or any alternative, could come up with a streamlined user story for the posting of short (approximately 140 characters maybe?! :) snippets, that would be even better. (If you did not know about post formats yet, check them out. For exmample, the “aside” post format is a way to post a short title-less snippet to your blog.)

Furthermore, we definitely need a good discovery platform. This is the thing where Twitter will recommend new accounts to follow based on your existing subscriptions. WordPress does something similar, but it has to be much more discoverable.

In the coming weeks, I will be running a little experiment by trying to post even my short, previously twitter-only blurbs to this blog. I will have to cross-tweet these, but at least the primary source will be right here in my own database.

What do you think? Is this possible? Is it something you would like?

41 thoughts on “Let’s replace Twitter with something much better.”

  1. Yes, this would be so cool!

    Also, can we talk about those super long insightful ‘thread’ tweets, where people reply to their own tweets. Those should so be a blog post. Super annoying to go through them with people replying inbetween tweets and stuff.

      1. Hahaha, yours was awesome! I do want to see a blog post of it though, I also don’t like how hard it is to find older information on Twitter.
        The ones that annoy me are the ones with 100s of retweets and 100s replying :)

    1. Oh yes, that’s another good and concrete reason for preferring to blog!

      On the flip side: With twitter, because comments / replies are also tweets, this brings the whole stream under one’s attention again when someone reacts. I wonder if an RSS reader can do something similar? If a post you have read has new comments, could the RSS reader somehow bring that to your attention again? (of course one can subscribe to comments, but that starts getting tedious)

      1. I just checked: It looks like the simplest solution is that when you choose to follow a blogger like you do a twitter handle, you should consider subscribing to both the blog feed and the comments feed if you want to keep up with subsequent conversation.

        By default, Twitter only shows you @replies to a handle if you follow both the the handle and the replier.

  2. I’m sure you know exactly the challenge you’re up against, in terms of network effect and ease of use / simplicity. What makes critical mass for a service like Twitter? How do you turn feed readers into something with more mass appeal?

    I guess for your effort, promotion of RSS/Atom is necessary, which means I could try to participate by more feeds being available. (So even without moving my content, adding feeds for content like mine would be an act supportive of your dream…)

    1. Hi there Hugo!

      I have a whole collection of such bees in my bonnet, most of which will forever remain, well, bees in my bonnet.

      In this case however, it would already be awesome if we could get it sort of working for a small group of bloggers. In the worst case scenario, you have some extra content on your own blog, in addition to that on twitter. In the best case, more people will get actively involved, and the tools facilitating blogging as a twitter-replacement will improve!

  3. A little polish? For mass adoption I think you would need a page where you sign up for this “service” and it automagically creates the wordpress blog with all the configuration, security and the necessaries set up to work as required = the standard setup. Even an android/ios app that interfaces appropriately with a standard setup. And then you have to maintain that when wordpress updates and breaks the standard setup.
    Well that would be the endgame. I’m happy to play with in the side lines, in figuring out how to make the current blogtech work.

    I like your bees.

    1. Yo AJ!

      Ok, more polish than a little.

      The wordpress app on iOS and Android does quite a bit of what you suggest. Also, if you host at a place like wordpress.com updates are taken care of automatically. The more recent versions of self-hosted (open source) wordpress can automatically update. Updates are otherwise a single button click. (they’ve really worked on that story)

      I do agree strongly though that more polish would be much better! The whole process has to be at least as slick as Twitter.

    1. I did take a look at GNU Social a while back, but I did not know about Mastodon. Thanks!

      However, I would personally prefer for blogging to take over this role. Blogging has been around for much longer (heck, even this blog thas existed since 2001), and it already caters for a large part of the domain. We would only need to improve its micro-blogging story.

    1. Could you elaborate?

      Does medium.com enable us to syndicate our own blogs, as in hosted by ourselves? Unless I missed something, it was just someone else’s (attractive) silo.

      1. Yes, but if you host your blog at wordpress.com you are technically in someone else’s silo (with only a little improvement that you can export your posts… but the average user won’t know what to do with an exported JSON or SQL dump).

        Also from a technical standpoint, WordPress has failed under load for many of the companies I’ve worked for. It’s a great blogging tool and an alright CMS but if you were to post a “viral” Trump joke on a wordpress blog that got the kind of traffic a viral youtube video gets it’s probably going to go down (with the average installation).

        Twitter on the other hand is rather impressive in terms of infrastructure. When they migrated away from Ruby (and the days of the fail-whale screen) they’ve been pretty rock solid.

        I’m not saying Twitter is perfect but asking people to go to WordPress is definitely not the answer. I agree that Medium is pretty great, for a silo. But if you really want people to set themselves up independently with software less likely to fail, check out: https://ghost.org/

        1. Comparing WordPress.com vs Twitter as two hosted services, WP.com has a great infrastructure too. WP.com hosts a number of news outlets, including FiveThirtyEight on Election Day without issue.

          For the export piece, you can take the XML via WP.com’s export and import it via UI into your own WordPress install. Additionally, other CMS tools often can import the WordPress XML format too, making it much more accessible than Twitter or Facebook data dumps for migrating content away from a hosted provider to a self-managed one.

          As for Ghost, out of pure curiosity, what large/enterprise sites use it? I don’t mean to troll or be negative, just haven’t read anything before on Ghost at scale.

  4. As I replied on twitter, I think blogging is great but it is not a replacement for twitter. And it is not incidental features of blogging, but some of the selling points you highlight that make the two media wildly different.

    Let’s take, for example, why I originally replied on twitter and not in your blog comments. The reason: I don’t follow your blog and I am not primarily interested in a conversation with you (or your readers). Your post was shared by my colleague and was part of an ongoing conversation (that has hopped several media, starting on G+), so my interest was primarily there. However, twitter allowed the serendipity of sharing the conversation with you (in case you might find something of interest) and giving you a no-pressure atmosphere to join or ignore the discussion. This was possible without giving up ownership of our conversation (we don’t need your approval to speak to each other about your post) or losing our own ‘readerships’ (although I explicitly didn’t .@ my tweets, to avoid spamming other tweeps). This would not have been possible with comments on your blog. We would have to come in your living room to talk about you.

    You can see this even clearer with reddit comments. There it is not a matter of length (since some reddit comments are long). It is about community and ‘ownership’. On reddit, a discussion about one of my blog posts is carried out in a space that is not built for or by me. I can (usually) join that conversation, but I am not the master of it. In that case, my content becomes part of an ongoing thread of discussion or interest that has nothing to do with me. And sometimes that leads to awful discussions — I’ve had my fair share of shares on subreddits where I would never want to see my blog — but that is the price we pay for open discussion.

    Of course, one might say: why not write posts on our own blogs about your blog? This is where the lack of .@ on my tweet and serendipity come in. Although it is possible to have multiple blogs with different post formats (like Asides), in general, that is not how people think of blogs. When I write a blog post, it goes out to many RSS readers and email alerts (plus a few aggregators) and the readers there expect a certain level of content. There is no clean way for me to start a new conversation on a blog (without derailing an existing comment thread) that most people might not be interested in but that I would want to allow them to discover by chance and welcome them to participate in if they find amusing.

    And although pingbacks exist on blogs, they don’t always get through nor do they carry the same connotation as an @-mention. I see an @-mention on twitter as a no-pressure invitation to a conversation. A blog pingback is a reference, and often not intended to bring the linked author to discussion.

    This culture of what we expect from a typical blog post brings the point of difficulty. The reason blog posts take longer than tweets (or reddit comments) is not (just) because of a bad user interface. With a blog, we tend to have a theme and a much clearer idea of our reader’s interests. I don’t feel bad making a tweep read a pointless 140 characters about something I barely know, but I would feel bad making a blog reader do the same. This isn’t only a matter of length (although 140 characters did help set up that culture), but general expectations and lack of ownership over conversations. When I make a G+ post, for example, I feel responsible for the engagement (or lack of engagement) that it generates. For a tweet, I am just shouting in the empty.

    This has very practical consequences. It is relatively easy to convince scientists to start tweeting (many of my colleagues do, for example), or even participate on G+. It is nearly impossible to get them blogging or even commenting on blog posts sometimes. To many, it starts to feel too much like their day jobs and they start to ask: “why wouldn’t I just write a paper and make the bean counters happy?” Of course, I think it should be part of their day jobs, since blogs are a better media than journals or preprints for developing ideas, but that is a whole different conversation.

    With all that negativity out of the way, however, I do agree with your main sentiment. Twitter has become a very powerful and indispensable tool. It is a shame that it is controlled by a private for-profit entity. It would be much better to have a true public space as an alternative, but blogs aren’t quite there. Blogs are a series of interlinked private spaces, and the decentralization is great but it is not as public as I would like a twitter-clone to be.

    Sorry for the long rant.

    1. Wonderful comment (blog post actually :) thanks!!

      Taking a few steps back (I got that from some guide on how to appear smart in meetings), I think my underlying thought is: Seeing that we have this well-developed blogging and RSS ecosystem, why can’t we extend and modify it to also be a great twitter replacement.

      I agree with your points, especially with being able to have a discussion about someone without having to do it on their blog. I am curious though how this would pan out in the hypothetical universe where people do start using blogs and blog federation as the twitter replacement. How often would one NOT want to have the conversation in the target’s living room? With the right sort of tools, how difficult would it be to quickly start up a new blog post to kick off a discussion about me outside of my living room?

      In terms of the psychological barrier to posting: I am also very much in agreement with this, and again curious if it could be solved with practice and tooling.

      It has been nice meeting you!

  5. Yes! There’s a handful of technologies that enable exactly this kind of thing! Check out the WordPress page on the IndieWeb wiki for a start: https://indieweb.org/Wordpress

    The technology that enables comments to work across blogs is called Webmention, and there’s a plugin for WordPress too! https://wordpress.org/plugins/webmention/

    Feel free to drop by the chat if you’d like help getting started with any of this! https://indieweb.org/discuss

  6. It’s fun, more geeky and also very thoughtful. after what the social networks did with our data! and also that distraction that all those notification did, we should think about something new, something that have more control on it and be more free to use more than 140 char :)
    so it’s cool.

  7. The RSS specification is volatile in nature. You have to implement polling whenever you want new content (unless the website has implement pubsubhubbub which pushes notifications).

    For this reason, RSS will be imperfect to use at the center of the architecture. For example, if a high-volume blog posts 50 posts every 2 hours, and it limits 25 posts in their RSS file, then the service doing the polling to would have to check at least every hour. Even then, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get every post.

  8. I have developed a platform that I hope can someday make social media websites a thing of the past by making them a more commoditized thing of the future. What I’m talking about is a distributed array of meta64 instances (not yet supported by meta64), that use some sort of collective and fair way of paying for bandwidth, and decentralizes these types of services.

    That isn’t the currently stated objective of meta64.com, but i’m still building out the core parts before I can move to the next level. A Federated model.

  9. I use to contribute to identi.ca a long time ago, before it became GNU Social. I love Twitter, the immediacy of it, the fact that with a glance you can see messages from different people.
    I do not believe Twitter should be a platform though, I believe it should be a series of common formats like atom and atompub. I believe data should be yours like the html of your site is yours.
    I am trying to define some of these formats with an open source project I published called Newton. It’s very early days, still lacks a Pingback mechanism, but feel free to look and participate :-)
    https://github.com/fmarani/newton

  10. I’m working on a project with this purpose:

    http://hackertribe.io

    (It’s still work in progress, launching soon)

    Here’s my vision for the ultimate platform:

    – Discovery system 1 is based on upvotes, like on reddit.

    – Discovery system 2 is based on reposts, and works like twitter.

    – Subscription functionality works like RSS. You can follow people and see their posts in a reverse-chronilogical order on your front page.

    – Publishing tools work like on Medium – beautiful editor, tags, publications.

    – This platform is open source and decentralized. Anyone can easily export their data and spin up their own instance, which will be automatically plugged into the network(that functions like GNU Social).

    I think this sort of system would be perfect, and the only thing required to build it was the right decentralization protocol, which has appeared recently – ActivityPub.

    At the moment I have implemented all the functionality aside from the most challenging part – decentralization with AvtivityPub, which I am still figuring out.

    If you are interested in testing out this platform and would like to give me some feedback and shape it’s development – send me a message(raymestalez@gmail.com), and I will invite you to the beta version.

    If you would like to contribute to it’s development – you can find it’s code over here:

    https://github.com/raymestalez/nexus

  11. So happy other people are thinking in terms of solutions outside of Twitter and the current ecosystem of content that’s walled into Facebook, Medium, etc.

    Not sure what the right solution is for Twitter specifically, but I outlined a couple of principles going forward in my blog post (http://blog.vickiboykis.com/2016/11/20/fix-the-internet/) , the first of which is to create your own content on your own platform. So what if it’s not 140 characters? Or, maybe it can be. But I love your idea of experimenting with open platforms to do this. Even if your specific experiment doesn’t catch on, others will. Excited to read what happens.

  12. People here with ideas – consider reaching out to the folks at Brydge – http://www.brydge.com. I’ve been beta testing for them, great team. They built what’s live now in 2 months, and they’re looking for ideas to decentralize it etc.

    Some of you on the comments here have some interesting ideas that would fit in well with what these guys are doing.

    1. Thanks for the mention Emily.

      Hey guys. I’m with the founding team at Brydge. If anyone here wants to get in touch, reach us through any of our social channels /brydgedotcom (the irony!)

  13. Hi.
    One of the big problems Twitter has is that it offers to many use-cases and they couldn’t manage to communicate it properly, at least here in Germany.
    I think there is a good chance for services that focus on that: having a clear purpose and doing this really good.
    stomt works similiar like Twitter but we limit the user even more, not by the amount of characters but by forcing a specific sentence structure. stomt is focusing on ONE important use-case Twitter has: Customer feedback & crowd-sourcing. And we’re making simple, efficient and we can heavily automize the management and answering of this. stomt works like Twitter but prepends a fix sentence beginning (either I wish or I like), that way feedback is reduced to single arguments and we can easily recognize and merge duplicates together into “movements”. Companies only have to react once to each issue and can update their reaction as soon as something really changed to win customers back and increase their loyalty. We’re currently getting a lot of traction… but just take a look on a well working use-case to get an idea: https://www.stomt.com/empires-of-the-undergrowth

  14. Sure, but you can’t participate in their ecosystem without having your blog post on their site and in their silo.

    Ideally, you own your blog and host it wherever you choose, but you still get the advantages of readers being able to follow you and see your posts as part of their RSS timelines.

  15. I switched to an indieWeb platform, too. It’s called Known (withknown.com) and makes things a little easier, because it’s made for syndication and – besides being self-hostable – offers a paid hosting plan if you fancy it.

    Known also supports different types of posts, like status updates, articles, RTSPs, Journals, whatsoever. People can easily subscribe to your status updates only if they don’t want to read the longer posts. But there is no limit of 140 characters.

    I use silo.pub to syndicate all my stuff to Twitter and Facebook (my primary other places to rant) which gives me best of both worlds: I own my content but can still reach silo users oh Twitter&Co.

    It’s still not yet there where you would like to see the blogging world if we talk about discoverability but for the transition it’s great.

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