What happens when Twitter finally dies?

A thing of culture

No social network is as polarizing as Twitter. On one hand, Wall StreetSilicon Valley and the mainstream press know it’s failing. On the other hand, it’s been the center of so many things of cultural importance that I’ve lost count.  Arab Spring, anyone?

I know Twitter’s user numbers aren’t growing, and their employee numbers don’t make sense (3,800 employees?). But I’ve seen wartime updates from Syria, I‘ve seen #gamergate, #panamaparers, Donald Trump, American public agencies create fake accounts to get around bans on talking to the public (@rogueNASA, I love you).

I’m Sri Lankan. Half of these are not issues that are discussed anywhere else in my newspapers or my Facebook feeds. In this age of curated timelines and social media bubbles, it’s become a sort of last bastion that offers easy accessibility and free speech.  The noisy, un-curated, chronological datastream is a goldmine, especially for journalists looking for new stories. It might be a business failure, but it’s really a global cultural monument. 

So what happens when Twitter finally goes under?

  1. An NGO buys Twitter and sets it up as a public service.  However, that’s terribly expensive, unless Twitter’s investors decide to give it away for free.I initially thought about the United Nations buying Twitter and maintaining it as a discussion platform for the world. But the UN, as a whole, is unbalanced, bureaucratic and possibly corrupt. I wouldn’t exactly trust it to maintain Twitter as a truly free platform – not with Trump’s obsession with Twitter.
  2. We switch to Twitter clones such as Firefeed
    Ditch the brand name and the value, keep the functionality. That’s what Firefeed.io, an open-source Twitter clone, has done. There’s even NotRealTwitter, a tech demo apparently built in just four days by one guy.In the book I’m writing, I’ve had a company build a Twitter-analogue for the sole purpose of controlling public opinion through it. Perhaps someone more altruistic will take up the torch of keeping the servers fed and humans warm. Clearly the functionality is not too complicated.
  3. We switch to Instagram. I see Insta as a broadcast network where you can follow hashtags to see a global selection of photos or switch to posts from your private following. It’s actually Twitter with images. Robin Chenoweth over at the Photo Brigade wrote an excellent post about long-form storytelling taking over Insta, and so did the web marketers.

    Sprout also points out that close to 90% of Twitter uses actually watch video on Twitter – perfectly possible with Instagram now.  The danger here is that this lets Facebook dominate news control, and we know that has it’s own dangers.

Regardless of what happens, the world’s always going to have a niche for a global public broadcast system that both the public and the journalists can mine for news – especially as we head into this strange post-truth, post-fact future.

Featured image from Newsweek.