Twitter has never been the tech titan that Facebook is. Facebook has a market cap of $836 billion, while Twitter’s market cap sits at $32 billion. By no means is that chump change—but Twitter is far from being the market leader of social media.
Nevertheless, for the past 15 years, Twitter has been a go-to for breaking news, live updates, and public relations. It certainly provides an outlet for President Trump’s innermost “thoughts”—and that’s probably why Twitter isn’t going away in the short term.
But long term? Twitter should be afraid, very afraid.
It’s commonly understood that Twitter is a toxic environment. Amnesty International has accused Twitter of failing to respect women’s rights online. White supremacists, like Richard B. Spencer, still call Twitter home and countries like Russia and China have found Twitter to be an excellent host for their bot farms.
At first, we thought Twitter’s moderation team was simply slow to respond. Now we know they’re just inept. While trolls dial up the toxicity, legitimate accounts like The Decentralists and Peer Social get suspended with no explanation. Is someone at Twitter asleep at the wheel?
If Twitter was the only game in town, this might not affect their bottom line but as it happens, serious alternatives are gaining traction.
Despite having no centralized authority that decides what content is allowable—Mastodon has done a better job of moderating its service because each node (or instance) is responsible for its content. What happened when far-right Gab.ai tried to join Mastodon? Individual community-based moderators immediately blocked Gab.ai from accessing their nodes. Gab.ai remains a pariah on Mastodon.
Mastodon’s founder Eugen Rochko believes that small, tightly-knit communities are better equipped to moderate toxic behaviour, and he’s right. Dunbar’s number states that there’s a cognitive limit to the number of people one can maintain stable relationships with. A decentralized social network with multiple nodes (like Mastodon) is better equipped for moderation than Twitter.
However, competition is not the only reason Twitter should be scared. The winds of change are coming. New web standards encourage the next generation of social networks to decentralize.
Twitter should be specifically worried about ActivityPub. In January 2018, the W3C introduced this new networking protocol. Why is this important? The W3C is the same organization that popularized HTML, CSS, XML—among other standards.
What is ActivityPub? Wikipedia explains:
ActivityPub is an open, decentralized networking protocol that provides an API for creating, updating, and deleting content, as well as a federated server-to-server API for delivering notifications and content.
When ActivityPub goes mainstream, the era of private corporate-owned social APIs will go the way of the Dodo bird. No longer will the likes of Twitter decide who’s worthy of network access. Any developer with a great idea will be able to build upon the next generation of social networking without interference from Twitter, Facebook, or Google.
Twitter itself understands that ActivityPub is a threat. Why else would Twitter announce the competing Bluesky project? Twitter is already behind the times and they’re scrambling to catch up.
As decentralization takes hold of the Internet—will Twitter find a way to stay relevant?