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InternetTech

Is it time to ditch Twitter?

It would be accurate to say the months following Elon Musk’s arrival at Twitter have been chaotic. Staff were given an ultimatum to work long hours at high intensity or leave. Being “hardcore” would pave the way for Twitter 2.0. Twitter only has 1,000 staff left, a fraction of the 8,000 that worked at the microblogging social media platform prior to Musk’s takeover. Twitter has been ravaged by technical difficulties and outages and opinions have been divided on charging users for the blue checkmark at $8 a month.

Musk has consistently championed free speech but the importance of it doesn’t seem to apply when silencing journalists, banning those who criticize him and posting links to other social media sites; which Musk had to embarrassingly backtrack on. Add to this Twitter’s failure to pay rent for its headquarters, announcing a new API plan costing $42,000 a month and Musk’s anger at people not seeing his tweets, chaos is an understatement in the ‘digital town square’ that is Twitter.

The chaos has resulted in an advertiser exodus, however it seems the everyday user is staying with Twitter for now. While Mastodon exists as a viable alternative, the core of the issue is that there is a lack of alternatives altogether. Twitter’s user base of over 350 million allows it to operate in a way that may dissatisfy a large contingent of its users, however since few other microblogging platforms exist that provide real-time, in-the-moment updates with such a critical mass of users, people are choosing to stay on Twitter.

Mastodon tweet
Some Twitter users are moving to Mastodon

This problem isn’t unique to Twitter. While YouTube remains the undisputed champion of video sharing, users have frequently lambasted the platform for its opaque and mercurial algorithm, its substandard recommendation system, the adpocalypse that jeopardized the incomes of thousands of content creators, and the hiding of dislike counts. Despite the criticisms of YouTube, it remains the 2nd most visited website in the world with 2 billion monthly active users.

The lack of alternatives keeps people on YouTube whether as a viewer or content creator. As a rival platform, competing with YouTube is made all the more difficult when you’re up against the almost-unlimited resources of trillion-dollar parent company Alphabet; still commonly referred to as Google.

But while Twitter can feel somewhat safe in knowing many of its users are locked in, the infamous Digg exodus of 2010 should serve as a reminder that unpopular decisions eventually will have their tipping point. Digg was launched in 2004 as a link aggregator site and Reddit followed soon after in 2005 with almost identical features. Within a few years both sites boasted users in the millions but Digg was increasingly disappointing its users with unpopular UI changes and features. The tipping point came on 25th August 2010, when Digg version 4 was launched. Alongside frustrating UI changes, the new Digg allowed major news publications to auto-submit content to Digg, flooding the feed with large publisher content and drowning out the independents. An eerily similar issue that is frustrating many YouTube users who feel independent creators aren’t promoted as much as established brands.

The result was swift. People abandoned Digg for Reddit while Digg’s traffic declined and its website faced one technical issue after another. Eventually Digg was acquired by VC company Betaworks for $500,000, a fraction of its previous $164 million valuation. Could something similar happen to Twitter?

As Vox points out, “If you’re on Twitter today, you’re likely experiencing a feed that is more frequently broken, more random, and more unhinged.” An experience like this wasn’t enough to keep users loyal to Digg in 2010 but the difference was that an alternative existed. And this is where Mark Zuckerberg comes in. Given the costly billion-dollar investments in the metaverse and the recent PR disasters of Meta layoffs, Zuckerberg will be keeping a close eye on the chaos engulfing Twitter, a major social media competitor. A Twitter alternative may well be on the horizon as it’s being reported that Meta is building a decentralized, text-based Twitter alternative.

Unlike Mastodon, Meta has a critical mass of users that a mass Digg-Reddit style migration is a possibility. Put simply, Meta has enough users to be a threat. So is it time to ditch Twitter? As long as a comparable alternative doesn’t exist, Twitters users will by and large stay where they are. However it’s important to remember that Twitter is a business after all. While there are some suggestions that Twitter’s user base is slowly declining, it’s difficult to put an exact figure to this as the company is no longer public. Profits are another issue. Advertisers have fled the platform and Twitter Blue subscriptions have been underwhelming. The question then is not whether it’s time to ditch Twitter, but whether Twitter will survive at all. And unless Twitter can turn things round, people contemplating leaving Twitter may have the choice decided for them.

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