We need Twitter/X now more than ever
Twitter/X is an all too rare 'third place,' the digital tavern of the world. We should be rooting for it here, it remains critical internet infrastructure
Some of you might not like it, but we need Twitter/X now more than ever. The fact that writing this likely raises some reader’s blood pressure actually proves the point in my mind, but let’s talk about it.
The site has been managed oddly both in the past and present, and the ad products have never been great. It doesn't matter. It's the most important forum in human history, not by volume, but by the participation of market movers, CEOs, politicians, writers/journalists and industry professionals who irrationally care, engaging in a global real-time conversation. It's impossible to imagine this level of discourse or ongoing reference-ability on a single individual's blog or Facebook posts. Disliking management, and there are valid reasons to for most companies, doesn't negate the product's impact on society, especially now when paying close attention is so crucial. It serves as a counterweight to institutions currently failing Western values beneath us, and if you think all our institutional actions are ‘just fine’ I’d really like to join you in this peaceful bubble, able to look past the many incredible failings of the last few years. As a Jewish person on Twitter exposed to the terrors happening right now, it would probably be easier to look away. But I don't think we should, and that would really miss some important lessons from history.
From Tyler Cowen on the robustness of Twitter:
Essential for following controversies over university presidents, conflicts in the Middle East, the unfolding Open AI saga, the attempt to demonstrate superconductivity, and much more. It's less about "some academic or pundit giving you a steady stream of their thoughts" and more about being "where the action is." Some of that comes from Elon's rule changes, but much of it arises from a world full of action, both good and bad. The fullness of action in the world, in my view, is not about to let up.
So, you all should be long Twitter. And those who have left are missed far less than they might have wished.
LinkedIn, Facebook are institutional-class social networks are not the same — they’ll always be ‘the mall’ while Twitter/X is ‘the streets’
Some people believe LinkedIn can take Twitter’s place, which is a wild claim mostly by what are ‘light’ internet users, who don’t really need or want to have ideas shared outside of a safe space work environment. It’s fine, because Twitter/X was never really for them. There’s a similar class of business professional who purchased followers on old Twitter and used recent events as a convenient excuse to bow out of accounts with hundreds of thousands of bot followers and no likes. They were always trying to fake social proof online and never really part of the community. This is a separate discussion we’ve had before.
Anyway, the real problem is tying everything to work identity excludes many from the conversation and also biases it to sales and marketing. I said this on LinkedIn for effect, the comments were interesting as we’re forcing self-reflection in a place that broadly doesn’t do that. Here’s the thing: there’s actually nothing wrong with selling, to sell is human. But a social network with a bias to HR and marketing efforts will always be limited in scope and remit beyond itself.
Not to mention the UX is terrible, the algos don't work, and, other than the odd interesting friend using it as a blog (where they should be sharing these insights instead of giving this value to a multi-trillion-dollar company), we've learned these lessons already. LinkedIn is also as others have pointed out cringe; there could be nuclear war, and people there would still just be talking about lead generation.
Facebook is for posting pics of your kids and your local HOA group community. Instagram is for mindless entertainment and scrolling to burn brain cells. TikTok is not a serious contender for anything of consequence and arguably CCP controlled misinformation at worst, and a solipsistic depression/anxiety-inducing, dystopia-generating algo at best.
The highly unlikely chance of these types of networks existing at this scale with a certain set of users in the first place is wildly unappreciated by both media and tech industry people who believe Zuck can simply press a button, replicate a feature set, and recreate a community. I wrote on this previously. My friend Mike Solana shared thoughts as well, which are worth reading.
On forums and the anti-fragility of great products
I’ve been on forums and built online communities since the '90s, have millions of posts across several, including Twitter/X. So, I’ve watched these stories play out before both on niche boards and also larger sites like Digg. If X did go away, which we’re fortunate it hasn’t, it wouldn’t simply be replaced; it would be splintered into many different products and sites and user time absorbed into larger ones. This might be fine for your friend groups, but it would be a huge loss to the world’s collective consciousness which has not been organized in such a way before. X may have neutered virality and hyperlinks to whatever extent, but the product lives on. Sadly, the other large networks did that years ago, at best here we can hope Twitter reverses course. It’s still not enough to squelch the core idea, and I still find links to be freer there than other places, which are basically full pay-to-play.
I also think it's something of a luxury belief to proclaim Twitter or any social network you wake up and decide you don’t like dead publicly. With hundreds of millions of people using it, it’s clearly valuable to them. So you might be able to walk away due to your personal financial or network situation, and to some extent be nihilistic enough to no longer wish to share your ideas with them, but lots of the world just doesn’t see things like this. Not everyone wants to “move to Canada” because they don’t like the current president. Both a country and a social network don’t belong to one person, they actually belong to the users and citizens. I personally wouldn’t be bullied off using a forum simply because I didn’t like the mods. We’re there for the other users, after all. Anyway, I don’t think any actions here are existentially bad, even if some have been annoying. Maybe I appreciate how rare and important products like this are as this is my sector, whereas others are more cavalier (like celebs leaving a product publicly, and you’ll notice how almost no one cares - as they were never actually users, they were just human banner ads).
Twitter is still the closest thing we have to idea meritocracy
I think Substack is great, and of course strongly believe you should be publishing here if you have ideas worth sharing. But as others have noted, Twitter is the tavern, Substack is the court (or perhaps the library, pick your analogy). You’re at existential risk if you’re not in the court, but for many being present in both is a requisite. It might be fun even (how dare any of us have fun and enjoy something, right?).
There’s a reason high quality media frequently embed Tweets/posts, and it’s that great ideas can be surfaced by a community that has diversity, aggregation and incentives in place. The power of that is undeniable and countless cool concepts and ideas are surfaced that make the world better daily, with Twitter/X as the starting point.
This is important and why no one has been able to create a true Twitter/X alternative. In Think Twice: Harnessing The Power of Counterintution, Michael J. Mauboussin postulates that a diverse crowd will always predict more accurately than the average person in the crowd. He takes social scientist Scott Page’s diversity prediction theorem (collective error = average individual error — prediction diversity) a step further to identify the three conditions which must be in place to know when crowds will predict well.
diversity, aggregation and incentives: Each condition clicks into the equation. Diversity reduces the collective error. Aggregation assures that the market considers everyone’s information. Incentives help reduce individual errors by encouraging people to participate only when they think they have an insight. Twitter is one of the few places that actually brings diversity, aggregation and incentives together in a way that is instantly accessible. It’s really the magic that was captured, like lightning in a bottle. I think it’s a matter of luck this exists at all.
Twitter/X also might force you to confront ideas you don’t like or don’t agree with, perhaps more than any other place. I believe this to be a positive even if others don’t.
Can Twitter and management do better? Of course, that’s always been true
No one should be shocked when people who think about the world in unique ways you like also think about the world in unique ways you don’t like.
—Morgan Housel, via this post
Regarding the Elon thing, well, I don’t know what to tell you. It just doesn’t bother me that much, but I didn’t really think about past leadership either (whereas other groups love one one and hate the other, for reasons you can guess). It’s probably a case study in how CEOs shouldn’t be vocal; many of them are something of an oddity. Willing to bet you the same type of squeamish folk wouldn’t shop at any number of places if they could see inside the brains of the owners. But we can here. At least it’s on display. There’s a group of people who are unwilling to let go of any generation’s Howard Hughes-esque characters. But broadly you don’t get people doing new things unless they’re a bit weird, as Morgan’s post above shares. That’s the way the world works.
So, again could Twitter/X do better? Yes, of course. They always could have done better; the company has literally never been managed right or how I would do things: on the ads team especially. But we still need Twitter, with or without any one person; the concept of it is too important, especially now. With so many in top-down institutions yelling about ‘how bad Twitter is’ while simultaneously engaging in a continually dystopian game of clickbait and fueling various fake narratives such as the ongoing “RTO” nonsense, the hypocrisy of an industry is on display. I’m just not sure how they have a leg to stand on here. Especially after a decade+ of the industry declaring Twitter dead, and being wrong at every step. Turns out, it’s really just all for clicks and attention.
Twitter/X is real social media, and intimately important
If someone still doesn’t get why people love a social product, maybe they just didn’t have a real community there? I have 1,000s of friends the world over from time invested. As an introvert, I’ve never been great at making friends IRL, but thanks to Twitter, I’ve been welcomed into houses of people on several continents, been given invites to give 100s of talks, multiple job opportunities, and collaborated with countless others creatively online and IRL. If these things didn’t matter to you and you’re just using social as a time-wasting application, or are one of the traditional media pros or celebrities with millions of followers in many places you probably don’t understand much of this post. You’re still using the internet as a broadcast channel which is not the highest value of the medium. It’s also way less fun. Legacy institutions don’t care much for this (note Harvard closing comments on recent posts, for example) but new ones being built will.
The world is difficult, atomized and isolated enough. I still can’t imagine being upset that users have a thriving online community such as Twitter/X they like which shrinks the world, let alone one that’s compensating folk, something I think should be done everywhere now. It’s an all too rare ‘third place’ that’s actually good. For every open social network that is allowed to exist/gain traction, and isn’t policed in a specific way a group of people want, some percent of the population isn’t going to be happy with that. This may just be the way the internet works. The good news is there’s niche forms for them, or one of the big institutional networks they would like to reside under. But having a macro, open forum like Twitter where we’re mostly free and left alone is critical infrastructure, and only growing in importance daily. Retreating to walled gardens and closed chats is fine for certain topics, if that’s your jam, but we should want the public tavern of the internet to live on. It appears robust enough to do so, and I think the importance of this is widely understood here.
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