All I want for Xmas is a new social platform
Is a viable Twitter and Facebook alternative too much to ask for?
Welcome to Story Cauldron, where I usually talk about storytelling or share my fiction. Today I felt compelled to examine some of the new social networks that are popping up like mushrooms after a heavy rain (of tears?) and what they might offer me as a writer, researcher, and storyteller. I think it’s important to consider how and where we communicate and try to find places where we can tell our stories—and our truths—without fear.
Twitter is imploding.
Whether it’s by design, malice, or incompetence remains to be seen, but people are fleeing the platform like never before. (And here’s a quick shoutout to all the Twitter employees who were fired out of the blue or bullied into quitting. Hopefully, you land on your feet soon.)
Because Elon Musk makes my skin crawl worse than an army of creepy silverfish (and I wrote that before seeing a statue of his head on a
caterpillar ‘goat’ attached to a rocket), I decided it was time I found a way out.
To be fair, I’ve never been a heavy Twitter user on a day-to-day basis. Mostly I go to Twitter for breaking news before any of the mainstream media get the story. What’s on fire? What did [insert famous person] do now? It’s also been how I communicated with friends at conferences, followed presidential debates, and checked in with activists.
So while I’m not a power user, it seems inconceivable that this information pipeline—as problematic as it was—could just disappear overnight. But that feels more and more possible.
It’s not like Facebook can fill the void, either. Even though I do have a few useful FB groups, it’s become increasingly difficult to use the platform as a way to stay in touch with friends, which was its whole reason for existing back in the day. (In that regard, it’s been the world’s biggest dumpster fire for years.) And the AI is insufferable. People get sent to FB jail for innocuous jokes or artwork, while large groups exist without censure to organize insurrection, share porn, and sell illegal carnivorous plants. It’s a despicable platform run by someone with the appeal of a flying cockroach.
With their ad-driven algorithms, both of these platforms have prioritized disinformation, hate speech, and other content. Controversy is the best engagement tool out there, after all. Say something outrageous that angers thousands, and it will go viral and bring in all that juicy ad revenue. But for the ‘good guys’ out there, we’re just crying out into the void.
Why it matters to me as a writer
I’m a writer and author. In theory, that means I’d like people to read the words I string together. And while in another era that might have meant a cushy book contract or a gig at a national magazine, these days it means writing on Substack and publishing my novels on Amazon. And social media helps me share my work and build an audience for it.
Plus, there’s all the research and reading that I like to do, and while I’ve been diligently curating my feeds to follow the people and organizations that matter to me, fighting the ad-driven algorithms feels like a losing battle. It would be so nice to actually be able to see the things I want to see rather than what Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee think will make them the most money.
Maybe we can still have nice things?
But… maybe things are changing. With the Mad Hatter destroying everything around him this past week, several new platforms have sprouted like mushrooms to take Twitter’s place. Is it too much to hope that one of them will rise to the top and supplant not just Twitter but Facebook as well?
Could we have a social media space that isn’t overrun by white supremacists and conspiracy wing-nuts?
Here are a few of the contenders I’m most hopeful about.
First, there’s Mastodon, which has actually been around since 2016. It’s decentralized, meaning that no billionaire megalomaniac could ever have the power that Space Karen and Zuckerborg wield over their respective platforms. Unfortunately, there’s some friction in getting started—you have to choose a server (and hope you get a good one), and the people you want to follow won’t likely be on the same server, so it’s a hassle to find and follow them. It’s possible someone will build an interface that makes it more Twitter-esque, but right now, it’s a bit of a hot mess.
On the flip side, as the leading horse in the race, it looks like Mastodon is gaining traction. People are sharing content and are surprised that even on a far smaller platform, they are seeing decent engagement. Many are already using hashtags to rebuild their communities as they transfer over from the bird, and there are some interesting conversations already happening.
If you want to learn a little more about how Mastodon is set up (and how it differs from other social media), check out this piece from The Markup (which, like me, is on the newsie.social server) as well as this guide to Mastodon and leaving Twitter.
• Project Mushroom
Then there’s Project Mushroom, a crowdfunded effort to build a platform that includes newsletters and podcasts as well as messaging. It’s organized by Eric Holthaus — a journalist and climate scientist—who says he has help from former Twitter employees. I get excited by their ambitions—I mean, check out this bit from their Kickstarter page:
Project Mushroom will amplify and lift up diverse voices in justice & action. We are building a creator-first platform where users can easily find, discover and interact with each other on a safer, more inclusive platform.
This is so inspiring, and I hope they succeed, but I fear that this project may be overly ambitious, and they have only until December 15th to reach their $200K funding goal. If they move forward, they say the platform will be built on the backbone of Mastodon, which could be a good thing or could doom them to obscurity. Only time will tell.
The platform that excites me the most right now is Post.news. It’s a little bit Twitter, a little bit Substack. To me, it seems fresh and breezy, with a simple interface and all the functionality you need to get started right away. It was founded by Noam Bardin, former CEO of Waze (you know, the maps app, since acquired by Google, that uses crowdsourced info to tell you about accidents and speed traps). I was fortunate to be invited in as an early adopter/tester and was able to start checking it out. (It’s still in beta, and they are launching new features seemingly by the hour, so it could be completely different by the time you read this!)
One thing that intrigues me about Post.news is their point system, where you can tip people who provide value, and you can also ask people to pay for content with points. It’s like Substack but without the need to subscribe. It’s an interesting idea that could help Post.news stand out.
Side note: so far, Post.news has no ads, and the point system gives 100% of the points earned to the authors. When I asked Noam in one of his threads where their revenue comes from, he replied,
“we get a commission when you buy the points - like Twitch does.”
So there you have it—a Story Cauldron scoop!
(Friendly note: the link above is my referral link, which, as far as I know, gains me nothing, but might get you past the bouncers a bit more quickly.)
• Hive Social
I’m not very familiar with Hive Social, but TechCrunch says they have a million users now. Hive uses a chronological feed and doesn’t use ads to generate revenue. Instead, you can pay for slots to showcase music. It looks interesting, but I’m not sure how I feel about it yet (or if it really meshes with my Gen X brain). The email signup option wasn’t available, so I had to use my phone number (not cool), and then when it asked me to choose at least three interests, few of the options fit (where’s writing? History? Politics? Books/reading? Why is Halloween an interest, but gardening isn’t?). From there, I got a feed of images that felt like I had walked into a teenager’s bedroom.
And one more point that gives me pause. It was founded in 2019 by a then-22-year-old, Kassandra Pop, who was a Psychology major and executive assistant beforehand. I don’t know about you, but after experiencing almost the entire trajectory of Facebook (I joined in 2006) I’m not sure how I feel about this one. Still, I’ll give it a spin, even I have a gut feeling it’s not a good fit for me.
So we’re back to the ‘Stack. It’s not new, but it keeps growing. In fact, Substack recently launched a new chat feature which has been pretty cool to see, and might take up some of the slack from Twitter’s deterioration.
Even though it’s a newsletter platform, I have made a number of friends through Substack’s weekly office hours, a couple of programs they’ve run for their writers (Substack Go and Substack Grow), and the Discord server Substack Writers Unite. Substack definitely has become a new community for me. I’ve also had a few interactions with ‘celebrities’ that felt genuine, which honestly has never happened with the two big platforms.
My wish for the future
I don’t know if any of these platforms will take Twitter’s place—or if we’ll even be talking about them in a year. So many have tried—and failed—to beat the big two at their own game.
My wish is that one or more of these upstarts will take over. It doesn’t even need to be an all-or-nothing thing—who says we can’t have more networks for different kinds of interaction?
I just wish with all my heart that something can stop the fungal spread of Facebook (and TikTok) into the void that Twitter leaves behind. And for the first time in many years, it seems like it might just happen.
What do you see in your crystal ball?
So what do you think? Is Twitter really on its deathbed? Are there other platforms out there that people should know about? What are you going to do? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks as always for reading. If you’d like to follow me on the new social media, I’m @firstname.lastname@example.org on Mastodon and @jadana on Post.news (I haven’t been invited to join Project Mushroom yet), And if you do, I’d love it if you’d shoot me a note and let me know you’re there.
And please share this with anyone who’s teetering on the Twitter precipice. It’s always nice to know there’s a soft place to land.