The Succession of Twitter
By Eimhin Daly.
Within the past year, a staggering 60% of US Twitter users decided to take a hiatus from the social network, according to a recent study conducted by Pew. The same research revealed that 25% of current and recent users admitted they don’t expect to be using the platform in a year’s time. The same feeling permeates brands, with Ben & Jerry’s recently announcing that they will cease all paid advertising operations on Twitter until greater efforts are made to moderate hate speech on the app. In fact, CNN reported at the beginning of this year that more than half of Twitter’s top one thousand advertisers were no longer spending on the platform.
As the newly-instated captain of the platform seems to continually steer it on a steady downward spiral, the mutinous copycat networks begin to raise their voices. While some have tried to fill the void and fallen short (see Truth Social; Mastodon), stronger candidates continue to appear. Will they have the same staying power as their predecessor? Will they be the ones to overtake it?
Here we’ll take a look at two serious candidates we think might be around to stay.
Currently in invite-only beta, Bluesky may be the closest to a carbon copy of Twitter, unsurprising considering they share a co-founder in the form of Jack Dorsey. With an almost identical user interface, Bluesky offers a seamless transition to those looking to flee Musk’s hellscape.
And many seem to think Bluesky is the answer: the app had over 600k mobile downloads in April – a 600% rise from March – when it first became available on Android. There are currently almost 2 million email addresses on the waiting list to join the app, yet current active users number just over 70,000. Among that small but growing user base are some household names – including politician and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (13.4m Twitter followers), model Chrissy Teigen (12.8m), Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn (1.6m), actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani (2.9m), as well as Edgar Wright (900k), director of Shaun of the Dead.
A decentralised network, Bluesky aims to give power back to the people. In fact, two major aims for the platform, according to Dorsey, are for the community to actively participate in shaping platform algorithms as well as platform rules. Some of this power they have immediately put to questionable use, by christening the act of posting: ‘skeeting’. Skeets are capped at 256 characters, and can also include photos: they can be replied to, reskeeted, liked, or shared.
While decentralised networks are certainly less susceptible to censorship, for now, the intimate size and restricted access of the app perhaps act as barriers to flat-earthers and neo-nazis. With a host of content control options being rolled out, as well as customisable algorithms, users have clear control over what they see and don’t see on the platform – a stark contrast to Musk’s Twitter. This decentralisation may not bode as well for brands, however, as while full governance is handed to the users of the platform, the incentive for advertising will be voided. Though it remains to be seen if this will be sustainable as the platform multiplies in size.
Nachiket Desai, account director at M&C Saatchi Performance, in response to Bluesky’s advertising potential suggested that all platforms require time to build themselves up and gain adoption, and that from a brand perspective, brand safety and digital metrics are the things that matter most. “As soon as there is a sizable audience in place, we may start seeing a budget shift there as evidenced by TikTok’s recent result. As long as Bluesky is able to convince advertisers of the benefits here, many brands may move to get an early mover advantage on a niche audience.”
Another contender has emerged in recent months, thanks almost solely to online leaks, delivered this time by the familiar faces at Meta. Codenamed Barcelona, or P92, it is expected that the app will offer a seamless transition for users already on Instagram, eliminating any awkward signup phase that might put users off.
Text updates up to 500 characters can be posted to the platform – almost twice as much as a skeet or a tweet, but still less than an Instagram caption. Videos and images can of course be included.
Safety is a major priority, with the same community guidelines in place to ensure users interact safely and authentically, and blocked accounts from Instagram also appear to carry over. The app maintaining these same standards will be music to the many ears of a number of brands, who may have paused activity on Twitter in the midst of the messy and problematic takeover at the tail end of last year, which saw moderation of hate speech and harassment slackened on the platform. Furthermore, the fact that the app is part of the Meta suite will represent a win-win for both advertisers as well as Meta themselves: with more advertising placements available and easily accessible via Business Suite, processes will undoubtedly be streamlined.
Although no official communication has been shared, the app is slated for release sometime in June of this year.
At this early stage it would be brave to make a prediction on the staying power of either of these unfamiliar platforms, though it appears that all, if not most, of the right ingredients are there. With Twitter very much on the ropes, there has never been a better time to mount a challenge. Will Musk be able to turn things around? Or will Twitter just become a memory we skeet about?