A Ramble Through The Social Media World, Looking for Twitter’s Replacement

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers, I am extremely online — and have been for [counts] some decades, many hours a day — but most of my recent online activity has focused on gathering links for the two aggregations I produce: Links and Water Cooler. Recently, I missed an important link to a nasal vaccine for Covid, I’m guessing because Twitter just isn’t what it used to be; no doubt an account I used to follow, that would have highlighted the article, has gone dark. That means to me that I need better tools. So the sole purpose of this post is to evaluate new tools for my aggregation toolbox — and perhaps you, dear readers, will have suggestions. It is, after all, a big Internet.

For clarity, this post is not about most topics that come under the heading of “social media.” Out of scope are why the Lords of Silicon Valley won’t let their own children use iPads, the dopamine loop, and doomscrolling (though I confess the enormous amount of reading condensed into an aggregation feels like doomscrolling, and there are good reasons for that). Nor will I discuss the algo, influencers, virality, dating apps, the coming of AI bots, content moderation, or the Censorship Industrial Complex (except in relation to “The Twitter Files”).

In this post, I’ll focus first on Twitter. Then I’ll ramble through the Intertubes seeking an adequate replacement, since Twitter had become absolutely essential to my workflow (and hence to your reading pleasure).

In Twitter’s heyday — say, from 2015, when quote tweets were introduced, through 2022[1], when Elon Musk purchased it — it was almost as good as the blogosphere, if you could stand reading clumsily linked and often broken Tweet threads as opposed to real posts. Twitter was (and even today is) an amazing platform for that reason alone, and even more amazing since it never coined money the way other social media platforms did, or had their readership. (For many in the Global South, “the Internet” is [cough, spew] Facebook.) As I wrote:

I realize there are some Twitter h8ers round and about, so let me explain I use the platform in my workflow, since that directly benefits not only me personally, but you, dear reader, as well:

As a sidebar, let me confess at the outset that I am a dedicated Twitter user. I curate what I read very carefully, and reject Twitter’s frequent offers to let their algorithm take over my feed[1]. I inhabit various quiet neighborhoods that are important to me; photography, among other things. Twitter also makes finding Antidotes for Links a breeze, much easier than it was, pre-Twitter. Further, there is no better way to follow breaking news (especially with a properly curated feed). I could never have followed the twists and turns of the Covid epic without Twitter, and that very much includes the science. (It’s not easy to make a complex technical argument in a series of tweets, but some have mastered the form; not as well as a blog can, but still not badly.) In short, Twitter does a lot to make my real life, and especially my work life, more productive (and more pleasurable, because I discover things I never would have discovered otherwise). And all for free! Not a bad deal, the sort of deal a decent public utility should offer. End sidebar.

Here is the essential fact about Twitter: Twitter is a universal address space. At least until this weekend, Twitter was a social graph where every user — not merely logged-in account, but user — is one degree of separation away from every other user. If I want to go find some idiotic eugenicist statement from Rochelle Walensky, I can do so with a search, logged in or not. (If I want to call Walensky a eugenicist, I must log in, but that seems only fair, and I can still do it.) Further, through embeds, Twitter’s graph extends outside the platform, which is why you see Tweets quoted everywhere. Twitter’s universal, open address space is in great contrast to the “walled gardens” of other platforms, especially The Zuckerberg™’s evil and decaying Facebook.

Many valuable use cases flow from Twitter’s universal address space. Twitter is ideal for public service announcements like emergency services and information about the weather. Twitter is ideal for breaking news, as users spontaneously coalesce around threads following the event. Twitter is ideal for public collaboration across geographic and institutional barriers; I am 100% convinced that the aerosol scientists would not have been able to take it the droplet dogmatists and win the day on the science without Twitter; the same goes for mask users and the Covid-conscious.

Since Elon Musk took over, Twitter hasn’t been what I would call stable. Musk did perform a genuine act of public service by releasing “The Twitter Files,” which cast light on the operations of the Censorship Industrial Complex. (And for his fellow squillionaires, Musk showed that a large social media firm could function without supernumeraries; many of them followed suit by slashing headcount MR SUBLIMINAL Those labor aristocrats needed a union! Between the X rebranding, charging for “Blue Checks”[2], experimenting with charging for basic features, paying creators, throttling creators, and removing headlines from news tweets (!!), I can only characterize Musk’s leadership as somewhere between wildly experimental and erratic. For all these reasons, the quality of my timeline has deteriorated[3].

Sadly, my universal address space is gone. So I’ve been looking for different ways to aggregate links (and once again, readers, if you have suggestions, please leave them in comments).

Alphabet’s properties, Google News and YouTube, are just laughably bad (besides being contaminated by a company whose motto became “be evil after all”). Google News depends on Google search, so forget it. It’s also censored fact-checked by “Full Fact,” among others, “sponsored to develop automated fact-checking tools by the Omidyar Network and Open Society Foundations.” YouTube’s search function is the worst I’ve ever used, bar none, so forget it, too. (At its height, Twitter’s search function was more useful than Google’s, because the content produced by Twitter accounts was focused, topical, and current. Oh well.)

Tyrell Corporation’s The Zuckerberg™’s properties I rule out a priori as corrupt and repellent. In any case, Meta (Faceborg) won’t let me log in or get a new account (presumably deducing my identity from software properties of my device(s), like fonts). So that mercifully rules out WhatsApp as a link source. I did manage to log into to Threads, Meta’s Twitter competitor, and hence also into InstaGram, Threads being built on top of Instagram, but the quality was awful (presumably because Threads readers take selfies, as opposed to writing text).

BlueSky, a Twitter competitor founded by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, is invitation only. After many months, no invite. In addition, BlueSky has privacy issues. Spoutible is another Twitter competitor founded by a Twitter founder, but it looks prudish. Neither will help me aggregate links.

Nor did I try LinkedIn. I thought LinkedIn was all about the resumé, but apparently not. Amazingly, people — teenagers, even! — actually post material on this very early social media platform. Then again, “personal sharing on LinkedIn is booming, people who use the platform say, because of tidal shifts in both social norms and the social-media marketplace.” So it’s hard to see how LinkedIn will help me aggregate links (though I’m happy that Facebook seems to have a competitor).

At this point, a sidebar on Internet protocols (“protocol”). An Internet protocol is “a set of standards for addressing and routing data on the Internet.” Protocols are (generally) created and documented by standards bodies, like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) or the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The “https” you see before the “://” in a URL is the name of a protocol; so is smtp, for email, and so, for the greybeards, is FTP. And telnet! End sidebar.

So my first real attempt to create an alternative to Twitter was to return to the RSS protocol, big in the days of the blogosphere. I installed an RSS reader app called Netnewswire, and subscribed to a number of RSS feeds, from Al Jazeera, Anadolu Agency, Associated Press, Channel News Asia, Field and Stream, FOX, New Left Review, through to a miscellaneous feed for Ukraine news (via), and many others. This at least solved the problem of getting my head into the newsflow, since Twitter seems to have throttled most of these sources, even though I follow them. The advantage of RSS is that you subscribe directly to a site (NC’s RSS subscription button is at top right in yellow. Copy the URL and enter it into your reader. If you click on the button and see what looks like computer code, that’s the protocol in action!). That means it’s less easy to censor, since you have disintermediated the platforms[4].The disadvantage of RSS is that all you get is the story; you get no context, no discussion, no images. Nevertheless, RSS really helps me aggregate links.

My second attempt at replacing Twitter was a news aggregator called Artifact. From the Verge’s deck: “It’s a new spin on an old idea: a social network not based on personalities but on all the coolest stuff on the internet — with a hefty sprinkling of AI.” Basically, Artifact is an algorithmic news feed (like Twitter’s hated “For You”). Users can now add their own links to news, too. I wanted to like it, but meh. Again, the wild serendipity of Twitter’s universal address space is missing. And the AI isn’t very good, unsurprisingly. So Artifact doesn’t help me aggregate links.

A second sidebar: A new protocol from the W3C called ActivityPub. From The Verge:

In recent months, a number of tech companies have thrown their resources into ActivityPub and what’s now known as “the Fediverse.” Tumblr is working with ActivityPub, as are Flipboard, Medium, Mozilla, and even Meta. There’s now an official WordPress plug-in for ActivityPub, which will enable the protocol for something like half the internet all at once. Developers are using ActivityPub to build new and different takes on YouTube, Instagram, and much more. ActivityPub is everywhere! ActivityPub!

In essence, ActivityPub minimizes vendor lock-in by making social media data portable: Account lists, content (Tweets, posts), etc. Because data can now be interchanged without friction between platforms, the platforms can be “federated.” Hence, “Fediverse.” It’s not the same as Twitter’s universal address space, where I am one degree of separation away from, say, Mandy Cohen’s account, but I am at least X degrees of separation away; I can make a connection with a level of effort (at least if the account wants to be found). Summarizing:

And, of course, there’s Mastodon, the ActivityPub–powered platform that has become a haven to Twitter Quitters all over the internet. But ask around the tech industry, and there’s a growing set of people who will tell you the future isn’t Mastodon but what it represents: a scaled ActivityPub-based social platform.

[ActivityPub[ a technology through which social networks can be made interoperable, connecting everything to a single social graph and content-sharing system.

End sidebar.

My third attempt at replacing Twitter was the Fediverse: a Mastodon clone (see above) called Mammoth. When I tried the original Mastodon app, the onboarding process was time-consuming and intimidating, and my app-wrangling skillz are not feeble. (The same goes for Ivory, another Mastodon app.) Mammoth, however, made onboarding very easy, both setting up the account, and amassing a large number of sources to follow (though not get large by Twitter standards. In Twitter, I have around 900 follows now, although that’s a good deal less than I had when Twitter banned my old account for calling Andrew Cuomo “Ratface Andy.” On a Chris Cuomo tweet).

I don’t dislike Mammoth, though it’s not as slick as Twitter. The main differences are — beside the occasional crash and some UI/UX issues — tone and reach. Mammoth is slower and more low-key than Twitter. It’s like moving from Manhattan to, I don’t know, Wichita. Not exactly Lake Wobegon, but if I want breaking news from a Global South source, say, I have to go to Twitter. The Fediverse simply doesn’t have the global reach that Twitter still has (trolls, bots, and all). Or if I want the latest Covid study, with any number of trusted experts commenting on it, I have to go to Twitter. Ditto Ukraine. It seems to me that, for whatever reason, Twitter managed to attract/create a large number of vertical communities centered on areas of professional expertise. Mastodon has not done that yet, and the theory seems to be that verticals will federate (that is, one Mastodon site for ventilation, say, another for homebrewing, another for the Middle East). But that’s not how the people who create the expert commentary for verticals lead their lives. A (hypothetical) expert might want to comment, in detail, in Far-UV technology, but also follow cat videos, photography, home renovation, eldercare, and stonks. A universal address space like Twitter accommodates these human needs easily. I don’t see how the Fediverse does, but we shall see. So Mammoth and the Fediverse help me aggregate links, but not well enough to replace Twitter (“if your workflow depends on a platform…”).

* * *
So, dear readers, this is where I am with my project to replace Twitter when aggregating links. I use an RSS reader, Mammoth in the Fediverse, and I still have to use Twitter.[5] Suggestions?


[1] The Twitter timeline lists Twitter’s acquistions; so far as I can tell, not one of them came to anything, hilariously. That argues to me that Twitter’s strength always and only was its accounts, who would put up with almost anything as long as they could Tweet to each other. Tenaciously, many — including me — remain.

[2] As I wrote: “For Blue Check Twitter users, their mark of distinction has been a form of social capital — as a member of the press, of government, a celebrity, a best-selling author, in short, a top-drawer PMC — and the prospect of simply being able to buy one causes them great agita.”

[3] The Covid and aerosol communities are incredibly tenacious, so I have to check Twitter for them.

[4] Podcasts are also distributed via RSS. That’s why you here the tagline “wherever you get your podcasts”; the platforms haven’t been able to middleman themselves into being gatekeeping rentiers.

[5] I also subscribe to an enormous number of newsletters, but that’s another story.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. digi_owl

    You probably will not find it, as any “replacement” will be deeply affected by the partisan zeitgeist. Thus they will be tone policed into the ground.

  2. Jingu

    I’m still using an RSS reader after all these years. It’s how I came to this article. Just nothing is better for that particular need, but I too will keep hope alive for a Twitter alternative that isn’t terrible.

  3. Willow

    Twitter (was) = trainspotting for news (linked & contributed).
    Musk is destroying a major intelligence gathering asset. (wo)Men in Black aren’t happy.

  4. boots

    I aggregate the local sections of local papers along a 500-mile corridor I monitor for infrastructure advocacy. Local news is a tiny trickle unless you aggregate it, but seeing all the city council and city commission, county, tourism, metropolitan planning meetings, etc in aggregate tells a regional story.

    I pluck links from the flood like you do, but on a much smaller scale for discussion. I supplement the plucked links with comments pulled, as Mark Ames taught, from reading the comments on local news, but also from doing a web search of article titles. They’re often reposted on other sites like yahoo news and reddit, with additional comment threads.

    Finding RSS feeds on local news can be tough. Some hints: “view source” and ctrl-F for rss and atom. WordPress sites use RSS for internal communication, and you can tap into that flow. There are also websites like feed creator and rss [dot] app that generate feeds. It won’t fill your twitter void, but it’s a strategy.

    Finally, I’ve used a few different RSS readers over the years, and whether one is useful to me depends a lot on what I’m doing. Some are good for keeping on top of sources that publish infrequently, keeping me from checking weekly a website that might post new content a few times a year. Others are good for the kind of local news flood I’m describing. Design is very important in RSS readers to experience.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I aggregate the local sections of local papers along a 500-mile corridor I monitor for infrastructure advocacy. Local news is a tiny trickle unless you aggregate it, but seeing all the city council and city commission, county, tourism, metropolitan planning meetings, etc in aggregate tells a regional story.

      This sounds like a fascinating project, and I’d like to know more about it.

  5. fjallstrom

    I don’t think there will be a twitter replacement as such. For good and bad (mostly bad for your workflow). Twitter managed to profile itself as the serious social media, attracting journalists, professionals, pundits and politicians.

    As I understand the Fediverse it can be thought of as a bunch of forums that are interlinked. More readily a reddit-replacement than a Twitter replacement. Though if enough forums are interlinked you can find most things. But the crux is getting enough people who write stuff worth reading in there.

    To make Twitter a bit more useful now that it doesn’t allow non-logged in people to even see the answers or the threads, I sometimes use nitter.net. Simply remove the crud (the question mark and anything that follows) and replace the “twitter.com” with “nitter.net”. Now basic functionality like bieng able to read threads and replies is restored. That is merely a shell that gives some restoration of some of Twitters functionality, but useful. You sometimes express the opinion that readers should read the whole thread. In such cases linking the nitter-version of the tweet is more useful as then readers can actually read the whole thread. Something to consider.

    1. turtle

      The fediverse is a generic term for federated social media sites and applications that communicate using open protocols.

      Upon those generic protocols, the most prominent of which being ActivityPub, pretty much any kind of social media can be built. Mastodon and a few mostly compatible apps are most similar to Twitter (i.e. microblogging).

      There are other ActivityPub apps that are more equivalent to Reddit, like Lemmy and Kbin. Yet others that resemble Instagram (Pixelfed) and YouTube (PeerTube).

      Another interesting aspect of this is that technically all these apps based on ActivityPub can or should be able to communicate with each other, meaning that as a user on Mastodon, you should be able to follow and comment on posts on Pixelfed and vice-versa.

  6. Arizona Slim

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d much rather socialize in person. Social media? Way too toxic for my taste.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to listening to the National League Championship Series on the radio. Gotta drown my sorrows with more alcohol. The Phillies really are that bad. At home.

  7. SG

    As you know, Lambert, I’ve always been grateful that you read Twitter so I don’t have to. It has saved me no end of aggravation and wasted time. Personally, I don’t think we need “a replacement for Twitter” because we never needed Twitter in the first place. I’ve heard numerous people (including, Deo nolente, my own spouse) describe Twitter as the “new public square”. That’s pure balderdash. The “public square” can’t be privately owned. Twitter is no more the “public square” than Zuccotti Park was a “public park” (as Occupy found out pretty quickly). Similarly, none of the privately-owned Twitter alternatives will ever be the “public square”. They’ll all be subject to the whims of their various owners. If we wanted a “public square” on the Intertubez, we shouldn’t have let Google destroy USENET in the first place.

    1. turtle

      I long for the good old days of USENET too, but my impression is that Google only dealt one of the blows to destroy it. Spam dealt the first blow, perhaps Google the second, piracy (and counter-piracy) the third, web message boards the fourth, Facebook maybe the fifth. USENET and other decentralized, not-for-profit communications platforms have many enemies.

        1. SG

          I shall always be grateful to Larry Wall for inventing the “kill file”, which improved the USENET experience immeasurably. His only mistake was failing to make kill files actually reach through the Intertubez and inflict lethal harm on the offending posters. Well, that and PERL.

    2. eg

      I use Twitter very carefully. I generally only check in on three people: Mark Blyth, Warren Mosler and Philip Pilkington. Otherwise tweets linked here at NC or when a couple of friends @ me on their tweets. That’s it. And I rarely post.

      So far it’s still a sane usage pattern.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Personally, I don’t think we need “a replacement for Twitter” because we never needed Twitter in the first place.

      Nonsense. You’re not the one gathering the links and doing the research. So, who’s “we”?

    4. digi_owl

      Twitter until Musk is a odd history of organic growth and company community feedback loops.

      After all, the service started as a SMS forwarder/broadcaster. That is where the 140 character limit came from (though by that time, SMS on phones could stitch multiple SMS into a longer message).

      Best i can tell, at some point journalists and like adopted it as a way to mass notify each other of ongoing events. I got involved after CES opened up to bloggers, and some of them started using Twitter to share their minute to minute experience walking the floors.

      But then the usage shifted from SMS to the web site and dedicated apps. And with that came things like inline images (starting with apps parsing links to third party image hosts) and reply quotes.

      But i think what really kicked Twitter ajar was when Tumblr got new owners, and started clamping down on certain activities. Some of those migrated to Twitter, and started reacting to and intermingling with the journalists already there. The result has been downright explosive.

    5. Matthew G. Saroff

      Weren’t Google that killed Usenet. (It’s still out there technically, but it is dead)

      It was AOL that gave us the Eternal September, when millions of newbies overwhelmed the ability of the community to prevent itself from becoming ensh%$tified.

      Also Serdar Argic and Cantor & Seigel.

    6. Timony Shane

      And that is the point. KEEP PUBLIC EVERYTHING ALIVE. Especially money, a public utility. CBDCs would lock in privatized central bank-controlled money.

      PRIVATIZATION is at the core of fascism. 50 years of neoliberalism as given rise to a stateless imperialist empire which threatens to eradicate all public space.

      Hawaii, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Mexico, etc. are losing access to public beaches. National parks are also under attack. A world of Big Owners and Others, who will own nothing… unless we stop it.

      “In a libertarian society, there is no commons or public space. There are property lines, not borders. When it comes to real property and physical movement across such real property, there are owners, guests, licensees, business invitees, and trespassers — not legal and illegal immigrants.”
      ~ Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute

      So, end nation-states, borders, constitutional rights, environmental protections, citizenship itself.

      Fascism is institutionalized narcissism.

      “The core of fascism is the idea that there is some elite, whether ‘Aryan’ or ‘chosen by God,’ or otherwise, who should run things, and that everyone else exists in order to serve that elite.

      Inevitably, this official elite consists of the people whom the powers-that-be assign as constituting the owners of almost everything that’s valuable. Increasingly, things become those people’s private possession — even what was formerly a public asset becomes now private. Beaches become private. Schools become private. Natural resources become private.

      It’s not just the art that was stolen by the Nazis and privatized to them and/or shown at museums that they control, which becomes private; it’s whatever the elite want to have, and to control: it’s all now private. That’s the fascist ideal.”

      I don’t endorse this US candidate for president, but here he does explain who this network of roughly 10,000 are who make policy that diminishes the quality standard of living for all:

      Dr.SHIVA LIVE: The Swarm – HOW the Few Control the Many. What WE Do to Break Free.

      It’s a capitalist world: No country on Earth respects labor rights

  8. The Rev Kev

    ‘Google News and YouTube, are just laughably bad’

    Got that right. With Google News it just became trash a few months ago and limited the number of articles that appeared. And a new section appeared called Fact Check. Some obvious stuff stuff is labeled False but when it is not in alignment with the narrative, they will not say True but will waffle and say it needs context or some such rubbish. YouTube is worse. You search for a topic and use inverted commas so as to limit the results that come back to only that topic and yet YouTube still throws in totally unrelated videos in their results. The waters have been truly fouled.

    1. Acacia

      Wow, that is a pretty neat trick!

      Now I can check on select Twitter accounts via my RSS reader. Coolio — thanks!

    2. digi_owl

      Keep in mind that nitter works by pretending to be the Twitter website, and thus can break at any moment. there already was a breakage for a time after Musk’s takeover as some internal tokens changed.

  9. Carolinian

    The disadvantage of RSS is that all you get is the story; you get no context, no discussion, no images.

    It depends on the feed. Some are more or less full content and some aren’t. I guess it also depends on your reader.

    I am worried about RSS as I recently stopped being able to get feeds from MOA, Counterpunch and a few others. Is a hacker war breaking out that will take away some of our web convenience? Counterpunch now announces it is checking your connection before opening their main page.

    But the demise of RSS has been predicted for some time I believe so good that this useful tool is hanging in for the most part. Thanks to NC for having a feed.

  10. turtle

    I got heavily into the Fediverse over the last year, since Musk taking over Twitter (I moved to Mastodon) and then more recently, Reddit making ridiculously bone-headed extractive moves (I moved to Lemmy).

    I personally feel that the Fediverse is the only hope for social media going forward. It’s the only non-corporate, distributed social media environment, which provides for some amount of resilience against enshittification. The Fediverse apps are generally much more privacy-respecting and democratic because of this. You can even run your own servers and not have to depend on anyone else’s. It’s by no means perfect, and it’s still early days, but I think it has a bright future.

    With that being said, to address a couple of points you’ve made, Lambert:

    Mammoth and Ivory are front-end apps for Mastodon (i.e., to communicate with Mastodon servers and other servers that replicate its API). Mastodon’s API being open and free, it has lent itself to a multitude of apps being developed for it. This gives a variety of choices of apps that could resolve issues that you may have encountered. Personally, when I first started looking, I settled on Tusky for Android and Tusker for iOS, but there may be better apps out there nowadays. There are at least a dozen of them to choose from now. One nice bonus of the open source nature of Mastodon and other Fediverse apps is that the client apps also tend to be open source, so less prone to underhanded hijinx.

    Regarding global reach, I think one of the big limitations of Mastodon is discoverability. It’s definitely more work to discover new accounts to follow than it was on Twitter, and a lot of this difficulty is either by design or by architectural limits. Examples:

    1. Despite it being a federated platform (meaning that for the most part, all the different Mastodon and other ActivityPub-based servers talk to each other), from one server you can generally only discover accounts that other people on your same server are already following. This leaves broader discovery to either external sites or accounts that specialize in helping find other interesting accounts to follow. Some people also resort to checking all the accounts that the accounts that interest them follow, in a fractal manner. I believe that some apps may help facilitate this.

    2. Until very recently (a month or two ago) there was no global text search in Mastodon, except for hashtags. They had valid arguments for this as a design choice (for user safety), but they relented and this changed somewhat with the latest version of the Mastodon server software. Now you can do global searches of all text posted, but only by those accounts that have opted in to be included in the search index.

    3. Many people who were philosophically opposed to the direction that Twitter has taken over the last year have moved over to Mastodon. Different groups of accounts in specific vertical segments like you described moved over in batches. After the Musk take over of Twitter, it seems that many Information Security people made the move en masse, at least from what I understand. More recently, I heard that there were large groups of scientists who also made the move.

    4. They have eschewed the implementation of any complex algorithm for feeds. This is a double-edged sword: on one side, it allows you vast control to shape your feeds. On the other side, it reduces your ability to find interesting posts.

    I hope that you won’t give up on Mastodon or the Fediverse yet. With some additional discovery, you may, if nothing else, find many interesting accounts to follow there in addition to the ones you follow on Twitter. I did see that you embedded a Mastodon post in one of the daily posts here a few days ago, so thanks for that!

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I hope that you won’t give up on Mastodon or the Fediverse yet.

      I haven’t; personally, I come from an old school effort to federate classification systems, I am temperamentally and technically in favor of the Fediverse.

      However, I also have the requirement to bring high quality breaking news to NC’s link aggregation service in near real time, whether typical news stories or material from verticals. Twitter makes or made this very easy. The “discoverability” issue you raise for Mastodon is a real stumbling block. I don’t know the accounts I need to follow, I don’t know the hash tags to search on, and Mastdon seems very slow and patchy on its text search, which ought to be a starting point for both. In Twitter, I used to be able to meet this requirement with the search box: Type in a string, sort the accounts, bang. Easy and quick. Not like that in the Fediverse at all.

      1. turtle

        Glad to hear that you haven’t given up, and that you’re in favor of it.

        Absolutely, I totally understand that Twitter is still a requirement for breaking news and to see the larger public conversation around those news. The Twitter algorithms, for better (finding relevant news and other posts) or worse (being fed extremist posts and anything that generates engagement) can be useful for some purposes.

        Gathering news is one of the specific functions of Social Media where the Fediverse (at least Mastodon) is not fully up to speed yet. It would be great if they eventually offer some additional, but optional feed algorithms.

        By the way, this article is an interesting compilation of complaints about Mastodon with some ideas about what can be done to improve in those areas. The author of that post seems like an interesting person to follow on Mastodon too (or RSS on her blog).

  11. Mark Gisleson

    I use Feedly for RSS but I have to admit I rarely add to my list and lately have been removing feeds.

    I get my news from Naked Capitalism these days. I should diversify but you’ve proven exceptionally trustworthy and for some unknown reason are for the most part a secret known only to a few.

    I know you get tips and links via email but maybe a dedicated post where readers could leave fresh links in the comments?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > you’ve proven exceptionally trustworthy and for some unknown reason are for the most part a secret known only to a few.

      Part of me says that this is bad, the other part says it’s good to be under the radar.

  12. turtle

    Oh, I forgot to include one particularly important point: the federated nature of the Fediverse allows you to do exactly what you described as far as a universal address space. In theory, the Fediverse is an even more universal address space (similar to email – see below), and it allows someone on a Mastodon server focused on information security, for example, to follow and interact with or comment on accounts on art-focused servers, not only within Mastodon itself, but also on other apps like Pixelfed.

    The main challenge, as I mentioned in my post above, is one of discoverability. Once you discover an account on the art-focused server, you can plug in that (universal) address into the information security-focused server where your account is hosted and happily see and interact with all the art you want. Same thing with photography, cat photos, and any other subject.

    In other words, even though many Fediverse servers are focused around a particular subject (but definitely not all – there are many general interest servers), from one server you can follow and communicate with accounts on most other Fediverse servers that are focused on other subjects. Many people use email as an analogy for federation in the Fediverse: from your gmail account, you are free to communicate with people with yahoo mail or outlook accounts.

    Unfortunately this federation feature has been a common stumbling block for people coming over from centralized platforms like Twitter and Reddit to understand. Some people have the impression that they need an account on each server focused on a particular subject, but that’s not at all the case. I have one account on one Mastodon server that I use to follow and interact with accounts on many other Mastodon servers.

    The main reason why one would want different accounts would be for the same reason one would want different accounts on Twitter: if they wanted to compartmentalize their online identities to, for instance, keep their political identity separate from their art identity.

    The other reason for having different accounts is if you interact with two very distinct apps frequently, like Mastodon (equivalent to Twitter) and Lemmy (equivalent to Reddit), for instance. Even though federation allows you to communicate between the two, the very different nature of the apps makes it more efficient to interact with them from within the same app, rather that from a foreign app.

    I hope that my posts help clarify some details about the Fediverse for anyone not very familiar with it.

    1. marcel

      You miss the censor elephant in the room.
      Each Mastodon server has its own admin capable of censoring stuff. So if you on server A were following John on server B, the admin of A might exclude user John. So you wouldn’t get any news from John anymore, and neither you nor John would be aware.
      Instead of 1 Elon, you get 1 Elon per server instance.
      And then you get the nice features like the one mentioned on NC when Mastodon became a thing: a journalist tried to sign up on a “journalism” Mastodon server. But access was refused because he was not the ‘expected’ kind of journalist. So even more gatekeeping.

        1. turtle

          Yes, they can block your instance from communicating with theirs, but this is usually reserved for abusive instances with Nazis, trolls, illegal porn, etc. This varies per instance according to their philosophies, but generally only extremist instances get blocked.

      1. turtle

        This is not totally accurate, at least not how I understand it. I don’t believe that server instance admins are able to block individual users from other servers. They only have the choice of blocking the entire server instance where that user resides.

        As you can imagine, this is a big decision, so it’s usually done with care after checking with the other instance’s admins, or at least looking into how that other instance is moderated. As far I have seen, this decision is usually taken if there’s a pattern of abuse by users on the other instance and the other instance’s admins are unwilling to do something about it.

        Obviously this ability can still be abused by overzealous admins. However, because of the decentralized nature of the technology, you are able to choose an instance that is very conservative about defederating. I did exactly that with Lemmy, at least. I chose an instance that very rarely if ever defederates any other instances, so I can see opinions from everywhere.

        This decentralization is also an answer to the gatekeeping issue you mentioned. If the journalist didn’t get accepted on the “journalism” Mastodon server, there are dozens of other servers that they can join instead. Also, on Mastodon instances, I’m able to directly communicate with the moderators and admins to try to work things out. That’s not possible on Twitter.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > The main challenge, as I mentioned in my post above, is one of discoverability

      Which a “platform” makes easy. Who in the ActivityPub world is working on this?

      1. turtle

        Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to who is working on that issue. I presume that that is probably something left to the apps themselves to implement, rather than being a protocol-level issue. However, I’m not familiar with the technology at a deep enough level to know for sure.

  13. none

    I never liked Twitter but was on Reddit for a while. It was much better than Twitter, including for Covid news (r/Covid19 for scientific stuff, r/coronavirus for general updates). I don’t know if those subs are still any good.

    For tech news, Hacker News (news.ycombinator.com) and Slashdot (slashdot.org) are still around. Hacker News is slanted towards silicon valley overlord wannabees but there is still good stuff there.

    okdoomer.io and covidisairborne.org both have covid link dumps that probably come largely from NC.

    I have mostly moved to Lemmy from Reddit, but Lemmy is a lot smaller and has too many memes. Reddit unfortunately survived its user rebellion without too much damage. I am surprised you didn’t list it in your post.

    I should say, for reddit, old.reddit.com or the redreader app on f-droid (which unlike other apps hasn’t yet been blocked) are the tolerable ways to read it. http://www.reddit.com and the official reddit app are both shittified now.

    1. turtle

      Hey, a fellow Reddit to Lemmy migrant! I use(d) old.reddit.com too. I never used the apps. I thought that they had all stopped working after they started charging big bucks for API access?

      As far as Lemmy memes overwhelming the “all” feed, you can block each of the communities where most of the memes are posted. Doing this makes the “all” feed much more reasonable, but the best solution is to subscribe to all the communities of interest to you and have your front page default to the “subscribed” feed. I very rarely see any memes when I visit Lemmy now.

      1. digi_owl

        Hckrnews.com is a bit fun as a way to observe the inherent bias of the HN community.

        This because it shows a basically unfiltered stream of what reached the HN front page, before dropping away due to time, votes/flags or outright admin action.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Hacker News, Slashdot, Reddit

      I should have mentioned them (and Tildes). I visit them, especially Hacker News, and they sometimes have good stuff. But below RSS on my list of places to check.

      Tim Bray says: “I like a high-intensity stream full of well-connected voices.” I like that too, but not as a “vibe” (Bray’s word) but as a professional necessity. The above three, sadly, aren’t like that. So far, only Twitter in its heyday (and, of course, the blogosphere) have been like that.

  14. steppenwolf fetchit

    I am not webbly enough to know what combination of still existing internet places could be picked and chosen from to kludge together a sort of twitter-emulator. I hope Lambert Strether is able to find them and kludge them together enough to work passably well. It does not good to say ” social media was worthless anyway so why even have ever gone there?”

    It seems to me once again that Elon Stench has created a huge and growing vacuum waiting to be filled by some company or group which can design a functional twitter-equivalent which develops lawsuit-proof methods to do everything that twitter did and offered ( and still does at some vestigial and dwindling level).
    I still give away the name ” Cricket” for it and its tweet-equivalents could be called “chirps”.

    Old-Twitter nostalgiasts will never get Old Twitter back. The only way to get all its former functions in one place is to grow a whole new Twitter Replacement which does everything that Twitter did in a lawsuit-proof way. ( I mean lawsuits from Elon Stench).

    1. steppenwolf fetchit

      A thought just occurred to me. Elon Stench hasn’t taken over the copyright or whatever to the Twitter name, has he? He has merely tried to abolish it and memory-hole it, hasn’t he?

      What if exiles from Twitter and other social media platform engineers were to reverse engineer a new platform service which does what Twitter at its best did, and does it in a lawsuit-proof way? And if Stench threw the name “Twitter” itself away, could the creators of such a risen-like-the-phoenix legacy-Twitter functional equivalent call their platform by the name ” Old Twitter”? Or even “Twitter”? Since Stench threw the name away?

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > a new platform service

        I think the issue is to create the functional equivalent* of Twitter’s “universal address space” as a layer above the Fedivers.

        Mammoth (hence Mastodon) tries to do this. But:

        1) It’s slow

        2) Many or most admins oppose “search” on principle. (In Mammoth, the search function only returns the names of accounts and hashtags; that makes Mammoth useless for breaking news, and also for serious research. And this is a problem I can’t curate myself out of, because when I new story breaks, I won’t have known which accounts to follow in advance, or which hashtags to use. Tim Bray discusses the issue here.

        NOTE * I say “functional equivalent” because there are accounts who simply don’t want to be found (one thinks of Japanese lolicon).

        1. turtle

          the search function only returns the names of accounts and hashtags

          This was improved just a month or two ago with the latest version of Mastodon. Full text search is now built into the server code, but individual users need to opt into being included in the full text search, along with which level of their posts to include (i.e., only public posts, or all posts).

            1. turtle

              You’re welcome. I don’t think your client app affects this, but the server instance your account is on is what needs to be updated to 4.2.0, I believe. If you visit the webpage of your instance, it should show the Mastodon version on the bottom left.

              Actually, thinking about it, that would only take care of searching accounts that are on the same instance as yours. All other instances with accounts that you follow will also need to upgrade. The accounts you follow will also need to opt into the search.

              Yes, Mastodon development has been progressing pretty quickly and responsively, from what I can tell.

  15. flora

    Going all the way around the barn to end up where you started from?

    T.S. Elliot in earlier days might have something to say. From his poem “Little Gidding”:

    We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

    = T. S. Eliot

  16. LilD

    Last week was the fiftieth anniversary of my first email address and Arpanet login when I was a TA for a CS class at Stanford
    It was a maze of twisty passages…

  17. Dermot O Connor

    My wife uses it (I never have). About a week or two ago, she noticed that a lot of posts were dated Jan 1 1970. I don’t know much about UNIX, but I know what Jan 1 1970 means. It’s the zero date of the Unix system, their version of 1ad. Anyway the fact that this showed up suggests some UNIX meltdown, it took them a while to fix. It passed without much mention, but I take a UNIX system failure at that level to be pretty serious potentially at least.
    Just make sure you don’t use your Twitter password anywhere else, and FFS don’t use them for sensitive DMs or financial stuff.

  18. Socal Rhino

    I keep hearing (mainly on TwitterX) that Twitter is no longer any good, but that hasn’t been my experience.

    Most of the complaints are from people who say they want to see censorship of content – they don’t say that, rather saying that it is now a hellscape or something similar. I think this mainly isn’t about original tweets but about comments to tweets, and likely is an issue mostly for those who regularly post original content. I don’t so it’s not an issue for me. Most accounts I follow have ended up with hair-trigger bans as a strategy. To quote NNT: “I ban idiots.”

    The other type of complaint is more like Lamberts: my TL is broken, I’m not seeing some tweets or responses to tweets. One investment oriented account I follow has described her efforts to fix this by turning on notifications for accounts she wants to be sure to see. At this time, that seems to work.

    My strategy for twitter is very much like it was for blogs just at a faster pace: add and remove as the value of content waxes and wanes.

  19. Verifyfirst

    I don’t understand 98% of all what is said above (but it is still interesting!). But why can’t someone new set up the same system and functionality of the old Twitter?

    1. turtle

      The technical aspect of replicating Twitter is fairly trivial, from what I understand. A small team of developers should be able to cobble up a clone within weeks.

      The real challenge is getting users (especially core users, those with lots of followers) to migrate and coalesce around one other application so that you can have that “universal address space” again.

  20. ChrisRUEcon


    I keep plotting world domination on a floppy disk like it’s 1989

    #MaybeOneOfTheseDays #TheStruggleIsReal

  21. DrDanielSoderburgMDMA

    hey do you need a bluesky invite? lmk its like kinda lame but i got you if u want one hmu with yr email

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