For writers, artists, podcasters, journalists, and people who make things in public, Twitter was the one social networking site we all had to use.
It’s as if Twitter has been stretched out across the map of the internet, and whatever parts of the map it didn’t cover, it could still reach. Everything happened there. Even things that started on some blog, podcast, or real life still really happened on Twitter.
It was that way because we agreed to it. We may not have liked it all the time, but by our actions we were part of that consensus.
This has just changed, and now Twitter is only one of many nations on that map, no longer the indispensable one. And, worse, it’s showing clear signs of failing.
It Was Always a Bad Idea
The internet’s town square should never have been one specific website with its own specific rules and incentives. It should have been, and should be, the web itself.
Having one entity own and police that square could only deform the worldwide conversation, to disastrous ends, even with the smartest and most humane people at work.
Twitter’s new owner is certainly not one of those people. But it doesn’t matter: he unintentionally brought the change that needed to happen, the break in the consensus.
The Building Slowdown
I resented Twitter because it had become mandatory, because it had become the one place. And I resented it because it seemed to subdue the creative energy of the web.
You built a thing? How nice. Well, there’s Twitter, so we don’t need it. Or: how’s this going to replace Twitter? It’s not, so save your energy.
Everything you might build that had to do with communication, reading and writing and otherwise, was compared to Twitter or somehow in relation to Twitter, even when unasked for, and Twitter was the enormous factor in that equation.
A New Hope
With the fall of the Twitter consensus I am energized. I remember what it was like in the 2000s; I remember the liveliness and sparkle of those days on the web.
I don’t suggest dialing the clock back to old tech, but I hope we use the good parts from those days to help us build new and amazing things. There is so much to do, and so many grand problems to solve.
The web is wide open again, for the first time in what feels like forever.
PS I outright stole the “stretched out across the map” thing from Franz Kafka’s “Letter to His Father.” It was just right for this. Come at me, Kafka.
PPS An earlier draft of this article had the line “Twitter was the island in the middle of the kitchen where we hung out, and now it’s a junk drawer of brands and nazis,” which I preserve because it’s true.