The original article has been updated.
The loved/hated/but never ignored tech billionaire Elon Musk has completely upended the social media landscape by purchasing Twitter for $44 billion. And now, according to CNBC, he may start charging businesses and governments for using the platform while keeping it free for what he calls “casual users.” (Although there is the paid-subscription service Twitter Blue.) No word yet on how any additional fees would impact journalists and non-profits.
Given this monumental shift, is it time for the “casual user” to look into other community platforms?
Over the years, some have argued that Twitter is too general, broad, and vague to be truly useful. On the one hand, people like to use it to argue with each other. On the other hand, people have used it for good, such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It’s a force to be reckoned with for sure.
The idea has been tried a gazillion times. Services like Mastodon let you launch decentralized social networks fairly easily. Community platforms like Mighty Networks are making a comeback for a great reason: People crave this concept. But it rarely sticks. People find it hard to spend time on more than a handful of sites or apps.
Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram and Signal, and even simple group SMS chats are where people are spending their time. (It’s why Facebook bought WhatsApp, Instagram, and a few more apps that don’t immediately make sense.)
But the idea has never fully gelled. Why? Should it? And could you benefit from championing such an experience?
A Thousand Little Twitters
The opportunity and the idea are simple: What would be the benefits of a very lightweight social network built around a specific interest to the participants in that network? For example, FarmersOnly is a dating site for people living in rural areas. Woofial is a social network for dogs (though if I looked more, I probably would’ve found a social network for Boston Terriers specifically, I’m sure). Ravelry is for knitters and those who crochet. Fishbrain is for fishing types, and on and on.
But the idea is to think of what could be.
The best communities exist to solve a specific need. For instance, you might build an online community for information about your town or neighborhood. You could share space in a Women in Digital Space in Switzerland (@wdswitzerland). I run a small community called The Secret Team where the rules are that posts must be about seeking help and guidance and never promotional or general.
The name and rules of the community can and should enforce a very simple and straightforward charter. And more importantly, it should dictate what isn’t shared in the group. My small town Facebook group has specific rules about politics (local only—nothing national). No matter which platform you use (and again, I love the idea of something Twitter-shaped because of the brevity and simple limitation of possible transactions there), the goal is to create a succinct and simple set of interactions for the community.
What would your community look like? If you sell books, it could be as simple as a book club. If you sell yoga and meditation music, maybe you have a morning inspiration group or a favorite quotes community or something like “Pretzel Bytes: How to Do Yoga.”
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Twitter or Mastodon or a WhatsApp group or what have you work great as a primary means of communication and connection. But you’ll need some object permanence, too. Keep a website, simple if you want, where people can come and read the rules, connect with each other, and where you can store any pertinent links and articles and videos and information.
In my mind, what comes next is a very simple and lightweight small-purpose social network, your own home-rolled Twitter, plus a home base (website) to store important things. That’s where people will head when they’re once and for all sick of Facebook and Twitter and the “wide open commons.” They’ll want small groups.
Maybe you’ll get there ahead of them. Even the wealthiest man on the planet.