Possible futures of microblogging

Jul 27 2023
Possible futures of microblogging

It's going to be very interesting what happens to microblogging now, with the apparent chaotic meltdown of 'X', formerly known as Twitter, and the rapid, planned rise of Threads. While I expect Mastodon or other microblogging federated platforms will very likely continue to draw in the older, more educated and specialist communities (check the demographics), I believe Threads will come to dominate fairly/very quickly. It seems logical as many people already have Instagram accounts, and the Meta universe is ideally positioned to hoover up any X doubters or stragglers with a one-click registration of their account. Overall that leaves X to become a platform for brand placement, big influencer marketing campaigns and maybe a competitor of Truth Social, which is fair enough, if that's what a user wants, but may affect the value that big brands place on their presence in X.

Its arguable that the no-holes-barred purchase of Twitter (at any cost) was a classic demonstration of economic power to enact the capitalist approach of killer acquisitioning, and it's not a new practice, platform and tech society is built on this principle. Buy out the little apps with good ideas, and kill them. In Twitter's case it wasn't so little, but its value and user base is relatively low in the bigger scheme of things.

The problem here is that it is the users and their content that built up Twitter into the dominating market leader it is (or was), not an especially unique technological set of features. Though Twitter was not valued very highly, it occupied the most popular microblogging platform around and provided a space for many communities both formal and informal to share information quickly and effectively. As X moves rapidly towards a highly monetized business model, all those communities need somewhere else to go. That place will very likely be Threads, and initially a small proportion to Mastodon.

The Mastodon position in the market is intriguing, as we are now seeing very big players move into running their own instances (host servers) of Mastodon and possibly other 'Fediverse' apps. The list of government or other organisations in several European countries is surprisingly long, and the huge move of multiple EU organisations into this area signifies the beginning of a possible game change. The fact that Europe, including official EU organisations, sees the usefulness of open source, self hosted and data owned networks that can be federated is a very big difference to the prior position of surrendering all their communication channels and data to a private monopoly owner.

Open source applications and self hosting for other purposes in the workplace are also making waves. Mattermost, a FOSS discussion/conversation app that provides a Slack or Discord like service, is a good example. The Mattermost Wikipedia page provides two very large organisations that are using Mattermost for their in-house communications. This includes CERN, with a reported "10,000 monthly active users", who "didn’t want to use another service that locked in our data", as well as the U.S. Department of Defence. Currently I believe the importance of data ownership and potential network federation (everyone can see everyone else's networked content in single feeds, as if it was one platform) is crucial to the future of how data is managed across national jurisdiction territories. Data legislation is coming from multiple directions now (e.g. GDPR, DSA, Google's WEI, and the EDA) that will require absolute control of ownership and processing of data. You could therefore argue that the Twitter technological model is already completely unfit for purpose, in this light. Meta has understood this major change to how we manage data across jurisdictions and I believe is the main driving force behind the statement of intent for Threads to 'federate'. This doesn't mean it wants to join the Fediverse per se (though it might, in part), more likely it will federate all its own servers across multiple national territories to maintain domination and market profile and still comply with new legislation.

These are exciting times, so let's wait and see. But if I was you, I'd start making solid plans to move my community off X and into something a lot more reliable (and probably less costly).

Image credit: Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay



  • CERN - CERN is derived from the acronym for the French "Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire", or European Council for Nuclear Research
  • DSA - Digital Services Act
  • EDA - European Data Act
  • EDPS - European Data Protection Supervisor
  • FOSS - Free and Open Source Software
  • WEI - Web Environment Integrity

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