New Twitters, Part 1 Podcast Transcript
The Bright Team
The Bright Team • Nov 28

New Twitters, Part 1 Podcast Transcript

Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines

Does the world need or want a new Twitter?  We start our series thinking about what makes Twitter, Twitter (or at least, what made Twitter, Twitter), and a look at Threads, Counter Social, and Discord.  We explore how these New Twitter(X) offerings stack up, how they work, what we liked, any concerns we have, and whether we think there's a viable alternative or alternatives.

Taryn Ward  Hi. I'm Taryn Ward,

Steven Jones  and I'm Steven Jones,

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TW.  and this is Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines. 

SJ.  We're taking a closer look at the core issues around social media, including the rise and fall of social media empires, to better understand the role social media plays in our everyday lives and society.

TW.  Last time, we looked at Super Apps and considered the likelihood that they're coming to a smartphone near you. During the next three episodes, we'll continue our exploration of new social media options by thinking about some of the so-called New Twitter's, we've searched and downloaded and engaged on 10 potential alternatives, so you don't have to, and we'll share our impressions, concerns and enthusiasm.

SJ.  After the controversial takeover of Twitter, now rebranded as "X" by Elon Musk, many people and brands have started to look for a new Twitter. If you search the internet for a new version of Twitter, you'll likely find some interesting suggestions, including Instagram and TikTok, and even Pinterest. For this episode, we'll consider what makes Twitter and what might make something a new Twitter.

TW.  There is a deeper question here worth thinking about, and it's our starting point for this episode. Does the world need or even want a new Twitter? And if so, why? Loaded questions for sure. But let's start with Twitter itself. What is Twitter? It is a free online social network with an option where recently, for paid accounts, users can share posts, which we call tweets, at least for now. It's unclear whether this might change with the rebrand, but for a long time, and up to now there are so-called tweets. These were initially limited to texts. It was a text-only platform. Now you can add images and videos, you can send direct messages, like repost, comment and quote tweets.

SJ.  If you'd like to learn more about how Twitter started and its long, soapy history, including why people are searching for an alternative and what that means for the platform. Check out our episodes on the rise and fall of Twitter.

TW.  That's very true, definitely worth a listen. For now, though, it's enough to know that Twitter was launched in March of 2006 by its founders, who included Jack Dorsey, probably a name you've heard quite a bit about in recent months. Twitter was acquired in 2022 by Elon Musk, probably another thing most people are familiar with, for the shocking price tag of $44 billion, and after a series of, let's say, controversial decisions, many users and brands found themselves searching for alternatives. 

SJ.  Twitter was unique both because post links were limited to 140 characters. This was a defining feature for much of its history, but it's gone now, and Twitter would not be Twitter without it. 

TW. Very true. Even so, it was the result of practical considerations when it was launched. So, one question is whether a new Twitter should impose the same restrictions. And if so, why? Pure nostalgia? Did Twitter stumble upon some magic formula that shorter content is better content? Or to maintain the same feel of the original Twitter? Steve, what do you think?

SJ.  Excellent question, Taryn. Yeah. So, I think my feelings on this have changed over the time that we've been sort of researching for these podcasts, and whilst it's absolutely true that Twitter's original limit was imposed by the technical maximum for SMS messaging, it actually turned out I think, to be one of the defining features, and the thing which made it sort of unique, it made people think about how to be funny, or insightful, or informative in the briefest way possible, and let's face it also spawned the creation of some unique abbreviations that, you know, the Twitterati would understand when they, when they saw them in other people would be left going what on earth does that mean? And, and because Twitter took on this role of the people being able to share their experiences of quite often, you know, major events, and engage, you know, real-time, that's short form format, I think, added to the immediacy and sort of really helps the platform, you know, share lots of different perspectives, rather than these long monologues, which are absolutely available on other platforms, and I'm looking at you Facebook, but But you know, they're not It's not entertaining, you know, and Twitter wasn't really balanced in the same way was it? I mean, that's, that's what we have, you know, tick tock for and, and historically, and, I guess, currently, YouTube, but Twitter wasn't about that. So, yeah, I think that limit, whilst it impacts your ability to compete with TikTok and with other platforms, I think it was part, an essential part of what made Twitter, Twitter.  What do you think? 

TW.  I think that's all true. I missed that, and even though, you know, reading those long, long threads of tweets could be sometimes a little bit disjointed, and in heart, I think it really did focus the mind. So, I would expect a new Twitter, any new Twitter, that is seriously trying to replace what Twitter was to have some sort of similar limit. That's not to say that they do, but that would be my expectation going in. A few other questions to keep in mind as we discuss social networks that have been described as new Twitter options or Twitter replacements, should a new Twitter look like the old Twitter, and which features should be kept in order to qualify something as a new Twitter in which features have we as, as consumers just really outgrown?

SJ.  We will focus on new or newer offerings that have been presented as potential alternatives to Twitter, largely because of time constraints. But it's worth mentioning that Reddit, Tumblr and Substack have been longer-term online social networking Twitter alternatives.

TW.  Let's start with something: most people have already heard a lot about Threads; we have both used Threads; I think we both downloaded it at the same time, maybe even in unison. So, this was launched on July 5 of, 2023. So, that was earlier this year, and they passed 30 million users within the first day, which was really incredible and surpassed the recently set record by chat GPT and making it the fastest-growing online platform in history. In fact, it was so successful that Twitter's lawyers, who, of course, ruin everything, threatened legal action against Meta, alleging that they used trade secrets, there is maybe such a thing as too much of a good thing. But this is worth talking about separately because Meta hired numerous former Twitter employees who had access to Twitter's trade secrets and confidential information. That part I think is undisputed is as far as I know that I'm happy to be corrected, and I think this is worth keeping in mind, just in case we're tempted to start to forget who Meta really is, there's been a lot of focus, and even in these podcasts about talking about what's going on with Twitter and the problems with Twitter. But remember, too, that Threads is part of this larger narrative with Meta,

SJ.  You know, you're in a dark place when you start making Mark Zuckerberg look like the good guy. So, we have to, we have to bear in mind that essential fact, and if you were the HR department of Meta, and somebody told you to start hiring people to write an alternative to Twitter, given that Elon Musk fired half of his workforce, it seems like a logical move to hire those developers, isn't it? And, of course, whilst they can't bring the code with them, and so on and so forth. They also can't forget the things that they knew, can they so can't blame Twitter or "X" for being a little bit upset. Although, you know, that you're, you know, worried about something when you start to say you're going to sue Facebook because one imagines for their pockets are extraordinarily deep when it comes to being able to pay for lawyers. 

TW.  Yeah, they're not unaccustomed to legal battles, that's for sure, and you know, I think probably when it earned the nickname "The Twitter Killer", that wouldn't have helped. I'm sure that, that ruffled some feathers, but let's talk about how it works, and people can maybe think for themselves about whether whether this anger or upset is justified. 

So, essentially, I would describe it as a text-based version of Instagram. So, there is an account integration directly with Instagram, they share the same username, profile photo and display name is the default, although you can change this, and users can choose which accounts they follow on Instagram to carry over to Threads. So, there's this sort of natural inclination to just follow the same people on Threads that you follow on Instagram. 

So, one of the challenges with this, of course, is that it may be the case that while you really like somebody's photos and really like seeing what kind of food they eat, you don't particularly want to hear their thoughts in writing, and in fact, what we've discovered as far as not, there's not generally a huge overlap in those two groups of people. 

The other challenge with this is that in order to delete a Threads account after you've created it, you must also delete your Instagram account. So, this is really troubling for people who just wanted to try Threads just to see what it was all about and then quickly wanted to delete it. As we're recording this. There's been some indication from Instagram that they're working to change this. But as of right now, that's that's where we stand. So, there are some interesting questions here. How many users would Threads have if you could easily delete your account? So, a lot of people that we've spoken to while we're prepping this said, Oh, yes, I downloaded Threads. I looked at it once, I looked at it twice, I looked at it five times, but I haven't I haven't looked at it since the first day or the first week, or, or the first two weeks. So, I haven't seen their daily active user numbers in a while. But they were pretty dismal. The last time we did look, and there's nothing about the app that's changed, or public perception that's changed about the app that seems to have really improved.

SJ.  Yeah, I mean, as you were speaking there, I was thinking that, that it's sort of the zoolander of apps, right? It's like you're professionally good-looking but please don't speak. But but it's, it's true, you know, the people, I follow all sorts of people, I follow celebrities, I follow restaurants, all sorts of creators, because of the video and photo content that they put out on Instagram. They may, and in many cases do, have something to say, and they've often used Instagram to say those things. But it but Threads did look like the sort of like, post and comment section of Instagram, without any of the attractive sort of visual bits added on, I guess that that was a bit of a disappointment. It didn't look or feel very like a separate app with a specific purpose. It didn't feel like it was the thing where you would share your experiences of, you know, say, an earthquake or a revolution. I just didn't feel that, and, you know, I think that meant that the experience for people and certainly this was my experience, you know, I think you're right, we downloaded at the same time, we went on and went "Oh, no," and we've both been back on it many times. Many times, it's a racket, but it hasn't, it hasn't really improved, right? 

TW.  No, I think that's a really good point. So, I think one of the problems with Threads is that it's tried to do too many things and so has really done nothing. So, this idea that it's going to be like Twitter, where people are going to really quickly, you know, text out these these little bits of information that are profound, or have some, you know, some amount of that, but also look like Instagram, that doesn't really make sense, and anyone who spent really any time on either Twitter or Instagram knows that it's two different skill sets, really. So, people who are really good at one are not necessarily very good at the others, even for people who this is their job. So, finding somebody who works in social media who's really, really good at Twitter and Instagram is a rare find, and if you're that person, please get in touch straight away. But it's a tricky, it's a tricky thing to do, and Threads sort of requires you to be good at both, but neither and so the content that I've seen is really not been great, and I don't want to be unfair, it may be that, you know, it just takes some time and people figure it out. But I don't really have high hopes. 

On the brighter side, there are no ads, at least yet. So, that will that will disrupt your scrolling experience. But that doesn't mean they're not collecting your data to serve you more targeted ads on other platforms or on Threads in the near future. Some other concerns that we flagged are; one, there really doesn't seem to be any need or desire for what this is for what this is offering, and the same concerns we've had about Facebook and Instagram for years have all carried over to this platform again because even though you don't see ads, doesn't mean your data isn't being collected. Essentially, there's nothing new here. So, unless you're interested in engaging with the text version of the people you follow on Instagram, and trust us when we tell you that's not what anybody wants or needs. It's not clear why you would join. Is that too harsh? 

SJ.  No, no, no. I mean, no, absolutely not. I think all of that is true, and it's really remarkable in it thinking about the fact that, you know, Twitter was complaining that they hired their staff and sort of stole their IP, you know, well, maybe on the back end, but not on the front end clearly. Because the experience is just not the same. For me. It's a no, and I still have it on my phone. Because if I delete it, I'll delete my Instagram account, and that would be unfortunate.  And by all means, if you're in the audience and you wanted a disappointing experience, try it, and it may get better. Certainly, they may have had a cold-start problem because they didn't, they didn't think the issue they didn't think it through, you know that the same creators are not going to transfer, and that just goes to show what happens when a platform doesn't understand what it's really doing. What its actual purpose is, for its users? Let's say that.  But yeah, I mean, I don't think you could be too harsh about Threads all the money in the world to spend on it, and it turned out to be a bit bland.

TW.  So, probably needless to say, but our conclusion on Threads is that this is not an alternative to Twitter in any meaningful way, and with that, we'll leave Meta's response to the new Twitter behind us and move on to something very new called Counter Social. So, I navigated to their website, and the website, welcome for me was the first red flag. So, the website, you get there, and it says, No trolls, no abuse, no ads, no fake news, no foreign influence ups, and then it says, Congratulations, Earthling. You've arrived at next-gen social media. Really interesting. You know, we've spent three years working on these issues. So, I would say we have a pretty solid understanding of how complex they are individually and together. So, the question is, how are they going to deliver? 

SJ.  That is an extraordinarily good question, and I mean, what is that? Congratulations, Earthling. You've arrived at next-gen social media. I mean, it was written by a 12-year-old marketing executive? Come on, is it serious? Or is it a joke because all of those previous issues are extremely serious, both for the mental health and wellness of individuals and society and, as you rightly say, incredibly difficult to solve? If you are a serious person, so that's a bit of a red flag for me to pick a lane and get in it, and I think it's about to get a little bit worse, isn't it?

TW.  Yeah, so it didn't get any better as I dug around, and although I'm not an expert investigator, you never want to become a lawyer's hobby right, or researchers hobby. Anything to do this? Well, they say they have meaningful verifications in around 30 minutes. Really interesting. Okay. So, when you actually go to create an account, they offer to "Insta-verify" you if you use your exact Twitter username, so that's the second really major red flag. So, no ads, fake news or foreign influence? Great. How does carrying over my Twitter account, given what we know about all these problems on Twitter, tick that box? It, that's not really addressed anywhere that I could find? There's some other questions about how they're funded this was really unclear, too. So, free accounts are the default, but they offer support options, which means it's possible to create an account for free, presumably a fake Twitter account if you'd like. I haven't done this, of course, because I'm sure it's against the Terms of Services Agreement, and I would never break the rules. But in theory, one probably could, and then you're off to the races, you can post anything you want, and if they get mad at you and kick you off, you just create another account.

SJ.  Oh, fascinating. It obviously is beyond the weight of the people running foreign influence programmes to create a small piece of code that will translate your fake bot's Twitter account into a fake account on this platform that, yeah, you know, and obviously, people are running foreign influence ops really care about the terms of service of this platform, just like you do. I mean, that's just not serious, right? Don't make the claim, as as we said, right at the beginning of this little section, these issues are really hard like verification, there are ways to do it. It actually costs money. That's just it, and it also requires marketing because an email account, and certainly no Twitter account, is not a way that you can reliably verify someone's identity. So, they're great words. I mean, it's almost like they looked at our website and went, yeah, we'll do that. But we aren't gonna do the work. 

TW.  Yeah, imagine that! Another person copying off of our homework is just like high school. Like, yes. But let's say you, let's say somebody doesn't care about trolls, or abuse or ads, or fake news, or foreign influence ops, and you don't even care that this website has sort of misrepresented or exaggerated their commitment to these issues. How does it actually work? This is going to sound harsh again, but it's really ugly. So, even if you can get past the concerns, you know about the greater good type of stuff. It's really ugly, and I just want to say that this is somebody who used AOL Instant Messenger and MySpace and loved them both. I genuinely love both of those platforms. So, in terms of, you know, what an app looks like, I'm not I'm really not that high maintenance. I tried it in two different browsers, and both cut off even the bold welcome message, choose your adventure. So, this is, you know, really not a good start. To be fair. They acknowledge that they probably look a little different to what you were used to in social media. So, I think to some extent, they're aware of this issue. But again, to me, that doesn't solve the core issue. So, after you get past this sort of broken welcome message, it opens through a four-column feed: one with a community firehouse, one with my friends, one notification in one not found this resource could not be found. So, I think under construction is probably the best way to describe this Twitter alternative.

SJ.  Concerns with this platform: So any social media that makes big promises should actually keep them, and in fact, making a promise like that and not delivering is much more dangerous than not making the promises in the first place. That's the big one for us. For many people, the bigger issues are going to be the interface. This does not feel like Twitter, really, at all, and in fact, the only thing that feels Twitter like is the sense of focus on current events and breaking news. There's also a lack of content that makes sense unless they join with a group of people they already know, and of course, this cold-start problem is well known for social media platforms.

TW.  Yeah, absolutely. I think it's fair then to say that the potential to replace some Twitter features like covering breaking news is there. But it doesn't feel like Twitter otherwise, and if people aren't in the habit of using it already, it is unclear why, in a crisis, anyone's first thought would be to post or engage here as opposed to any of the other options that are available. Any further thoughts on that?

SJ.  No, I think we've dealt with this one pretty well. But I think you raise a good point there that everything, every competitor that Twitter has to feel like that's the place you need to go right, and no matter what Elon Musk does, you know, he seems to be just at the moment, keeping that first place as the place to go. So, we'll, we'll see if any of these are going to be able to edge edge in front of that, as we discussed them. 

TW.  Absolutely. let's flip back to another well-established social network that has functioning everything, one that's fairly well known, and one that we have some positive things to say about discord. If you're not familiar with Discord, you probably know some young people who are; we're talking here, of course, about the social media network and not the Greek and Roman goddess, just in case you're a nerd like I am, and you need that sort of clarification. So, Discord, the social media network, was publicly released in May of 2015 as At the time, they had no specific target demographic, but several gaming subreddits started to link to Discord, and it became widely used by the online gaming community. This was where it saw a lot of its early growth. Discord then built relationships with Twitch streamers and subreddit communities for Diablo and World of Warcraft, they really were able to build a very enthusiastic community around these steps, and then in June of 2020, they announced a shift in focus away from video gaming, specifically towards all-purpose communities. sorry towards all-purpose communication. Discord introduced your place to talk as their new slogan and really tried to open it up for various groups of people, whether they were into gaming or not. Just a quick note here: in a previous episode, we talked about MySpace and what went wrong, and one of the things we flagged was their focus on music groups and enthusiasts and how that really became limiting over time. In this case, it's really nice to see an example of a platform working to avoid that already well-established mistake.

SJ.  That was pretty smart of them. Right? They had a very nice niche, but it wasn't, it was a niche, and, you know, the first time I came across them was actually because someone shared with me the rebranding of their little sort of icon because it was very, obviously a game controller, and they sort of moved away from that, I think, as part of this whole exercise, and it was just really well, the whole thing was really well done, and they explained it to their community very well engaged them in it. I think that was really very smart, right? If you are going to change, but you don't lose the people. That's a great way of doing it. I thought that was very, very clever, and you know, I use it for a couple of video games that the I play. So, it is it is quite cool. But I think you, you have young people who use it, use it rather more, and as he was speaking, I did think, Well, I know a lot of teenagers that are also devotees of the Greek and Roman goddess. So, it all works out.

TW.  Maybe that's part of the appeal. I don't know. I doubt it is for most people, but you know, some niche enthusiast. So, how it works, and again, this is really quite cool in many ways. You can create invite-only communities, and this is really important. So, they describe this on their website as create an invite-only where you belong, again, a really great way to appeal to young people, and you can see why it would appeal to really all people, but especially people who are in any way vulnerable, and if they've experienced already abuse and harassment on other platforms, this idea of having a place where, where they feel they belong, and can and can really be themselves as appealing. There are also loads of unique control and moderating features that you don't see in other platforms that are unique for individual communities. 

SJ.  Yeah, no, I think this is something which resonates for us the importance of communities on social networks and the fact that you know, your life is a series of interconnected, sometimes linked to connected, sometimes not connected at all communities about the things that you're interested in and love, and I think they've managed to do this, this really well, in some ways, you know, so has Reddit, right? I mean, it does the there's the same sort of same sort of thing about rather less popular with as users these days. How do you feel about your children using it? Because that's often the most concerning thing, social media? 

TW.  That's always an interesting question, and a, you know, you don't have to have children really to answer this. But I think if you think about the most vulnerable person, you know, and whether you'd want them to use a platform, and think about it that way, it can be really helpful, and there are a lot of problems with this. So, some of the concerns we've discussed and highlighted before are the privacy issues. So, discord was fined 800,000 euros last year for violating GDPR because the application would continue to run in the background after it was closed, and it didn't disconnect from voice chat.  That, that's really worrying. More than that, though, we've seen some use by extremist users and groups. There are some really well-documented examples. Most recently, the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, where the suspect used a private Discord server as a diary. This was published, later removed, and there's an ongoing investigation; I'm told that Discord is being as cooperative as they can be. But there are still some unanswered questions, and finally, there are some really clear child safety issues here. So, there's the potential for growing and exploitation, kidnapping, sexual assault, the whole the whole list, one of the things that I've seen based on my experience with young people is that, although these communities are really great because it gives them a lot of control over moderation, it also puts a really large burden on them to be in charge of moderating, and in some cases that can go really well. But if you think about the way this is being marketed, you know, come and find a place where you belong, there is a sense there that you know, this is going to be a safe place, a welcoming place, a place where you can, you can really be you. But if you're in a community with other 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds, you're really, you know, it's then left to them to keep you safe, and that's always bothered me a bit about Discord. 

SJ.  Lord of the Flies involves the age group, right? That is the question: would you, in the real world, put a bunch of 13, 14 and 15-year-olds in a room and just leave them to their own devices and see what happens? The answer is not if they're yours, you know, that that doesn't sound like a great idea. I mean, that's not to imply that your children are in any way, you know, troublemakers. Is just that you would worry too much about their safety to do that. Right. So, you know, it's I also don't throw them into the sea without a life preserver. I mean, there's all sorts of things you don't do to children, because they can't handle the situation, you got to put them in?

TW.  No, absolutely, and for all of these reasons, our conclusion on this one is that it's a very different experience to Twitter. There are some great features here, but it it on a practical level, it requires more involvement in an active engagement. So, there's less passive scrolling, and it's really a decidedly different offering, primarily for that reason.

SJ. Absolutely. I think, you know, passive scrolling can be a problem. But it is part of the experience on a Twitter alternative, isn't it?

TW.  Yeah, absolutely. Next time, we'll continue to explore Twitter alternatives, including Mastodon, truth, social and several other challenger networks. In the meantime, we'll post a transcript of this episode with references on our website

TW.  You can find this and more information about us at, and if you'd like to take a deeper dive into all things Twitter, check out our episodes on the rise and fall of social media empires.

SJ.  Until next time, I'm Steven Jones,

TW.  and I'm Taryn Ward,

SJ.  Thank you for joining us for Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Deadlines.

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