New Twitters, Part 3 Podcast Transcript
The Bright Team
The Bright Team • Nov 28

New Twitters, Part 3 Podcast Transcript

Breaking the Feed, Social Media: Beyond the Headlines

We wrap up our series on New Twitters with a look at Bluesky Social, T2 (Pebble), and Post, and some conclusions about whether there's a viable alternative available now.  We will continue to watch for New Twitters and will plan a follow up episode Q2 2024.

Note: After we recorded T2/Pebble shut down.

Taryn Ward  Hi, I'm Taryn Ward,

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Steven Jones  and I'm Steven Jones,

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 episode, we continued our exploration of some of the new and newer alternatives offered in place of “X”, formerly known as Twitter. This episode will continue to investigate these options, beginning with Jack Dorsey's highly anticipated alternative Blue Sky Social, then continue to think about our core question from the last two episodes: Does the world need; or want a new Twitter? And if so, why? 

I'm not sure we're any closer to answering those core questions, but maybe by the end of this episode. So, let's dive right into Blue Sky. Because we've had a lot of questions from people about what Blue Sky is, how it's going to work, when it's going to be available. So, this project was first introduced in 2019 while Jack Dorsey was actually still CEO at Twitter. Right now, it's still invite only their reasoning behind this is to build a healthier community, or you can join the waitlist. There are plans to roll this out to the general public eventually, I haven't seen any confirmed dates or timelines. But we know that in other social networks like Clubhouse and similar things, there is an element of anticipation that people like to build, especially, you know, someone like Jack Dorsey. 

So, what is it? It is a decentralised text-based social network built on an open-source protocol. So, it has been described by TechCrunch as a functional, if still rather bare bones, Twitter-like experience, which is fairly high praise. How does it work? You select a username or turn a domain name into your username. The reasoning here is that it allows users to self-verify and own their username across the network. Similarly to Twitter, you can write a post, 300 characters, and you can include photos, and other users can reply, repost, like you know all that, functionality, you get three feeds to start:

  • Following,
  • Discover and,
  • Popular with friends. 

But you can modify each for specific types of content, and that's sort of one of the selling points is that you have more control over the content that you see. Sounds interesting. Sounds very cool. Some good early feedback, there are a few concerns. 

So, think about the concerns that we all had about Twitter before Elon Musk entered the picture, and you can get sort of an idea.  Transparency into how the app was built and works is great, it's really good. But that doesn't necessarily address all these concerns, you know, abuse and harassment myths and disinformation, the mental health effects, and actually, in some ways, sharing how the app was built and how it works makes it more vulnerable. So, another element to this is that, like Mastodon and other decentralised options, there are some worries here about how moderation is going to work and how people will be held accountable. Not that Twitter was ever very good at that. But you know, instead of fixing the problem, or sort of, you know, inventing new ones.  

There's also a real potential here for echo chambers because of these customised content feeds, so it sounds really cool. But if people start limiting what they read and what they see just based on things that they like, that you can see, you know how that can quickly become a pretty big issue. There are also some questions remaining about monetization. There's a lack of clarity on data privacy, how is user data handled, stored, and shared? Lots of, lots of questions about how all this works and given how long this has been in progress. It's a little bit surprising, and how well funded it is, I should say that it's a little bit surprising that these questions are clearly answered. Interestingly, there's a huge overlap between people who want to join a decentralised social network, on the one hand and people who care deeply about their privacy on the other, and I have a feeling it's going to be difficult to convince people to join for one reason without answering the other one as well.

SJ. Yeah, and I think that's a fair criticism. One of the first things that we did was draft out our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Service well before we thought about actually coding because you actually have to build it to hit those targets, and you know, these things, these are the core things which are absolutely important, absolutely important to us, and we think you're going to be important to our members, and so you would think that this would be well established, and you would think that somebody who is as smart, as Jack Dorsey and as experienced in this area, would be building the platform decentralised or not that that would hit those, those highlights, right. I mean, I'm a bit of a sceptical person around these decentralised networks, I think it was a bit of a buzzword, some lot like NF T's. What are they worth now? But I'm willing to admit that Jack Dorsey might know something more than me, and therefore I think this is a really great idea. But still, you have to build it to hit the things which are important to you and your potential members. Right? That's lesson 101. So, that seems a bit problematic.

TW. When you said Jack Dorsey may know more than you do, I thought you were going to make a joke about the sale of his first tweet and NFTs.

SJ. Ye definitely did. Right. Was it $2.9 million for that first tweet, and I think the last in the last episode we did? Oh, it was now worth $3.77. Three, not 3 million? No. $3.77 I think that's what it's currently valued at. So, you know, you definitely knew how to maximise his gain on that tweet. It was a pretty short tweet. I'm just setting up my profile on Twitter, wasn't it? Anybody who's willing to pay $2.9 million for that thoughtful insight deserves what they get.

TW. Right? Well, our conclusions on this unsurprisingly: still too early to say. But definitely the potential here to carry over all of the problems Twitter had before Elon Musk entered the room. You know, even if Elon Musk exacerbated these problems, and he did, many of them existed before he took over. So, it remains unclear to us how this is likely to play out. Or how Blue Sky will deal with additional concerns raised by decentralisation. We do think that this is likely to appeal to many of the early Twitter users. But it's unclear whether it will be enough to make people switch in even less clear whether people will switch and stay.

SJ. Yeah, I mean, it is interesting, isn't it that Dorsey was CEO of Twitter when it became the news story, rather than the way the news story was shared, you would have expected him to learn some of those lessons and made sure that this was not going to be that but you know, as a, as a First Amendment scholar, you know, this more than anyone else, I think, or more tane most people don't understand what free speech is very often, and they certainly don't know how to apply reasonable limits to what people can and should be able to say in a in a public forum, and that that's unfortunate, because this could have been a really, really good alternative built by somebody who understood how to work better than almost anyone else, and I genuinely think there is a need for a platform like Twitter, and as you point out, quite rightly, as we talk about in our episodes on X, formerly Twitter, the leadership of Elon Musk seems to have degraded the performance of the platform somewhat. We'll see what they do with that, I guess, hopefully, it's, it's gonna get better. Or they won't be the new Twitter.

TW. Yeah, absolutely. We will keep an eye on this and report back. It's worth thinking about one other platform or one other potential Twitter alternative that was founded by people who were at Twitter and actually somebody who was formerly at Discord. So, this platform was originally called Tea2 as in second Twitter, I guess. But it's now known as Pebble. 

You know, we've been looking at quotes from the websites, and these platforms just sort of, you know, highlight how they see themselves in what is the messaging they want, they want people to take. So, one of the quotes that really stood out to me on this website was the following, "The kinder, safer, more fun, public square, enriched with AI". I definitely spat my coffee out when I read this. So, many red flags, kinder and safer. How? Can they demonstrate, or explain, or provide any evidence that this is a priority? Public Square! Oh, this has become a buzzword, and most people don't have the first clue what it really means in the "freedom of expression" context. Finally, enrich with AI. Oh, it sounds like they wanted some of the funding that's been allocated to AI projects and all the hype surrounding it. But it remains completely unclear, even after really looking at this network, how AI actually ties in with what they've built in any unique way. Again, I had a really long close look at this and could not could not find an answer to that question.

SJ. I mean, it's hard to imagine how AI would make the platform better at the moment. Let's be honest, I mean, I think you're absolutely right. There's a lot of venture capital out there looking to invest in a AI since CHat GhT made a big splash last November. This sounds like a bit of a cash grab, like, give me give me, which is not what you want from something which becomes a public square. Public Square. Urrgh.

TW. Oh, yeah, that's a good point, those two things really are not compatible. So, there's a lot of conflicting nonsense in that in that single statement. Further, it requires a Twitter or “X” handle to create an account. So, you have to log into Twitter Connect, and this is justified, of course, as a way to determine whether you'd be a good fit for the community. But at least in my case, it was an immediate approval. So, my Twitter profile, other than the photo transferred over automatically, I was required to include a location, although it doesn't display as required on the form, and a profile photo in order to post all of these things annoyed me very much, which is why I'm mentioning them. 

So, the functionality is similar to Twitter. Two-hundred and eighty character format with the option to include images. There's an ideas tab, which I actually think is very cool. Pebble will write a haiku based on your bio if you respond to their post or will translate your bio into an emoji, and they even suggest and type out for you what your post could look like. So, you know, this is some of what they're doing with AI, one imagines, but none of it is particularly cutting edge or transformative community guidelines. Short and simple compared to some of the other newer options in a good way. That's a compliment. But because the platform is still largely untested, it's unclear whether and to what extent they're enforced. So, there's a lot here that I think, you know, just really needs to be tested. A couple of quick concerns. The requirements of a Twitter login means that there's a real lack of identity verification. So, you do have the option to pay to have your government ID verified on a video call with their team. The details of this were not entirely clear to me, I did think about going through the process just to report on it. But then I thought better of it because it wasn't really clear to me what they were going to do with that video. So, my point here is really that this doesn't solve the bot problem or other fake account concerns for the network as a whole. So, as a matter of fact, they allow each person to have two accounts, and in some cases more. So, again, there are a lot of issues that Twitter had before Elon Musk came on board that this platform doesn't really solve for.

SJ. Doesn't sound like a winner. I mean, actually, when you when you said it was previously called T two, I didn't think of Twitter two I thought of Terminator, which would fit with the AI though not fun and friendly. That's maybe just me showing my age and my love of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. It's difficult to say this in a polite way. But I will try, and we think identity verification is absolutely core to having a network where people can be held accountable for their behaviour as they are in real life, and let's be honest, if you go to the town square in a normal town, and you start shouting insults at people, there are consequences which occur almost immediately for your actions, and this is one of the problems with social media platforms that you are called something like cat turd, and unsurprisingly can throw insults around left, right and centre and tell lies without any consequence coming back to you, and that that encourages the worst behaviour that humans are capable of, and we all know that behaviour can be pretty bad. So, it's a bit disappointing, and I can't see how they're going to have a fun, a funner safer environment unless they take that seriously. It's a bit bit unfortunate, really, because some of it sounds quite good, tiny bits. 

TW. Yes, no, absolutely. I agree with you. I think the quote doesn't determine whether this is a Twitter replacement or not. But it is enough to throw up a red flag and to wonder what the core purpose of this project is. I think our conclusion is sort of mixed, right? There's some potential here, but it's too early. There. There are some things here that need to be figured out, and we'll again keep an eye out and come back and see how that progresses. 

One more! We've got one more potential Twitter alternative and this one is a little bit different "Post" P-O-S-T launched late 2022. So, this was founded by Noam Bard Gould, who is the former Waze CEO. This is important largely for investment purposes. So, people who have C-suite level positions in companies like Waze often go on to raise really successful rounds, and it's easier for them to get funding for a project like this. 

So, the quotes from the websites that are relevant and tell you a little bit about who they are, are as follows, "A social platform built for news, access journalism, from premium publishers without subscription or ads, discover, follow and connect with diverse voices on topics you care about. Real News, Real People, civil conversations". So, there's limited information about who and what they are beyond these taglines. But it's available to join now. So you can experience it for yourself. There's no waitlist or anything like that. You start in case you don't want to do this; I'll tell you what it looks like; you start with "50 Post points". So, it's free to read many posts. But some users, and in my experience, quite a few of those that I was interested in reading, asked you to contribute points to read their content. So, one point is worth about one cent. How does this work? It's largely a standard social offering. With a special focus on the news, there are three columns. 

  • Following
  • Explore and, 
  • News, 

I followed the first 10 suggested accounts, as I typically do, and of the first 10 posts, all but two required points to read. But I could comment or engage without first reading or paying, which is another problem because it means that people can weigh in just based on the headline or the photo, which would actually really bother me if I were the publisher. A couple of other concerns, there's no identity verification. So, many of the problems with traditional socials are likely to be replicated. You know, for a platform that says it's real news, real people's civil conversations, I would expect some form of identity verification to be a first step in all of that, the website is also a little bit dodgy, and I'm really not being shady here, I think you should expect a slightly dodgy website from a brand new social media startup, in some cases, but again, given who their founder is, they have investment from Andreessen Horowitz. So, why is their website? What it is, this can be a question of cost savings. So, it's, again, it raises a number of questions about what they're doing, what their priorities are, and how all this is working. 

SJ. It does, doesn't it? If you don't have "real people" in one of your key taglines, by all means have at the social media network without verification. But otherwise, how are you going to know? It? That makes absolutely no sense, and I mean, as for real conversations, a real conversation is predicated on at least listening to the other person's point of view, or in this case, reading it, if you can comment, without actually reading anything beyond the title. How is that a conversation in any traditional meaningful sense of the word? So, that's, that's really unfortunate, and I have a sneaking suspicion that subscription might actually be cheaper in the long run than paying a Post point. Every time you want to read something that sounds like it's going to add up to being quite a lot of money over time, and I don't think I liked that model much. Whereas I, you know, I'd like to know, I paying this, and I can use this platform as much as I like, if if Netflix charged me a cent. Every time I watched a minute of TV, you know, I be bankrupt.

TW. It's an interesting model, and I'll be, you know, I think it's worth really seeing how people respond to this. I'll be interested to hear what other people think I can see both sides of it. I like you. I don't think it's the type of model that would appeal to me because I read a lot of articles, and it's, in the long run, cheaper just to subscribe. But I guess if you only are going to read one article each day from a different source each day, it could make sense, and in that way, it's is promising because it would mean that people would maybe consider a variety of sources, and for that reason, despite my deep hatred of the real people without justification, I would give this a sort of a mixed review. So, to me, this feels more like a place to read the news and a place to engage. But it also feels early, and they're still trying to figure out exactly what they are. Obviously, they have the funding situation well in hand, and, you know, I think their focus is on replicating the component of Twitter, where journalists post their work and research. But it's the participating in discussions that really needs to happen for this to be a meaningful contender for the best parts of Twitter, and it's unclear whether that's going to happen. 

SJ. Yeah, that sounds exactly right. Really nice analysis, and exceptionally fair review, despite their verification failure.

TW. Thank you, that essentially wraps up the review of all of the different Twitter alternatives out there. So, we're coming to the end. What do you think, Steve? Do you any of these challenger brands offer a viable alternative to Twitter? And have any of them convinced you to switch over or to spend a little more time on?

SJ. I mean, I, I'll go back to what I said previously, that I think marketing yourself as an alternative to Twitter is a bad idea. But, because it's deeply flawed and has become more flawed, partly.  But also because it has a dominant market position, whether you like it or not.  I'm not sure that I really like the sound of any of them. I think there's some definitely some good bits, I think, you know, you could pull bits and pieces from each of them and turn it into something which was actually pretty good. I guess we have to take Jack Dorsey seriously. So, Blue Sky. Obviously, there's there's some potential there. I think, with some modifications, Post does sound interesting. I mean, I think if you can connect the journalists and news stories in a quick way, that's really good. But of course, a lot of what made Twitter popular was the citizen journalism and people talking about their experiences. So, you know, in that conversation is absolutely key, and Pebble might be something that could work out in the long run, but there's nothing which is quite there yet, and I don't think despite what can only be described as a chaotic tenure at "X", formerly known as Twitter. Elon Musk is shaking in his boots about any of these platforms at the moment. What do you think, Taryn?

TW. Oh, I think that's all that's all probably true. Despite the lawyers getting involved in the case of Threads, I think that if it weren't for researching future episodes and for our own work, I wouldn't regularly use any of these alternative apps, I would probably, you know, make a note to myself to check back in three months or six months or something like that and see how things shook out. There hasn't been one that really captured my attention or imagination. But we will continue to observe for all the rest of you how things play out at Twitter and to explore these challenger offerings, and we'll report back in a few months, and next time, we'll continue to explore some of the newer social media offerings with a closer look at BeReal. 

In the meantime, we'll post a transcript of this episode with references on our website. You can find this and more information about us at

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 Headlines.

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