Apparently twitter is in trouble (for readers in the future, twitter was a microblogging service especially popular from 2016 to 2022 with hundreds of millions of users, heavy representation among thinky talky Anglos and elected officials posting under their real names, where who people followed and clicked on and most of their posts were public; users were showed a feed of posts selected by a secret algorithm). Internet communities tend to be pompous about themselves, and pompous twitter users pronounce that it is a public square or a town square. I have another simile.
Twitter was like a parade in a small American town in the middle of the last century. All the local notables help to organize it, and they assure everyone that its an event for the whole town. But somehow the same few people are in charge every year, and some kinds of people who participate are made much more welcome than others. The parade is so much more exciting now that the chain gas stations and that new burger joint agreed to sponsor it (although sometimes its hard to see the floats from the Carnegie library and that little flower shop downtown between all their tinsel and neon). Things that happen between the organizers at the parade shape the town’s politics for the year to come. Everyone remembers how two rival mayoral candidates made up after working together to replace the 4H club float after it was damaged in a flood. Helping with the parade brings some people opportunities. Everyone in high school talks about how the Parade Queen from 1959 moved to the city and became a star on the teevee!
But local cynics note that what happens at the parade also reflects existing relationships. Everyone knows that the car dealer on the committee who voted to let the hockey team go ahead of the tennis club sponsors the hockey rink. A lot of the organizers are pretty high strung and like to see their names in print. And people in the audience hear the participants making deals between themselves and don’t always like what they hear. But everyone has to attend the parade! Its the big event of the season! The newspaper and the local radio talk about it for weeks. If you don’t attend and applaud, are you a good citizen? The parade is for everyone, and everyone who is anyone is in it! Its bipartisan and has all the respectable churches and even a synagogue. If you don’t like it, do you really belong in this town?
I don’t know what twitter will become. But I hope that seeing it bought by one person will help people understand why it was never a town square.
Edit: also, if any of my readers were twitter users: I’ve lost online spaces or seen them change into something different many times before, so if you are mourning the site, I can empathize even though it was not my place. Anyone who squats rather than owns on the web will keep losing their home.
Edit: another popular metaphor is twitter as a mall eg. https://www.donnalanclos.com/meet-me-by-the-fountain/ or Maciej Ceglowski https://idlewords.com/talks/deep_fried_data.htm (from 2016)
(scheduled 19 November 2022 after a chat with Robert W. Gehl on Mastodon)