Twitter and the Idea Maze

May 22, 2023

The idea maze maps out all permutations of a general idea — which combination of features and strategies have been tried, failed, successful, or unknown. We’ve seen a Cambrian explosion of Twitter clones — each making a different hypothesis about (1) what makes Twitter “Twitter” and (2) what the next generation of text-based social networks looks like. (I even ran an AI-generated text-only Twitter clone for a month as a semi-joke,

“It’s the protocol.”

Twitter has become something like a public forum. How do you operate a credibly neutral public forum? One answer is to take a varying level of decentralization. The Internet has some level of decentralization to function — anyone can host whatever they’ve liked on the Internet, and you can register a domain name to point to it (a gross oversimplification).

BlueSky Social— Twitter as a decentralized protocol (built on Bitcoin). Started by Jack Dorsey and spun out of Twitter.

Mastodon — Decentralized protocol known as ActivityPub.

Lens — Decentralized, everything is built on Ethereum.

Farcaster — Decentralized identity built on Ethereum.

Nostr — Decentralized, built on Bitcoin.

“It’s the interest groups.”

The topology of Twitter is mixed. For example, you have FinTwit, Tech Twitter, Far-right Twitter, and Crypto Twitter (mostly distinct parts of the social graph).

Farcaster, Lens, Nostr — Crypto Twitter

Truth Social, Parler, Gab — Far-right Twitter

StockTwits — Stock-trading Twitter

“It’s the content.”

Finding news is complicated on Twitter. It’s the best source of real-time information, but that comes at a cost — is the information legitimate? Is it correct? It’s the best network for publishers (independent, e.g., Substack and not) to reach an audience and grow their following.

Substack Notes —Twitter-like features built on top of Substack. Leveraging Substacks discovery engine and content on the platform (posts are automatically shared as notes).

Post News — Focused on journalism and news.

Artifact — An app founded by the founders of Instagram that uses AI to personalize news. Not precisely a Twitter clone, but has features like comments.

“It’s the network.”

Not many companies can run this experiment in the idea maze, but Meta is uniquely situated. Network effects are real.

Instagram’s text-based app (only rumored). There’s a hint that it might be decentralized (e.g., ActivityPub). Still, the real test is whether or not leveraging Instagram or Meta’s social network is enough to bootstrap a new application.

“It’s the features.”

Historically, the biggest networks have subsumed feature-applications (remember Twitter Spaces / Clubhouse?). But there are potentially some features out there that could help an application bootstrap fast enough to escape velocity.

T2 social — An invite-only Twitter clone spun out of Google’s internal incubator. Not much other information on this one.