I first heard about Twitter in 2008. It was an ugly little website with a confusing concept1. At that stage in my life I couldn't comprehend the point. I made an account, fired off a single tweet, and kept it moving.
Fast forward a year or so and a cousin of mine was telling me about something called "Nitter". I had no idea what this was, but my best guess was "nigga twitter", I was like, bet, sign me up. I was wrong, but not far off; it was Nigerian Twitter. Funny thing is though, Nitter was actually on Facebook. It was a Facebook group full of young Nigerians doing what people do on social media: sharing memes, making fun of each other, posting music, engaging with relevant content, etc., the only difference being that it was exclusively Nigerians. So most of the content relied on shared experiences and identity. Nitter was awesome. I didn't live around a bunch of Nigerians so it was amazing to see how similar and different we all were, at least through the lens of social media.
Okay, now fast forward a little bit more; I'm in college and back on the "real" Twitter. People would always talk about "Black Twitter" like it was something you had to log into at a different URL. I thought it would be like Nitter; an actual isolated site that was full of black people talking about black people shit in a Twitter-like format.. Come to find out Black Twitter was more of a conceptual space, a community within the greater Tweetsphere of people who had a lot of followers in common and subscribed to the same events happening in real life. While this was disappointing at first, I later came to enjoy this dynamic of sub communities existing within the greater Twitterverse.
Fast forward some more and I start to notice that Black Twitter is unique, but it's also not. While it is the most engaging, funny, lively, informative, and important sub community 2, it is not the only sub community. Matter of fact, everyone has their own Twitter. Shit, there's Welding Twitter, an actual Nigerian Twitter, a rural South Carolina Twitter, you name it. And, of course these are all still on twitter.com.
The data is owned by Jack Dorsey, who is neither a welder, nor Nigerian, and while he likely owns a few homes, none of them are in rural South Carolina.
The data is content. The data is humor. The data is news. The data is views. The data is dollars. The dollars do not belong to the welders, they don't belong to the Nigerians, and they don't belong to the residents of South Carolina.
Haters: "Aye Juice, what's your point? Social media is by design, centralized, we give up ownership and privacy in return for the social lubrication that allows access to anyone at anytime, it's a fair tradeoff that we agree to after our thorough reading of the Terms of Service! Duh!"
Me: "Yo, I feel you... but, let's run that back. First of all.. you've never read a Terms of Service in your life. Second of all, NO. Centralization of social media is poop, because all the people creating the beautiful, valuable, content are just renters, they have no ownership of anything. It's a power imbalance of epic proportions. "
If you aren't paying for the product, maybe you are the product...
Haters: "Ookay, relax buddy. What difference does it make? Social media is valuable because of network effects, so unless you're just gonna rebuild twitter and get millions of people on it, I don't want to hear your little decentralized software communist rant."
Enter Free & Open Source Software (FOSS)
Without going into too much detail3 let's just say that we did that already (sort of)! It's on you to join.
No, this won't scale to a 10 million users, but we're just tryna prove a point4. If we crash the servers... well, then good. We'll rent bigger ones and eat the S3/Cloudfront bills on AWS3. We're here to show the power of ownership and revel in the beauty of self-sufficient communities. Drop us a line if you're interested in helping maintain the platform. And, if you feel so inclined, show love at our Patreon.
1 In fact the concept was so confusing, there were sites dedicated to explaining how it worked and why it existed.
2 Black Twitter literally gets written about in peer reviewed journals then those studies get cited hundreds of times.
3 If y'all have questions on what any of this means, hit the forums. Will gladly write another piece that just goes into the technical weeds.
4 This "point" has been tackled with varying degrees of success so we'd be remiss to not point out the history of other decentralized and/or community based social media platforms. Blitter, Black Twitter like it sounds, Diaspora, touted as the Facebook killer way back in 2012, sola.ai & sapien & steemit, etc/, blockchain + social media 🙄. Like i said in the previous footnote, if you want details of why this is different (but not that different) leave a comment or reach out @firstname.lastname@example.org!