#buytwitter: turning Twitter into public utility
October 15, 2016 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Corporate sharks are circling around the platform we love. But there is another way: shared ownership, where the community takes control.
Here's my plan to save Twitter: let's buy it. Twitter could be the next Mozilla. A Guide to #BuyTwitter.
posted by Foci for Analysis (60 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
So this new plan is the plan we already used to save our favourite community network site/s?
posted by infini at 4:37 PM on October 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


If they quit advising me on a bunch of n00b stuff and screwing with my TL's flow, I'm in.
posted by infini at 4:37 PM on October 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't want it.
posted by FallowKing at 4:39 PM on October 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


It seems to me that making it a public utility would make the misogyny, spambot and nazi problems worse, not better.
posted by mhoye at 4:45 PM on October 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


Maybe if we bought it we could actually make it readable.
posted by octothorpe at 4:49 PM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I already have enough problems to deal with, thanks.

Also, while coop-buying twitter would probably be feasible, what kind of money does it require to run? Do ads cover their monthly staff/server bill? What happens if the money runs out?
posted by lmfsilva at 4:49 PM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah but it'd be pretty cool to see "★ I help fund Twitter!" in my user profile.
posted by gwint at 4:49 PM on October 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


...instead of all the Trump ads I'm seeing now.
posted by gwint at 4:50 PM on October 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Wouldn't making it public just fuel the claims of censorship when bad actors are banned?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:54 PM on October 15, 2016


A Twitter that was run by people who actually used it would be great. Instead, it's run by folks who came up with "what we really need is a heart animation instead of tools to deal with abuse."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:55 PM on October 15, 2016 [22 favorites]


It would be bought by the internet idiot brigade. You know who I mean. The people who flashmob online polls for teh lulz. Beyond that point no serious person will use it again.
posted by adept256 at 4:57 PM on October 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yes please, I would like my name and money to be associated with the river of hate that flows through Twitter
posted by not_the_water at 4:58 PM on October 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


It loses lots and lots of money. That's why investors are concerned about revenue growth: at some point it has to make money. That's the same issue that the co-op proponents would have to grapple with, and I didn't see a whole lot of that in any of the links.
posted by jpe at 5:00 PM on October 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I must speak up. There's a humongoous difference in the way Twitter is being used outside of the erstwhile "first" world. My old TL acts and feels exactly as y'all describe - disconnected shouting at the world because nobody I follow follows each other but for a sporadic few cliques like in high school so there's not sense of a conversation thread like this one here on the blue.

But my African TL feels like the blue because a very high proportion of people tend to follow each other (the original early adopters were pan African, now as n00bs arrive they tend to find and follow so many of the same folks) and so there's a conversation, a sense of belonging, and I've made friends/found subcontractors/gotten paying work/been interviewed by a wellknown nonprofit state run newsmedia agency, all from hangin' out and spoutin' snark on my topics of interest. I would pay for it.

While I'm not aware of how other geographic/language/cultural Twitters might be, it's worth keeping in mind that what y'all might see might be all that there is out there.
posted by infini at 5:05 PM on October 15, 2016 [41 favorites]


Monday: To increase revenue, we are charging one cent per tweet. We trust our users won't find the minimum possible payment for using our service to be too onerous.

Tuesday: We are out of business.
posted by adept256 at 5:05 PM on October 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Simple solution. Charge a one time fee of $5 to use twitter.

/s
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 5:07 PM on October 15, 2016 [14 favorites]


I would split Twitter up by geography and continent. Then relook at the numbers. Given the amount of corporate sponsorship, recruiting, and promo/PR work that I've seen in the African TL, I'm guessing there's a bunch of corporates that'd be willing to pay for use. Not as those stupid ads, but a premium to allow their pet influencers to continue tweeting.

There's also the Twiplomacy angle - the number of presidents and ambassadors who tweet is increasing. That's another segment that may pay for the continuance of a direct to end user channel.

Just saying that Twitter's peeps have NO FUCKING CLUE what they have and shouldn't destroy it chasing wall street analyst advice.
posted by infini at 5:10 PM on October 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


The revenue far and away exceeds the amount it costs to run it. (about 2 billion this year.) They're spending about 650 million a year on R&D. 2 billion in R&D over the past 4 years. They have come up with nothing new. The plan should be to buy it, stop development of all these useless new features, and fire a ton of people. Just run it, as is, with the big exception of a suite of tools to get rid of the trolls, harassers, etc. That's not a big project as there are a lot of good suggestions out there already, and many would be simple to implement. (The trolls are pretty persistent, so it will likely take some combination of measures to really improve things.)

Here's a blog post from a financier discussing the Twitter financials. In short, he thinks they are horribly managed, spending a lot of money trying to add new features, and not really getting anywhere.
posted by thenormshow at 5:16 PM on October 15, 2016 [21 favorites]


Isn't twitter a prime asset of the NSA? Aren't they analyzing users behavior to sort good citizens from bad?
posted by bukvich at 5:18 PM on October 15, 2016


That's probably where the gazillions are going, gurgling down the drain.
posted by infini at 5:20 PM on October 15, 2016


Snark aside, every framework for an algorithm I've seen has such a racist first world bias that we mostly ROFLMAO - look at the kind of bullshit that's still being pushed out in 2016! Jeez
posted by infini at 5:24 PM on October 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hey some of those hundreds of millions of dollars went to developing that amazing "moments" feature.
posted by octothorpe at 5:25 PM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Does no one remember App.net, the cooperative crowdfunded Twitter clone that failed miserably?
posted by infinitewindow at 5:25 PM on October 15, 2016 [13 favorites]


But my African TL feels like the blue because a very high proportion of people tend to follow each other (the original early adopters were pan African, now as n00bs arrive they tend to find and follow so many of the same folks) and so there's a conversation, a sense of belonging, and I've made friends/found subcontractors/gotten paying work/been interviewed by a wellknown nonprofit state run newsmedia agency, all from hangin' out and spoutin' snark on my topics of interest. I would pay for it.

While I'm not aware of how other geographic/language/cultural Twitters might be, it's worth keeping in mind that what y'all might see might be all that there is out there.


Trans twitter is a bit like this too. It isn't a single conversation, but if you look at, say, trans women in tech, or trans people who write poetry (two sub-sub-sub-cultures that I belong to), you'll notice that topics of conversation get passed around pretty quickly and often everyone is reading and commenting on the same tweets. It's nice.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:30 PM on October 15, 2016 [9 favorites]


[REDACTED]
LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:31 PM on October 15, 2016


Does no one remember App.net, the cooperative crowdfunded Twitter clone that failed miserably?

Not only do I not remember it, this is the first time I've heard of it. And I'm internet savvy enough to comfortably predict it's fate.
posted by adept256 at 5:32 PM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I understand that people have had horrible experiences with twitter but there's a lot of stuff that worth saving. twitter has given a voice to millions of people around the planet and is second to none when it comes to live coverage of world events. The outcome of #buytwitter doesn't even have to be twitter, it can be a federation of micro blogging platforms.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:35 PM on October 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


nebulawindphone, you better describe it than I - it's not a single conversation but yes, enough nodes overlap that the key stuff gets around fast enough. I note the media peeps catching up much later in the day these days. Also, given the challenges in less well governed less developed countries, the real time ability to put up a photograph and/or tweet is an empowering tool for the human individual.

#WhatIsARoad is a great example of what foci for analysis said above, on preview
posted by infini at 5:40 PM on October 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


imagine a twitter clone for YOUR specific community and that it can be connected to other clones if you so wish. that's what mastodon.social is working on.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:44 PM on October 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've told the kids to gear up for a Reader style day... am bookmarking all options but hoping someone on the continent builds it first ;p
posted by infini at 5:47 PM on October 15, 2016


Simple solution. Charge a one time fee of $5 to use twitter.

/s


While a bad solution for the non-first-world contingent (purchasing power is not equal everywhere) I'd love this if $5 got you a second account attached to your first in a way that you didn't need to go through the email/phone rigmarole again. It wouldn't actually prevent anybody from using the platform, and that would've been something I would've paid at least twice in my time using it.
posted by solarion at 6:00 PM on October 15, 2016


Just saying that Twitter's peeps have NO FUCKING CLUE what they have and shouldn't destroy it chasing wall street analyst advice.

I'll rehash what I said on HN when the buyout was rumored: Twitter is not profitable. They lost a half billion dollars last year. At that rate, in four years it won't be Wall Street they have to worry about, it's the accountants and laws about paying your employees money. Profits are growing, by about 20 percent a year, and if you compound that over four years, the company is basically break even. So if anything goes wrong, they won't have the money to fix it.

I don't think it's impatient for investors -- not just Hedge Funds and speculators, but pensions, endowments and individual investors -- to wonder aloud if their investment will be worthless in four years. Impatience was taking the company public so far from profitability.
posted by pwnguin at 6:05 PM on October 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


solarian, you would be surprised at the cost of data on a pay per use (easily over 95% of mobile users in SSA)
posted by infini at 6:26 PM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


pwnguin: every time I look at their quarterlies, Twitter would be profitable except for stock-based compensation. It'd be fine as a traditional private company, where people could be paid well but not extravagantly out of proportion with the value they're delivering.

I don't think the mistake was going public as much as going public pitched at Google/Facebook-level returns.
posted by adamsc at 7:16 PM on October 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I feel like people who are really *into* Twitter think it's something of massive public importance like a utility, but I don't think there are all that many people outside those people that really care about it. I'm not surprised they're having trouble attracting users. What's their sell at this point? Be hollered at by assholes? I have a Twitter account I only keep up to talk to a couple friends on there, otherwise I don't see much use for it in most peoples' lives.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:19 PM on October 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've been using Twitter a great deal lately, it's not a replacement for late, lamented Google Reader (#deadhorse) but it manages to get me by in finding interesting things, perhaps to post here about. You have to follow the right people.

To those who say it's no profitable, I point you to, in this very thread, thenormshow's and adamsc's comments. It would be profitable, except.
posted by JHarris at 7:48 PM on October 15, 2016 [1 favorite]




I love twitter as a tool for ambient-awareness-of-my-friends, checking in with my mom without having to call, letting my spouse know whether i'll be coming home or hitting the second bar (without having to interrupt him), asynchronous conversations about non-critical matters, instead of group texts for letting people know which bar we're at now, random snaps of silly stuff on the street, and getting in touch with my sister who never answers her phone.

I hate it for news, politics, work, important communications (like when my brother in law has locked himself out again and is coming over for the spare key) and celebrity gossip. Ugh, work, I especially hate it as work.

I feel like it was developed as the former and is trying to be monetized as the latter.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:21 PM on October 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Could we do it with LJ instead, please?
posted by symbioid at 8:38 PM on October 15, 2016


It's an interesting concept. Twitter should sell for about $25 a share, or $17.7 billion. The purchase would accelerate the maturity of $1.9 billion in debt, so the total acquisition cost would be $19.6 billion. Given its growth, its margin challenges and the unfamiliarity of cooperative ownership, and the presumable unfitness of convertible debt for a cooperative LBO, I think you could probably put only about $3 billion of new debt on the company, leaving you with a $16.6 billion of equity to raise. That would require 3.5 million people each irrevocably to commit $5,000 before payment system costs each to buy Twitter. That irrevocable commitment is actually an interesting issue of interlocking payment system problems and securities law issues; I don't know of any existing crowd-funding mechanism that would make it work, although assuming a 1% markup plus pass through of interchange fees, the funding provider stands to make $167 million if the deal closes -- a good incentive to figure it out!

(However, using "public utility" as a cognomen for a user-owned Twitter demonstrates a rather profound lack of sense, public utilities being characterized by a three way deal between government, utility and costumer whereby the government protects the utility from competition and protects the consumer from rates higher than necessary to give a fair profit to the utility.)
posted by MattD at 8:47 PM on October 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


As a mostly non-Twitter person. What are you all talking about about ad revenue? I have never seen an ad on Twitter. I click on a link here, it takes me to someone's page, I read the tweet about Trump's latest criminal behavior. Where are the "ads"?
posted by Windopaene at 10:00 PM on October 15, 2016


the official mobile app, at least on iOS, is lousy with ads (promoted tweets).

i block every single user that pops up on my timeline with a promoted tweet.

i think possibly if one were to use Twitteriffic, you would't see ads, but i'm not sure of it.
posted by joeblough at 10:12 PM on October 15, 2016


Interesting. I only go there on my iPad, from links provided here. Not using their app. NEVER have seen an ad.
posted by Windopaene at 10:19 PM on October 15, 2016


So, people are saying that twitter would be profitable, except for capitalism. Sounds like the situation for newspapers nowadays.
posted by eustatic at 12:50 AM on October 16, 2016


Just run it, as is, with the big exception of a suite of tools to get rid of the trolls, harassers, etc.

This is the point where I start with the gallows laughter.

I mean seriously, you might as well have said "with the exception of magic ponys that grant wishes."

Honestly, the value of Twitter at this point is the value of the commons. Without a buy-in cost and a way to ban users, not accounts, it's going to be dominated by the worst of the internet.

Twitter needs:
*Cost to start sccounts. Maybe prorate it by nation, but the important thing is to get bank account.or credit account numbers.
* phone number verification. Every account needs a unique phone number. Maybe confirm a code number for every tweet .

But Twitter won't do that of course, because the people making the rape or death threats are too profitable.
posted by happyroach at 2:05 AM on October 16, 2016


Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.
posted by the painkiller at 3:17 AM on October 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


So, people are saying that twitter would be profitable, except for capitalism

Although the problems seem to be that it pays its employes too much and spends too much on R&D.

"If it weren't for capitalism, we could slash expenses to the bone and turn a profit" is sort of an odd place to wind up in.
posted by jpe at 4:38 AM on October 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just wish that I could read twitter like an RSS feed in chronological order with read/unread status for each tweet.
posted by octothorpe at 4:45 AM on October 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Twitter is more or less a mature platform, but the notion of massive tech growth type valuations means they need to keep pushing and pushing to expands more, more features more potential future profits etc.
But the model just doesn't fit it. It could be much better than it is by being open and by allowing people to develop new and different ways to interface with it.

It fits a co-op model way more than it does a big tech company model.
I love the idea of co-oping everything I use. That's the way out of feudal capitalism. Just not so sure of the practicality.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:22 AM on October 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't use Twitter, so I could be way off on this, but from what I've gathered listening to users talk about it, there seems to be two main characteristics of Twitter that makes it valuable to people.

One is for in-group communication, where having it makes it easier to find and share information and ideas with those who have similar interests or backgrounds to your own. Black Twiiter, weird Twitter, and so on. Individually each user can be part of different subgroups that fit their interests and participate in conversations surrounding those things.

The second major value seems to be in cross-group communication, where intersecting interests allow different groups to share information or challenge it on roughly equal levels across the spectrum of beliefs. So if a politician tweets, both supporters and opponents can respond and be seen by many others in ways that traditional media can't match.

This second value then is also the main problem with Twitter, where harassment is made easier as hate groups can single out targets across the spectrum and communicate their message for all to see in an effort to silence, scare, or drown out communication they don't like.

Removing that second value though risks returning many subgroups to invisibility as it diminishes cross-group communication. Oppositional feedback seems to work in much the same way as hate speech in how it can be spread and seen, though obviously with different intentions in mind than that of hate speech and threats. The social value of that kind of tool for opposition and for spreading positive communication from under represented groups is enormous, but it seems hard to separate from the negative value accompanying harassment since they use the same dynamic to spread their messages.

Twitter, or anything that followed it, which was modeled more on in-group communication would likely do much better in regards to harassment issues since it would be both easier to monitor and determine which accounts were genuinely interested or aligned with the group make up and since there would be less interest in harassing members of subgroups if that harassment wasn't going to be seen by those outside the group. Yet at the same time, losing or diminishing cross-group communication would remove much of the larger social value of the application, making it less meaningful as a tool or as a traditional media accessory both in correcting media bias and in transmitting first hand accounts from places traditional media isn't covering.

Not sure what could be done to keep the important elements of each without also keeping the bad, or what that entirely implies for ownership, I just wanted to see if my thinking on it fits what others see and suggest those two different values, if that is a roughly accurate assessment, need to be taken into account for any post-Twitter or improved Twitter planning.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:43 AM on October 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


* phone number verification. Every account needs a unique phone number. Maybe confirm a code number for every tweet
Not sure how that works on the US, but I can get a free or extremely cheap SIM card easily.
Since a store I worked in was just a minute away from one of the most used metro stations, occasionally I had people working the mobile operator street stalls if I wanted a bunch of them to give away or leave at the counter or generally do as I please.

Asking a confirm code for each tweet would make using it such a drag, people would just abandon it. A board I moderated at a point added per-post captcha to curb spamming, but while removing it, it also reduced daily posts by about 60%, and even after working in exceptions for people with at least 10 posts (or those that were not spambots the admins could flag as safe), it never recovered to previous levels.
posted by lmfsilva at 6:56 AM on October 16, 2016


*Cost to start sccounts.
* phone number verification.


Both of these give more power to those with more money, and no power to those with no money.
posted by amtho at 7:28 AM on October 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Twitter could be the next Mozilla.

Oh, you mean the thing I don't use in favor of a corporate alternative?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 12:00 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Both of these give more power to those with more money, and no power to those with no money.


The average Egg Troll, the kind that participate in hatemobs, are people with no money.

Your Milos and the like are rare, and toothless without the mob of powerless, unmonied eggs to attack the game devs, journalists and such that they target. If creating a twitter account is free and fast, one byproduct will be Egg Trolls. So you can make the process of getting on twitter have a cost of some kind, either money, or time, or true identity, and that will solve some of it, but those solutions also come at a price for people who are in almost identical situations (and often trolling the ideological "other side") that we do want on twitter, whose voices we do want to hear.
posted by turntraitor at 6:58 AM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not sure how that works on the US, but I can get a free or extremely cheap SIM card easily.

I'm not disputing that. However, that would be a cost in time and resources, and require planning, where currently it just requires a few seconds on the keyboard to create a new identity. Also, we value much more things we pay for, so that itself would cut down on bad behavior.

So yeah, it wouldn't stop a determined harasser, but it would remove their armies of anonymous supporters.

As it is, Twitter is rapidly losing any utility as a platform for anything other than a tool for harassment and promoting fascism, sexism and racism.
posted by happyroach at 8:16 AM on October 17, 2016


The average Egg Troll, the kind that participate in hatemobs, are people with no money... the mob of powerless, unmonied


There may be other (more complicated, but ultimately more robust) ways to address these kinds of problems than what you're suggesting.
posted by amtho at 9:11 AM on October 17, 2016


I'm on team Nuke-it-from-orbit. Nothing has had a more toxic effect on politics and culture than the symphony of hate and stupidity that Twitter hosts every day.
posted by spitbull at 7:06 PM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


It is kind of upsetting to hear people demand the destruction of something that I personally get a lot of use from. Wasn't Google Reader's shutting down enough to bear? Where do you expect me to find leads for good posts from, sheesh.
posted by JHarris at 12:03 AM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Report: Disney nixed Twitter bid partly over image

Gee, I wonder why?
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 12:15 PM on October 18, 2016




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