Twitter to decentralize… something

This morning, Jack Dorsey dropped a bombshell:

Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard.

I should be excited about this, but instead my first reaction was frustration. Ten years after early Twitter employees like Blaine Cook and Alex Payne were pushing for a more open architecture, now Jack Dorsey realizes Twitter is too big and creates a team to work on… blockchain-based solutions?

Finally, new technologies have emerged to make a decentralized approach more viable. Blockchain points to a series of decentralized solutions for open and durable hosting, governance, and even monetization. Much work to be done, but the fundamentals are there.

The first step should be to check out the IndieWeb. There are people who have been thinking about and working toward more open social networks for years.

After a closer reading of Jack’s tweets, though, I think my first interpretation wasn’t quite right. Twitter isn’t necessarily interested in decentralizing content or even identity on their platform. Why would they be? Their business is based around having all your tweets in one place.

Early in the thread, Jack hints at what Twitter is trying to do:

First, we’re facing entirely new challenges centralized solutions are struggling to meet. For instance, centralized enforcement of global policy to address abuse and misleading information is unlikely to scale over the long-term without placing far too much burden on people.

This “burden on people” is the resources it would take for Twitter to actively combat hate and abuse on their platform. Facebook, for example, has hired thousands of moderators. If Twitter is hoping to outsource curation to shared protocols, it should be in addition to — not a replacement for — the type of effort that Facebook is undertaking. I’ve outlined a better approach in my posts on open gardens and 4 parts to fixing social networks, which don’t seem compatible with Twitter’s current business.

I’m going to be paying close attention to this. Good luck to Jack and the new team. I hope they seriously look at existing standards, because we’ve come too far to start over.

Manton Reece @manton
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