Waiting for a Victorious Twitter Alternative

For almost as long as Twitter has existed, I've been Tweeting out occasional random snark but mostly links to: blog posts by me and my co-bloggers; my Verdict columns; and some of my scholarship. Like many other people, I've been looking for an alternative to Twitter since Elon Musk purchased it last year. I had long been using and continue to use a Facebook fan page as well as my personal Facebook page to cross-post my tweets. Late last year, I started doing the same via Post. I considered creating a Mastodon account but decided instead to wait to see whether there would be a mass migration there. Last week, a friend sent me a link to try Bluesky, so I've opened an account there too (my handle there is @dorfonlaw.bsky.social). And now that Meta has launched Threads, I imagine that I'll start cross-posting there as well.

Will any of these platforms supplant Twitter? One would think that Threads has the best chance of doing so. After all, users log in using their existing Instagram. And over two billion people already have Instagram accounts. Even older-than-millenials like me have Instagram accounts (although I almost never use mine) because we have Facebook accounts. So Threads starts with a huge advantage.

And yet, Mark Zuckerberg seems intent on blowing it. He has already screwed this up in three ways.

First, Meta should have had rolled out its Twitter alternative months ago. As soon as Musk started making noises about buying Twitter, the competition to displace it began, and Meta's user base made it the obvious leader. By waiting, Meta allowed the people most likely to flee to go first to other alternatives.

Second, Meta chose a name--Threads--that already describes a totally different company. Meta doesn't own Threads.com and won't be able to acquire it. Meanwhile, searching for "Threads" in Apple's app store or Google Play is as likely to take users to that totally different company's app as it is to the new app from Meta.

Third, for no apparent reason Meta's Threads launched only in Phone apps. That's fine for passive users, but many people (including me) still find it much easier to create content using a desktop and full-sized keyboard. I might well wait for the desktop or browser-based version of Threads to start cross-posting there regularly.

Meanwhile, none of the smaller companies has (yet) come close to supplanting Twitter. And my guess is that no alternative platform will succeed unless and until Musk fully destroys Twitter. Even if there were only one clear alternative, moving to it would present a coordination problem. Betamax was superior technology to VHS, but once VHS had captured the lion's share of the market (thanks in large part to Sony's tight control of the Betamax format), network effects locked it in. That would be happening with Twitter now too even if there were only one alternative. You can't simply move from Twitter to Threads and expect all your followers to . . . uhm . . . follow. And, of course, there isn't one single alternative to Twitter.

Thus, Twitter-versus-the-alternatives looks a lot like the contest for the Republican 2024 Presidential nomination, with Twitter as Trump, Threads as DeSantis (well-positioned to be the leading alternative but starting far behind and making blunder after blunder), and the others in the pack (Haley, Pence, Scott, etc.) as the social media small-fry (Mastodon, Post, Bluesky, etc.)

The parallel continues. Despite Twitter's troubles, it remains locked in; Republican primary voters will stick with Trump even if he's convicted and sentenced to prison for one or more crimes. Twitter will have to die completely for one of the alternatives to take hold. Likewise, so long as Trump breathes and is capable of distinguishing a picture of a camel from a picture of a lion, Republican primary voters won't abandon him for any of the alternatives.