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Thanks for indulging me with my silly little generative AI experiment. Today and going forward, it’s of course all hand-crafted like before. (Except for the images! I love a good image generator.) Lots of end-of-year wrapping up to do so this will be a light one with just some thoughts on Twitter and what I believe to be the end of a tech cycle.
You’re receiving this because you signed up for this newsletter on tinyletter.com/pbihr or through my website, thewavingcat.com. The Waving Cat is my boutique research and strategic advisory practice focused on making sure that emerging technologies actually benefit society. I’m also on Twitter and Mastodon. If you’d like to work with me or bounce ideas, let’s have a chat.
Updates from the Engine Room
It’s planning time! Before the end of the year, I try to wrap up a bunch of conversations about upcoming projects: What’s going to happen for sure, what might be postponed, what might shift shape and need some adjustments?
If you were planning on having a chat with me about a project that should happen in the first half of 2023, it’d be great if you could reach out now so we can schedule a little more smoothly – let’s have that chat! Just hit reply on this email.
Twitter marks the end of the Big Social era. Time for a fresh start.
So Twitter, for all the noise, has not gone out with a bang. And I suspect it won’t. Under Musk’s massive mismanagement, his increasing alignment with (or at the very least, enabling of) the far right and most recently the banning of journalists who criticized him, it’s clear that Twitter has no future. Neither will they find top tech talent, nor trust & safety talent, nor will the user base stay what it was: A heady mix of folks with backgrounds in media, politics and tech that in combination gave Twitter the far outsized cultural impact it had compared to its size.
Those days are clearly and irrevocably over. Whatever new chapter there might be for Twitter, it won’t have anything to do with this. That’s solidly in the past now. I think we’ll also associate the end of Twitter-as-we-knew-it with the end of a whole era of Big Social, of the strongly centralized big social media platforms.
The Roman Empire didn’t go out with a bang but rather slid into irrelevance as power and influence shifted to what’s today referred to as the Byzantine Empire. A shift away from one center of influence to another. I expect that in a few years we’ll look back at the year starting with Twitter’s acquisition by Musk and it’ll be obvious that Twitter lost its cachet.
My best guess is that Twitter will Parler-ify itself: Diverse view points aren’t welcome on Twitter anymore, and neither are progressives. So the user base will increasingly self-select to be more right wing, more troll-ish. Parler and Truth Social might lose their users altogether to Twitter, or maybe the other way round: There aren’t enough users in that part of the political spectrum to support 3 social networks that are becoming increasingly interchangeable. So Twitter is on a fast track to become from a surprisingly influential medium-sized social network to a fairly small irrelevant niche social network.
Twitter’s Roman Empire days are over. We don’t yet know what the Byzantine Empire days might look like, where the new centers of discourse might end up taking shape. Here, everyone’s guess is as good as mine. If I had to make a bet, I’d expect that in the short term we see 3 major exit vectors from Twitter: The tech crowd might go to Mastodon (I’m @firstname.lastname@example.org there). The business-y and politics crowd might gather on LinkedIn (connect here), which has become more social network-y, more Facebook-ish over time anyway. (Frankly, LinkedIn is in a weird place right now.) Many conversations have already shifted to smaller, more closed groups (DMs, group chats, Discord/Slack/etc.) Another chunk of users simply won’t be replacing Twitter with anything concrete. Either way, there’s not going to be the one replacement, the one place to gather and have this particular flavor of debate.
Medium-term, things could get a little more interesting. Some new stuff will emerge. I suspect it’ll be very different from the Twitter we just left behind. What it’ll look like I have no idea. I’d guess it’s not one of the bajillion tiny new social networks springing up left and right with the intention to fill the gap, but rather something new entirely. To be honest, I kind of hope so: We just had a full bust and boom cycle of social media platforms over the span of a decade and a half. Maybe it’s just time for a fresh start.
Small bits & pieces
Robin Sloan writes eloquently about the need and opportunity to experiment with new forms of relating online.
Vaughn Tan, thinker about risk and more particularly not-knowing, and author of the excellent book about culinary innovation The Uncertainty Mindset, recently released “the first training tool for productive discomfort,” a card-based toolkit to train resilience. More specifically, to become better at dealing with the particular discomfort of the unfamiliar, of not knowing. I just ordered a pack and am very much looking forward to trying it out.
If you’d like to work with me or have a chat to explore collaborations, let’s chat!
Who writes here? Peter Bihr explores how emerging technologies can have a positive social impact. At the core of his work is the mission to align emerging technologies and citizen empowerment. He works as an independent advisor at the intersection of technology, governance, policy and social impact — primarily with foundations, non-profits and the public sector. Peter serves as special advisor to Stiftung Mercator’s Center for Digital Society, and as Interim Director for the European AI Fund. He co-founded ThingsCon, a not-for-profit that advocates for responsible practices in Internet of Things (IoT), and co-hosts the Getting Tech Right podcast. Peter was a Mozilla Fellow (2018-19) and an Edgeryders Fellow (2019). Based in Berlin, he tweets at @peterbihr and blogs at thewavingcat.com. Interested in working together? Let’s have a chat.
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