Refractive Fragmentation — where did social media go?

“An X never, ever marks the spot,” Indiana Jones once famously stated. Only in this one particular case, it totally does: When Twitter became X, it very much felt like the official end of the Twitter era.

I think this very concretely means two things:

The landscape for social media discourse has fragmented completely. Over on Bluesky, John V Willshire and I started chatting about this, which turned to him writing up his excellent observations over on his blog, coining the term refractive fragmentation of the social web, which is a mouthful but really spot on. And then the thought was cross-posted as you now have to and commented on as we now do on Threads, LinkedIn and maybe other places I’m not aware of.

Screenshot of a Bluesky post I sent out
My ramblings as seen on Bluesky

So, what happened on Twitter at the very least for power users now happens across multiple platforms. If it happens at all, which at least anecdotally it rather does not. There’s not the one place to share stuff and talk and banter, and it takes some real mental load to spread out that specific communications function across multiple contexts.

Imagine the proverbial office coffee machine conversation being split up into 3 different partial conversations: At the coffee machine, restrict discussions to upcoming presentations; Move personal conversations to the hallway; Only vent about your bosses while in the elevator! This sounds absurd because it is, and it’s not too far from the social media landscape right now.

The other thing is that Twitter was a highly unusual aggregation of contexts and communities which are now disaggregating again. For a little while, due to some odd and quasi-magical combination of factors (which also brought about a lot of the trouble Twitter faced and partially caused), Twitter was the place where tech people and journalists and sports people and media people and VIPs and politicians and activists and what have you all met. All these publics in one place in a kind of total context collapse. Posts by all these different folks showing up side by side, and very often written by the individuals themselves rather than their organizations, which in itself is a rare thing.

And whatever comes after, it already seems like that part is not coming back on either one of these other platforms. So that part is gone. (RIP Social Internet?) Whatever comes next is new.