T2, Narwhal, Post News, the possible post-Twitter platforms

Q2. If these two letters speak to moviegoers (short for terminator 2, James Cameron’s film), they probably do not leave indifferent those who follow the Twitter saga since buying the platform from Elon Musk’s blue bird at the end of October 2022. Because T2 is the working name of a media prototype which was launched to society in early December 2022 by a former Twitter (between 2014 and 2016), Gabor Cselle. The slogan displayed on the LinkedIn page of the current Google executive, who runs the company’s start-up incubator, is even more clear: “Starting a better Twitter”, “starting a better Twitter”. T2 has opened a waiting list where it is possible to register, and mainly broadcasts posts by its creator reporting on the progress of the project, which is just getting started.

Open source for Mastodon

This is just one of the services that can serve as an alternative to a drifting Twitter. Between the unrestrained extremism, brutality of the new owner and announced technical collapse, the chaos directed the eyes towards other solutions.

The most frequently mentioned is Mastodon. This microblogging site with no advertising, no targeting algorithm, no exploitation of personal data, with open source computer code, was developed in 2016 by the German Eugen Rochko when he was still a computer science student at Friedrich University. Schiller in Jena (Germany). As of June 2017, there were officially only two to take care of it, as Rochko explained in an interview with FSF at the time, but the project benefits from the participation of hundreds of volunteers.

In fact, by his own admission, the founder came down to this service as a dabbler, it was important to see the possibilities of some technological bricks. He continued after getting his diploma, along with his first missions as a freelance computer scientist, opening a crowdfunding project.

The basic principle of decentralization

Mastodon comes from a time when rumors spread that investor Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal but also a right-hand conservative and craftsman, out of revenge, for the downfall of online media Gawker, would will take Twitter. The idea behind Mastodon is to prevent anyone or any entity from gaining power on the platform and doing what they want with it, including an ideological weapon. So a basic principle: decentralization.

The service is in fact made up of a network of several platforms, each hosted on the server or servers of the person who opens them and called “instances”. On November 7, 2022, Eugen Rochko announced that since October 27, the date of Elon Musk’s formal hiring, 1124 new opportunities have appeared.

Users register where they want (and where they can, depending on capabilities), but because the instances are interoperable, they can still find users hosted on others and trade with them. On the other hand, each host determines the rules of use that must be respected in its instance, and which may differ from others. A host can ban members, can read direct messages and prevent access from appearing to another. But, decentralization is mandatory, the latter remains interoperable with the rest of the network.

Bluesky Social, Jack Dorsey’s initiative

Decentralization and open source are also at the heart of Bluesky Social, a platform initiated in 2019 by Jack Dorsey, co-founder in 2006 of… Twitter. With the ambition of better countering any hateful content and misinformation, a task that has become almost impossible on Twitter due to the volume of exchanges and centralization. In the testing phase, including registration on the waiting list, the project promises users to control their data. Note that everything related to their Bluesky account (personal data, payments, connections, contacts, etc.) can be transferred to another service if the person wants to change it. As long as this new service accepts the same computer protocol as Bluesky.

Recent initiatives include The Narwhal Project, launched by an American magazine executive The Atlantica Twitter alumnus and a magazine alumnus Wired. Few details have leaked, other than general intentions on the truth of “enhance online conversations”, to favor transparency, trust and empathy. Meanwhile, former Waze CEO Noam Bardin offers Post News.

Disagree without being threatened or insulted

On the home page of the site, he also shows his regret at a time when we can “to disagree with someone without being insulted or threatened”. Without advertising or paid access or a mechanism related to this attention economy that exists “sowed chaos in our society” according to Noam Bardin, the project emphasizes content, as the name of the service suggests: posts will not be limited to the number of characters (as in Twitter or Mastodon), favoring debate and reflection.

It will be possible to buy articles, but not only from the media that the user follows. In other words: Post News does not intend to expose its members only to content and ideas they already agree with, like on Facebook or Twitter. Another option under consideration: the ability to pay another Post News user for the content he creates and shares.

If the project does not exclude personalized flows, in the current state, a manual approach is preferred, “to save us time in our machine learning work” Noam Bardin explained. Several mechanisms have been mentioned to combat typical social media inefficiencies (reporting trolls, reducing for oneself the visibility of posts and comments from a particular user), all this in hope to encourage quality and change without the rat race. In return, no more pseudonyms: Post News members appear under their real identities. At the beginning of December, 400,000 of them were on the waiting list and 154,000 had actually activated their account, according to the founder. Which is still a far cry from Twitter’s 330 million or so users.

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