December 12, 2019

Article at The Inquirer

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Twitter wants to fund an open source social media standard

Twitter wants to fund an open source social media standard
Twitter wants to fund an open source social media standard

TWITTER HAS A new madcap scheme to try and deal with its growing population of propagandists, bots and common-or-garden jerks. The company is set to fund researchers looking to decentralise social media standards for a shared open-source alternative. The team name: Bluesky, which sounds a bit like a perpetual runner-up on The Apprentice to us.

"Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralised standard for social media," wrote CEO Jack Dorsey on Twitter. "The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard."

Acknowledging that this is kind of how Twitter was in the old days before going all centralised, Dorsey gave four reasons as to why he was looking to reverse it all over again.

Centralised solutions, he says, can't meet the challenges ahead. "For instance, centralised 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," he tweeted.

There's also the fact that social media is moving from content hosting and removal to algorithms directing people towards content. "Unfortunately, these algorithms are typically proprietary, and one can't choose or build alternatives. Yet."

Then Dorsey moved on to the ongoing social media mental health conversation. "Existing social media incentives frequently lead to attention being focused on content and conversation that sparks controversy and outrage, rather than conversation which informs and promotes health," he wrote.

The final point? The technology is now more viable, he said, before namechecking blockchain like nobody has ever thought of doing before.

Such development will take years, Dorsey acknowledges, and there are two elephants trotting impatiently around the room. The first is the fact that social networks with an open standard already exist - Mastodon for one.

The second elephant is far bigger, and harder to ignore: Facebook exists. While Facebook is often mentioned in the same sentence as Twitter, they're on completely different scales: Twitter has 300 million users, while Facebook has over two billion. And that's without even getting on to Facebook-owned Instagram.

Would Facebook sacrifice its own proprietary systems to play nicely with everyone else? Colour us sceptical. µ

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