Dec 12, 2019 - Technology

Twitter's bid for a social network standard draws skepticism

The Twitter logo bird pulling the curtain

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Jack Dorsey's plan to fund an open source network standard left many people scratching their heads as to what Twitter's CEO hopes to accomplish.

Why it matters: Twitter is under pressure to better crack down on bots, hate speech and misinformation, but it is unclear how open standards will help address any of these issues.

Driving the news: In a series of tweets, Dorsey said that "BlueSky" is a new project to create an open decentralized social network standard that Twitter might ultimately use itself.

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

History lesson: Past efforts to take on proprietary social networks with open standards have failed to reach mainstream success.

  • Released in 2007, OpenSocial was an early effort to allow people to share social network posts across services. It was developed by Google and MySpace, among others.
  • Developed in 1998, Jabber is an open source instant messaging protocol that came close to mainstream adoption, particularly after Google announced its support for Jabber-compatible messaging in its chat software. Facebook added its support in 2010, though both later moved away from Jabber support in favor of fully proprietary options.
  • Released in 2016, Mastodon is a free, open source microblogging service similar to Twitter, with more than 1 million users across a number of different servers. Each of those can create and enforce their own standards for what is allowed.

What they're saying:

  • Darius Kazemi, computer programmer, bot creator and artist: "Realistically I don't think this is going to go anywhere; most of these kinds of projects fail. What I'm worried about is that it is going to be a big distraction. It's going to attract resources from the ecosystem that is already out there."
  • Aral Balkan, human rights activist and co-founder of Small Technology Foundation: "Twitter is still a publicly traded adtech company and its business model isn't going to change. ... You can be sure that the alternatives to surveillance capitalism aren't going to come from the billionaires of surveillance capitalism."
  • Apple University's Jon Seff, in a tweet: "Shorter Jack: I built something without considering the consequences, made my billions, and now want to wash my hands of any moral responsibility."

Go deeper: Twitter aims to build an open standard for social networks

Go deeper