Posted by Dave on

Ubiquitous Messaging

Ubiquitous Messaging

Twitter has been bought by Elon Musk. What do we do now? Here are some notes …

There’s two stories here, or maybe more, the first is about Musk, the second about free speech to which I add a third, the role of technology and the continued efforts of the open web to survive.

The deal

Wikipedia, has a very concise history of the story of the deal, detailing Musk’s pre-offer purchases, the on again, off again negotiations to buy twitter and its final closure. A twitter correspondent, Fr. Robert Ballecer, documents Musk’s funding sources and wonders whether twitter can be made to make money, particularly if its new owner plans a ‘free speech’ agenda. He argues that the ad. revenue won’t come to a cess-pit full of disinformation and fake news. This view is reinforced by Arwa Mahdawi, in an article in the Guardian. Ballecer also points out that the funding of the Twitter acquisition relies on Musk’s Tesla stock price, which isn’t doing so well today; it is also collateral against loans to fund Musk’s lifestyle. (Really, how much can you spend!)

It seems that Jack Dorsey, a founder and previous CEO of Twitter, tried to help to put the deal back on the table, during the period when Musk suspended the offer. He is also launching a new technology platform  Bluesky, (or their site blog) which is designed to be “a decentralized social network protocol” which will enable network interoperability. People are asking can we/should we move to Bluesky. I ask, don’t we already have one in xmpp? And I doubt the big boys will want to play because they don’t want to share their advertising revenue, nor their social graph.

Dave Troy writes about the takeover and its politics. The article is on Medium and entitled, “No, Elon and Jack are not “competitors.” They’re collaborating.”, this is to answer those who say if Musk owns twitter and the user experience worsens, why don’t we move to Jack’s new platorm? Troy argues that the takeover, in which Dorsey colluded, is about politics and so-called free speech. Troy is very interesting in suggesting the macro-ideology behind the purchase of Twitter which he categorises as anti-democratic. But in terms of moving on, the obvious place for me would now be mastodon, however internet users are strangely patriotic but it seems that blue sky is a protocol, not a user platform. The big question to ask, again, is don’t we already have  an open short messaging protocol: xmpp?

What these commentators, with the possible exception of Troy, seem to miss is the Murdoch model. Buy a newspaper or two in an out of the way country, make some money,  use the money and media platforms to influence then make and control politicians, ensure that the regulatory regime is suitable to your aims, by influencing monopoly, privacy, and libel laws, make more money, rinse and repeat! Mahdawi also makes the point, that Twitter is much less influential than Fox news, maybe everyone fears too much. Mahdawi adds,

I really don’t think it can be stressed enough that Musk’s acquisition of Twitter isn’t about promoting free speech, it’s about promoting Musk’s worldview.

Much is made of Musk’s messianic aims, but it could in the end just be about the money.

One further macro-trend is that many politicians, particularly in Europe dislike the social media platforms because they don’t pay taxes and do too little to control abuse, fake news and cyber bullying. (I know from my recent work observing CoFoE that the citizens raised a series of proposals aimed at reducing the harmful effects of the actions of the datenkraken.)

The technology

The fundamental software for social media sites is very cheap. Much of it remains free and open source. In order to deliver the performance and scale required to support the massive communities that seem to want to belong, a lot of hardware which cannot be free is required. The desire to monopolise both the advertising revenue and the user data has led to the datenkraken enclosing their networks, thus even end-to-end encryption has become a tool in this tactic.

Twitter have innovated on top of open source software, but have had to confront problems of scale, of throughput and response time that few organisations have had to meet. Is the problem of scale for twitter universal, or limited to the management of their super stars?

One solution to the cost of scaling has been to move the problem of co-ordination to the free software layer allowing any one to contribute the hardware. We can see this in mastodon, diaspora, bittorrent and even some of bitcoin proof of work sharing solutions. Mastodon was designed to distribute content management control, and thus allow multiple editorial policies, diaspora had the design side effect of increasing privacy by having ensuring that data subjects had control of their private data and the permissions for its use. Why have they and failed? Is it a question of adoption, or the failure to offer mobile access? For businesses, they require support, and logging, although large businesses can do it themselves, but on the whole don’t want to any more, and I suppose for consumer’s they don’t want a ‘pi by the phone, or to manage a fixed internet address or a *nix build. Even for web hosting, even edge posters need the security infrastructure of the quality of state actors. This is why IRC has gone and slack (and TRM) remain.

Why can we not go back to the future and use tools like mastodon, diaspora and jabber/xmpp? Or do we need reassurance from corporates or co-ops that the solution is secure, i.e. available, confidential and accurate.

The takeaway

I am not sure if Google’s abandoning RSS and then G+ is an example of a previous interruption in the story of messaging architecture, and or if this is another front on the open web vs secret garden war that is occurring all the time.

Some links

I couldn’t work these in,

  1. Maybe I could test raspbian on vritual box and gave another go at diaspora  and/or mastodon instance.
  2. I wrote about recovering have we been here before –, an article talking about replacing Google’s RSS reader, it’s a bit of an out of date and just a catalogue now.
  3. Dorsey has moved on to a payment processor, Block Inc, which some consider too complex, its stock price is stagnant, and I consider too late.
  4. It seems that twitter have moved on from Kafka, its early or was it middle aged message bus.
  5. Fr Ballecer points at block-bot although most of my friends feel there is no algorithmic protection from bad behaviour.

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