B5. Twitter's Forklift Upgrade
... manage to strike a popular balance between your freedom to say anything you want and my freedom not to have to hear it ...
Twitter is, technically, a Short Message Router.
I know a thing or two about such routers. I once worked in a company selling IRC servers with maintenance contracts to companies like Apple and I wrote an IRC client for the Mac. I know the inventor of IRC chat and helped him get a job at Google. I attempted to start a chat project (a precursor to my later work) as a 20% project at Google. I co-founded a startup where we attempted to create a video chat social medium based on the "World Cafe" concept named Wisdom Salon, which died because of problems with video technology available at the time.
And I have written an engineering whitepaper about a proposed Twitter alternative (not a replacement) called Bubble City. The whitepaper is available at https://syntience.com/BubbleCity2.pdf
Message routing systems like Twitter are (today) relatively simple to create. A startup with a team of four decent engineers with some cloud chops can assemble a Twitter like app MVP in 4 months. If based on modern cloud service designs, it would already be designed to scale indefinitely. The text of all the tweets ever made would fit on four current spinning-rust hard disks. Media data just takes storage. Message Search is available as a cloud service, or locally. And AI has made lots of progress on filtering natural language.
All the components are there. And Twitter wouldn't even have to go to the cloud, as a competing startup would, since they have enough data centers of their own.
-- * --
Where am I going with this? I'd like to provide a software architect's POV on the Twitter debacle. I believe the anti-Elon debate is driven by envy over his capability to execute, his money, and his intelligence. The stories of Elon coming in and attempting to fix twitter by cutting services at random are newsbait. More likely these were standard system breakage when nobody is there to baby-sit it (yes, he did fire people), or malicious acts from fired employees. Anything that goes wrong is amplified by the press because it is prime content supporting their narrative.
Witness the many changes to Twitter attributed to Elon before he even was able to change anything.
-- * --
Suppose Elon actually knows what he's doing? What if he bought Twitter as a tearer-downer?
He himself is unlikely to touch any of the Twitter software at all. He has likely brought in software engineers from Tesla and SpaceX that he trusts, to liaision and cooperate with remaining Twitter engineers. He may be leading software architecture and design sessions. If so, I wish those were recorded for later engineering education.
Any attempt to improve 16 years of crufty code would be a nightmare. IMO, that's not happening.
Back in the days of large mainframe computers there were occasions when a system upgrade would require taking the old computer out using a forklift.
A handful of engineers, something between 4 and 20, could rewrite Twitter from scratch in a few months to get a clean start using latest software developments tools and disciplines. They could make it attach to the existing reality interfaces (network APIs etc) and be thoroughly tested on actual running traffic in parallel with the existing Twitter system.
Elon (and his software engineers and advisors, who are known to be excellent since they created things like the Dojo and the FSD computers and software) likely saw this early on in the process, and this is one reason Elon decided to buy it. But also, TBH, Twitter engineers were likely among the first to tell Elon this :-D
Elon has been planning to create a Twitter replacement (as usual, he has named it "X") for some time and (IMO) simply bought Twitter for the name and the users... and to eliminate the main future competitor to X by replacing Twitter with a new version -- we can call this version "TwitterX".
So Elon is likely busy developing TwitterX and ignoring everything else. Then one day, they throw a switch. They will call it Twitter, but it's just all Twitter users being shifted (without being asked) to using TwitterX. Old Twitter will be gone, but old tweets remain in the new one. That's one reason he could fire so many people -- he just needed a skeleton crew to keep the old system limping along for a few months while they developed the replacement. The salaries saved also pay for the development. :-|
If it's is any good, and if they manage to strike a popular balance between your freedom to say anything you want and my freedom not to have to hear it, most people who left Twitter in a speculative pique over Elon buying it are likely to come back.
Speaking of which, Elon has hinted at using Shadow Banning in TwitterX to accomplish this compromise. This is a significant step towards my Bubble City concept which is 100% based on Shadow Banning, in some sense, because it is a 100% pull system. For Bubble City, that would be explicitly part of the user agreement. For TwitterX, who knows. They can make any rules they want and the criterion will be how much return traffic they get, as is usual on the web.
Pull-based systems are those where you specify what kinds of messages you (as an individual user) want to read. Like web search, in some sense, but much more convenient. "Shadow Banning" is a very negative term, but it describes any system where some messages are given lower priority and/or are only shown to certain classes of users. "Pull-based" is a more positive term because the algorithm is in 100% in the hands of the end users specifying the pull.
Elon and his POV of what matters, politically, will remain an influence on the future of this country and the world. But there is hope that his POV won't be the only one available on future TwitterX. This goes with his (and mine) desire to provide a no-censorship messaging platform, possibly using similar strategies.
IMO, Elon taking over Twitter and replacing it, is all good, and likely to become a net positive for the world in as little as a year.
-- * --
One fundamental misunderstanding that is never discussed and which provides both press and amateurs alike with opportunities to make fools of themselves, is the fact that all social media have to select what you get to read.
All social media systems receive a post volume greater than any user following a reasonable number of sources or other users have the patience to read. If you follow 500 people and read 20 messages per day, it should be obvious that you cannot read everything posted by your followees. So all social media systems prioritize messages.
How this prioritization is done -- the admixture of your stream -- is what makes different social media different. "Prioritization by what you have liked in the past", "100% pull system", "filtering to remove illegal content", and "Shadow Banning" are all pretty much the same thing. Some call this "The Algorithm" :-) . When you are deciding which social medium to use, you are making choices among competing selection algorithms.
-- * --
How plausible is this? I expect only minor changes to how the existing Twitter works, in the spirit of the tuning the company has been doing for years. If nothing significant changes in the way Twitter works today for a few months, then that might be supporting my hypothesis.