Twitter should switch to an open protocol

There’s a lot of drama around Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. Some people think it’s the end of Twitter, others think that Twitter is already at rock bottom and there’s only one direction it can go from here.

Be that as it may, I believe that one of the most impactful decisions that Elon can take for Twitter is to switch to an open protocol. An open protocol would allow Twitter to communicate with other services that use the same protocol. Just like you can send an email from your Google email account to somebody’s Hotmail email account.

The most popular open protocol that supports building Twitter-like apps is ActivityPub. The increasingly used service Mastodon is built on it. Interestingly, a project initiated by Twitter (but not owned by it), Bluesky, recently released their own open protocol, called AT protocol.

It looks like Twitter is a stakeholder in Bluesky, but it’s unclear how much influence they have in practice. Even though Twitter has so far not committed to adopting the AT protocol, I would assume that there’s some interest in seeing the AT protocol more widely adopted.

I believe that for open protocols to become mainstream, big, existing services like Twitter need to start using it. The issue is that there’s no real economic incentive for them to do that. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s more lucrative for services to build a walled garden to keep users from switching away. Unfortunately, this zero-sum way of thinking is bad for consumers and our society at large.

Elon’s purchase of Twitter could break this wheel. It looks like Elon is not purely financially motivated by this purchase. And he is definitely a longer term thinker than your typical quarterly-myopic CEO.

Hence, I harbor hope that Twitter switches to an open protocol. If that’s AT protocol, ActivityPub, or some other, doesn’t really matter. It would allow Twitter to truly become an open platform. After all, we don’t want guards at the entrance to the world’s public town square.