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Alternatives to Twitterfeed: the sad, dangerous prospect of a Twitterless world

Twitter is a peculiar thing. With some 300 million active users around the globe, there seems to be not a single media company, news program, or celebrity on the planet without a Twitter account. And yet news of the company’s demise, imminent (failed) acquisition(s), and utter uselessness seem to permeate the internet, ironically, mostly throughout the Twitterverse. Go figure.

But Twitter isn’t going anywhere. Or at least, it better not. Indeed, I’ve been a vocal proponent of just how useful Twitter is; how it really hasn’t any viable substitute; and how for millions of people around the world, it isn’t just a nice thing to have, it’s a legitimate necessity just to stay alive. To wit, Twitter matters more today than when it first hatched 10 years ago, and it must not be allowed to fail. It’s simply too important.

Several days ago, the world got a glimpse of a Twitterless world when Dyn DNS was brought to its knees under a relentless DDoS attack that prevented people from accessing Twitter or sending or receiving tweets. And while numerous readers (curiously, mostly on the LinkedIn copy of my article, though I’m not sure why) sarcastically criticized the notion that Twitter actually matters, and mocked the idea that somehow an online communication platform could ever be superior to offline, face-to-face interaction, this grossly myopic, insular view of the world simply fails to appreciate the harsh realities for people living in a less fortunate world, people whose very lives are riven by civil war, muted by governmental censorship, and otherwise threatened on a daily basis.

Put plainly, any who dare question or otherwise fail to understand the savage and brutal state of these people’s lives; any who fail to recognize the undeniable lifeline that Twitter has provided, has either got their head stuck in the sand of their lush, first world luxuries, or is simply a misinformed, uneducated idiot.

Indeed, that’s why we pivoted into Twibble two years ago: not because I formerly gave a damn about Twitter either — like you, I didn’t — but because I had the opportunity to see first hand practical evidence of Twitter’s unique revolution-enabling powers:

One of my dearest friends is cofounder of AnchorFree, makers of HotSpot Shield, a VPN which empowers millions of people around the world to bypass government censorship. (For those of you not dodging bullets to rescue friends and family from exploding bombs and rockets while trying to overthrow a tyrannical dictator, it also does a pretty decent job keeping you secure on your local Starbucks’ wifi network.) In 2011, HotSpot Shield singlehandedly helped to catalyze the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square literally overnight by enabling protestors to circumvent Egypt’s lockdown of social media. The platform of choice for the revolutionaries?

Twitter.

Tahrir Square has been just one of many undeniable data points that Twitter really matters beyond mere celebrity gossip, trolls, and news, and why a world without Twitter isn’t just a sad prospect, it’s an extremely dangerous one.

Indeed, Twitter matters a lot. This was why we built Twibble: not just because it’s some fun, sexy thing — well that’s not true, it’s pretty fun actually, and definitely kinda sexy — and not just because it’s just a useful tool for social media marketing gurus and news agencies — it is — but because access to Twitter is of paramount important for people whose livelihoods (and lives) depend on the ability to easily, seamlessly, and effectively disseminate information amongst their readers, their communities, and to people around the world.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that the vast majority of our users are revolutionaries — they aren’t — but to the extent that we can help provide even a modicum of increased utility for Twitter, that’s an inspiring thing indeed.

Last Monday, a small but vocal subset of the Twitter community — bloggers, news aggregators, marketing agencies, and entertainment outlets, arguably representing Twitter’s most active users — collectively gasped when news broke that Twitterfeed, the first and oldest (c.2006) RSS-to-Twitter feeder, would soon be closing shop on Halloween, just seven days from today. It was 10 years old.

As I wrote last Wednesday, this news stole the breath from our little team: suddenly, just like that, one of our direct competitors would soon be no more. And it wasn’t because we had valiantly out-competed them or anything so boastful; it was because parent company Bitly (who acquired them in 2011) had decided, for whatever reason, to shut them down.

Based on Mashable’s report of the lackadaisical emotion surrounding the acquisition (“We bought it because it’s a product, it’s out there, it’s growing, it’s in use,” said Bitly’s CEO Peter Stern with as much emotion as a moss-covered rock) perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising.

Perhaps not too surprising then, but immensely unpleasant, disruptive, and even destructive for the millions of customers who relied on Twitterfeed to do one task all day long, every day: easily manage and schedule blogs and other content via their RSS feeds to their Twitter accounts.

Now, I get it. You’re probably wondering what the big deal is all about: how does this matter in the big scheme of things; it’s not like somebody pulled the plug on, say Facebook. Or Instagram. Twitterfeed was just a tool to easily automate content, via RSS, to Twitter.

Make no mistake: that something is largely scheduled, automated, and handsfree, does not per se make it a bad thing, nor does it in any way reduce or otherwise tarnish its value. Or, by that logic, automatic transmissions would be the work of the devil, coffee machines should all be destroyed, and train systems round the world should be, er, derailed.

No. Automation, when done right, when done properly and responsibly, is a perfectly fine — and, in many instances, necessary and useful — thing which can hugely increase the utility of society. Indeed, it is automation that enables a reduction in marginal cost and economies of scale.

What’s interesting with Twitter, however, is that this online society in many instances is tightly interwoven with offline society, i.e., real people on the streets. Think again of Tahrir Square, for instance. Or Brazil lately. Or Libya. Or any time there’s an earthquake, natural disaster, or other instance of social unrest in the world.

Consider how people would feel if photocopiers suddenly went out of production. Or shipping containers. Sure, the vast majority of people on the planet wouldn’t necessarily care — at least not directly — but for those people whose livelihoods relied on photocopying and shipping — and for those people who hoped to buy goods in their local markets — suddenly the world’s lack of photocopiers and shipping containers would be a terribly disruptive thing indeed.

And so it is with Twitterfeed. Sure, even the heavyweight king of social, Buffer, is said to have “only” around 3 million subscribers. And it’s true, when the big world of “social” includes Facebook with it’s nearly two billion active users, even Twitter’s 300 million doesn’t sound like much, never mind Buffer’s relatively paltry three million.

Will Oremus really nailed this expectations perception paradox of Twitter. He illustrates perfectly the fallacy — and irrelevance — of treating all “social media” products as one and the same, to be judged against the same metrics, operating along the same plane of existence. Speaking of planes, this would be like faulting a Cessna 152 because it can’t travel as far, as fast, or with as many passengers as a Boeing 747–400. It simply wouldn’t make any sense.

 

Hopefully the Cessna doesn’t get swallowed by one of those engines.

The point is that Twitter is a tool. And like most tools, it experiences increasing marginal utility the more it is integrated with other tools and functions, until eventually, it ceases to be a mere tool, and becomes a bonafide utility; and at that point it is by definition something without which people cannot live.

Take a simple screw and a screwdriver. On their own, they are but mere tools. By definition. But integrate them with myriad other parts and machinery, and suddenly you have the telephone. The electrical grid. Or the 747 in the image above. And those aren’t simple tools; they are utilities without which the world simply couldn’t function anymore.

So let’s extrapolate this a bit to give Twitter more credit; it isn’t just a screw, it’s an engine. (A coughing, sputtering, asthmatic engine of late, to be sure, but an engine nonetheless.) But an engine without more is still just a tool, a thing with the premise of doing something more. Then other tools like Twitterfeed came along. Now suddenly you merge an engine (Twitter) with a fuselage, wings, and a tail (Twitterfeed) and now you’ve got yourself an airplane.

But now Twitterfeed is gone, and we’re left once again with just an engine. And suddenly all those millions of people around the world who relied upon the airplane are left with a sputtering engine flopping about on a table. If it wasn’t such a sad thing to picture, this hapless coughing engine would be kind of a funny thing to behold.

Except that it isn’t funny. Not even slightly. Or, the query “alternatives to Twitterfeed” wouldn’t have spiked on Google in the past week.

Fortunately however, there are several alternatives to Twitterfeed, and the aforementioned Buffer — whose bloggers were kind enough to write the first review of Twibble just months after we launched — probably takes the crown as the biggest and most advanced social media management tool on the market. There’s also Dlvr.it, another platform that’s been around for a while to help people manage their various social media accounts, and of course our very own Twibble.

The point is, there are indeed a few viable alternatives to Twitterfeed, thankfully; and for the millions of people that rely on the ability to easily propagate and disseminate massive amounts of information through the Twitterverse or other social networks, these tools enable bonafide utilities that for many, are not only necessary, but wholly inalienable to their businesses, their clients, or, as we’ve seen tragically in much of the world today, to their very lives.

Twitterfeed will be ceasing operations on Halloween, just days from now. Its imminent closure is already displacing millions of customers suddenly bereft of a utility on which they relied for the past ten years. Here’s hoping these several alternatives to Twitterfeed suit them well, and disruption to their lives will be minimal.

Recommended alternatives to Twitterfeed: