I love co-ops, but Twitter shouldn’t become one

Twitter birds

Nathan Schneider:

Twitter’s impending transition need not be, for most of us, merely a time to wait and see. It can be a chance for us to discuss, scheme, and organize. What would be an appropriate ownership design for the Twitter we know and love, and how do we get it there? How can we make sure that the future of the company serves those who depend on it most, who most want see it succeed culturally, technologically, and financially? This could be a chance to make the company better reflect the commons and the community that we have built with its product.

I saw this idea spread over Twitter itself recently. On the face of it, it’s a compelling idea, particularly for someone like me who is already part of a co-op! 

The trouble is, that 10 years in, we’re already too late. This kind of thing needs to happen way earlier in the process. Here’s what Aza Raskin had to say soon after leaving Mozilla:

Mozilla rarely moves the consumer needle with its own inventions. Rather, the company is at its best — and its best is revolutionary — when it takes an existing product and re-envisions it as a public benefit product, where the people making have a top-down directive to never include revenue as part of a decision making process.

Mozilla, a nonprofit, must capitalize on its record of fast-second-follow success, identifying products that have already found consumer traction and then remaking them Mozilla-style.

There’s your answer: remaking Twitter in a non-profit style. What would that look like? What kind of values would be prioritised? I bet it would do a better job of moderation and banning abusive users, for a start.

Here’s Cory Doctorow pouring cold water on the let’s-buy-Twitter-and-turn-it-into-a-co-op idea:

Though there are definitely upsides to reimagining Twitter as a mission-driven not-for-profit, there are some structural problems with Schneider’s proposal that merit mention. First among these is that Twitter is in a fiercely competitive market for engineering talent, and that nonprofits — who can’t offer the kinds of stock-option-based incentives as their for-profit competitors — have a hard time attracting tech people to work for them. Twitter-scale technology isn’t for the faint of heart — and that’s before designing and rolling out a hypothetical anti-harassment technology suite.

It’s time for non-profits, co-operatives, and the left in general to start playing a different game. You can’t beat corporates at capitalism. Here’s Douglas Rushkoff give perhaps the most rousing speech I’ve heard in 2016 on exactly this point: