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Would a Nonprofit Twitter Clone Work?

felicianotech profile image Ricardo N Feliciano Originally published at feliciano.tech ・2 min read

Many people have said that Facebook has gotten so big it should be considered a public utility.
I think this applies much more so to Twitter given the penetration and speed a single tweet can achieve for both local and global news.
Forget major cities and tech hubs, even the most remote parts of the world get their news via tweets.

This utility-like nature has been threatened and damaged many times before by decisions Twitter has made.
Some of these decisions due to what's in their best interest as a for-profit business.
They have an obligation to make money, I understand.

But what if they didn't?

Many, many, many (did I say many?) people have attempted to make Twitter clones.
In the scope of this blog post, I see two large problems with these clones.

  1. They are for-profit startups. Or worse, not businesses at all. Too many VCs have invested money in Twitter to want to let it fail now by investing in a competing project. Also, being for-profit brings the same troubles Twitter has now. Balancing privacy concerns and user freedom with the need to make a buck.
  2. Many "clones" aren't really clones anyway. These projects tend to create their own take on Twitter. That's fair, that's their right as makers and entrepreneurs. Personally, I mostly like the way Twitter works and would like an exact clone. It's gotten as big as it has for a reason, right?

So can we do it?

How possible would it be to create an identical Twitter clone, where the backing company is a nonprofit or foundation?
Where making money isn't one of the underlying goals but instead a sustainable communications and news platform for the world is?

If I remember correctly, one of Twitter's largest problems in the past as been scaling their infrastructure.
That remains an issue and for a nonprofit, paying for that infrastructure will be as well.

Still, I'm excited about the thought of cloning Twitter into an actual, public, technology infrastructure.
Even if it's just a pipe dream.

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Ricardo N Feliciano


Community Engineer at CircleCI (formerly Developer Evangelist at CircleCI and Linode). U.S. Navy Veteran, Write the Docs NYC organizer. Mets fan for life.


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No, it won't. Social networks gain users with having more users than other social networks, not with making their code public. There were, at least, three large waves of Twitter exoduses: Twice Quitter (a GNU Social instance), currently Mastodon (another GNU Social thingy). Guess where nothing happens? Yup.

Better spend your time with more useful things.


Social networks gain users with having more users than other social networks, not with making their code public.

You're arguing against a different point, not one that I made in my post. I don't believe an open source clone of Twitter is the solution. My point is more about the maintainer of the software being a nonprofit or foundation. Not an individual or for-profit business.

Also, as I mentioned in my reply to generaltso, Mastodon (which I think is a cool piece of software) is not a Twitter clone. Though, I believe the founder said the general UI is inspired by Tweetdeck specifically.


My point is more about the maintainer of the software being a nonprofit or foundation.

Which would not make the product more successful, so it just won't matter.

Because nobody is on Twitter because of the awesome company behind it.

Nobody would be on Quitter/Mastodon/Diaspora/Friendica just because of the awesome license (which you can easily see by just seeing that nothing is going on there).

Sorry, this is lost.

People are upset with Twitter. You can see that by the crazy amount of tweets directed towards Jack Dorsey. People are actually leaving (who knows for how long) Facebook but that's a whole different shit show.

What's lost? We're having a conversation.

People are upset with Twitter.

And they're still not leaving for Mastodon or whatever the next "better Twitter" will be because Twitter has everything they need: an audience.

What's lost?

The fight for a Twitter replacement. You won't succeed. Nobody succeeded before. Not even the GNU project which has more than enough resources for advertising its stuff.

I suppose you may have a better chance at success creating a domain specific twitter clone.

Maybe. Discord came out with a clear target demographic gamers and that seems to have worked well for them.

To be clear, this is not something that I'd necessarily do, I was curious on people's' thoughts. This would be a large undertaking. Product philosophy-wise, I wonder if it would work.


Back in the days when Twitter started , there was also a twitter like competitor called Plurk and one other (forgot the name) , Twitter took off while plurk did not make its name although imo was a bit better platform if you ask me. What differentiate Twitter was the tech people and marketing, and then it took off on its own. (Been on twitter since 2007)

Edit: The major difference was also Twitter released API where Plurk did not, and that helped others to build apps and promote Twitter with their iOS/Android apps.


Interesting, thanks.

API support is very important in today's world. I think the lack of one is one of the reasons Google+ failed.

It's also one of the things worrying me about Twitter now. They're tightening access to it more and more, cutting off the developer community that helped them gain the market penetration they now enjoy.


My first thing that comes to mind when reading this is Mastodon and its surrounding "fediverse". It's not an exact pixel-for-pixel carbon copy of twitter but it does have all the same core functionality and a large, active user base. Plus it's open source. Why not start there?


Mastodon is what I thought of when I mentioned point #2. It's not a Twitter clone but also, I think the fact that it's federated is what will prevent it from ever becoming the next Twitter.

I'm not against federation. In fact, from a technical perspective, I'm fascinated by them. Federation for software such as NextCloud works very well and should be used when needed. I don't believe it can work for social media in a way that will ever get mass adoption.


People are dumb, irresponsible and selfish. Companies like Twitter and Facebook have a long and great future.