There’s been a true Twitter storm of late – only the object of controversy is Twitter itself. Will it survive? Will it even be a place we want to stay if it does? Whether the doomsayers are right or not, it’s given plenty of us the jitters, leading to some (perhaps premature) tearful goodbyes on the platform this week.
It’s no surprise that it engenders such strong feelings amongst us. Language lovers and polyglots have found a friendly refuge and comfy home in the #langtwt nest. It’s such a part of the glue of our community, that it’s hard to imagine polyglot life without it. But hiding there all along, in plain sight, have been some pretty good alternative community tools, if we need them.
So where else might we get all cosy and snug?
Let’s start with perhaps the Twitteriest alternative of all, the decentralised microblogging network Mastodon. A quick glance through my own follows suggests that this is where most are setting up their contingency tents.
Mastodon is possibly the most seamless to migrate to for former Twitter users. The toot-posting interface is strikingly familiar, and post-signalling is supported by hashtags, just as the bluebird likes it. Ironically, #langtwt has some traction on Mastodon already, although it’s only a matter of time before the steadily growing community spawns some more appropriate tags.
What bamboozles many with Mastodon is the idea of servers. These are basically interconnected nodes where your account ‘lives’, giving you the second part of your address (mine, for instance, is @firstname.lastname@example.org). There’s a brilliant explainer of that at this link.
The independence of these nodes is a big upside for those decrying the autocratic turn of Twitter. There is no single Mastodon authority, all servers being equal. That makes the threat of future takeovers unlikely, if this is your greatest concern.
Instagram polyglots will be sore from all the eye-rolling at this one; the photo-sharing platform already has a long tradition of learner posters, including many of the polyglot circuit celebs like Richard Simcott.
The universality of hashtag conventions makes this another no-brainer switch if you’re on the digital move from Twitter. All the usual suspects like #LanguageLearning are on there. The only downside is the need for every post to be attached to a picture upload, although for the shy, isn’t that just another great excuse to post lots of course book and notepad snaps?
Reddit is what you might call your old-fashioned internet forum, rebooted. We’re getting further from Twitter-style microblog territory here, but anyone who remembers the internet from the turn of the millennium will probably feel a warm and fuzzy nostalgia amongst the threads on offer.
Reddit already has large groups like r/polyglot, but the forum style can make these behemoths a little chaotic (as with the similar Facebook group). It’s in smaller, more specialist language groups that I find a better level of interaction and community, such as r/gaidhlig for all things Gaelic, and the system of upvotes and downvotes is genuinely effective at helping higher-quality posts bubble up to the top.
DISCORD, TELEGRAM and WHATSAPP
I’ve lumped these three together as they share a USP: the ease of creating small, invite-only communities. The exclusivity is a huge bonus in creating and maintaining the group as a safe space for like-minded learners. The rub is that closed groups are by their nature not public-facing, and rely on you to do the work to gather friends and colleagues to them.
Telegram and WhatsApp need little introduction, being the phone messaging apps many of us already use daily. But I’ve had some lovely experiences in closed groups run on these platforms, including a lively and fun Telegram group run by my Polish tutor, and a Gaelic chat group that occasionally also meets at the pub.
Discord, on the other hand, is quite a different beast, having emerged as a means for the online gaming community to socialise. As such, there’s a distinct techie look and feel to it, which appeals a lot to my geekish side; its high-contrast colours remind me of computer days of yore. I’ve found myself live-commenting Eurovision in one set up by a Twitter friend, and can testify to how gemütlich it can feel!
I’m bound to have missed some off this list, whether they’re biggies or nascent tools in the pipeline. TikTok, of course, has to get an honorary mention for its burgeoning community of language learners and teachers. Meetup too deserves checking out, especially since it exists to connect those online community tools with offline socialising.
It’s worth rounding off here by reaffirming that the Twitter bird has not yet flown. #langtwt is still alive and well. And enough people are hanging around to keep the community buzzing and vibrant. Saying that, there’s no harm in branching out. After all, birds can call many trees their home.
Whether you up sticks or stay put, happy learning!