Amidst the chaos of Musk-era Twitter, as millions of frustrated users seek out alternatives, most of the attention has been focused on Mastodon, Threads, and Bluesky. As a result, one platform that fell through the cracks was Pebble. Originally called T2, Pebble was founded by Gabor Cselle, Sarah Oh, and Michael Greer. Both Csell and Oh worked at Twitter as a product manager and human rights advisor, respectively, while Greer was a senior director of engineering at Discord. (This thread by Cselle delves into Pebble’s origins, including its start as a humble spreadsheet.)
From the beginning, Pebble’s stated goal was to be as close to the “original” Twitter as possible while serving as a “kinder, safer, more fun public square.” Or, as Oh put it earlier this year: “We really do want to create an experience that allows people to share what they want to share without fearing risk of things like abuse and harassment.” Unfortunately, that experience won’t be around much longer: on November 1, Pebble is shutting down.
Not surprisingly, Pebble looked and functioned much like Twitter (and Bluesky, for that matter). If you’re familiar with either of those, then you’d have felt right at home on Pebble even as it lacked features like a mobile app or the ability to schedule your posts. To its credit, though, Pebble had functionality that’s missing from the more popular Twitter alternatives.
For starters, Pebble allowed anyone (not just paying “Premium” users, as is the case with Twitter) to edit their posts up to 30 minutes after posting. Threads recently released an “Edit” button, too, though it only gives you 5 minutes to make your edits. Pebble also supported hashtags in posts. Hashtags are a critical aspect of social media, allowing people to organize their posts, create communities, and find and follow trends, and it’s actually kind of mind-boggling that Threads and Bluesky still don’t support them yet. (They’re apparently in the works, though.)
Pebble never had any sort of “trending topics” feature, but shades of old school Foursquare, you could become the “mayor” of a particular hashtag — though it’s not entirely clear what that actually entailed beyond just a bit of fun. There were also “community” hashtags that were apparently created when a group of people were invited to join all at once, but again, that was never entirely clear.
Pebble was not without flaws. For starters, some of its functionality — e.g., the aforementioned community hashtags — could be somewhat obtuse. You might find a random post explaining it, but there was no official explanation that I could find. While this might’ve been Pebble’s version of a public beta or part of its iterative process, it’d still would’ve been nice to know why Pebble released a feature, what its benefits were supposed to be, and how it could best be accessed and utilized. Also, Pebble was plagued with the occasional performance glitch; for about a week, my profile page was essentially blank and it wasn’t uncommon for older posts to return errors when you tried to view them.
All told, Pebble showed lots of promise as a viable Twitter alternative. But earlier this week, Pebble sent an email to users announcing that it was shutting down on November 1:
We are immensely proud of what our team and our community have accomplished together, and we feel validated that our vision for Pebble proved true: that purposeful growth, supported by a deep commitment to safety, can foster a beautiful online community full of vibrant human connection.
The painful truth, however, is that we were not growing quickly enough for investors to believe that we will break out. Combine that with a crowded space of alternatives — and the uphill climb is even steeper. In order to continue to build out a complete Pebble, we would have needed more investment, and more time.
The email hints at some possible future projects — “We are looking for ways to keep you connected with each other, but perhaps in a different form” — before giving instructions for downloading an archive of your Pebble content. (More information’s in Pebble’s FAQ.)
No doubt many of you were completely unaware of Pebble, and might even be wondering why we really needed yet another social media platform to begin with. I don’t blame you if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the options out there. After all, we’ve already got Twitter, Bluesky, Threads, and Mastodon, not to mention Hive, Micro.blog, Post, Spill, and Spoutible. (Indeed, several more might have launched while you were reading this post.)
On the one hand, this increased balkanization can be frustrating, especially if you’re trying to maintain some semblance of community. With so many options, it can be harder to get people together on the same platform. Only obsessive nerds (raises hand) want to spend their time jumping back and forth between three or four platforms to keep tabs on everyone and everything.
On the other hand, it’s cool to see new challengers in a space that often feels unassailable. I tend to think that any competition is an overall net-win for users; the less we see a handful of companies dominate online spaces, the better. Furthermore, I’m always interested to see what new wrinkles, if any, something like Pebble can add to the social media landscape. Of course, I’m also the sort of nerd who likes to experiment with alternative web browsers like Brave, DuckDuckGo, and Shiira (RIP) rather than just stick with Chrome or Safari, so your mileage may vary.
Twitter has made a massive impact on the social media landscape; for years, it was the place to go for vital, engaging, and entertaining content and conversation. It flattened the social landscape, allowing anyone to engage directly with celebrities, artists, politicians, and other public figures while shaping and steering the public conversation in some remarkable (and, yes, some not-so-remarkable) ways.
Thus, it’s rather sad to see it become a shadow of its former self thanks entirely to Elon Musk’s ego, narcissism, and shortsightedness. Conversely, it’s encouraging to see other options enter the market and fill up the vacuum created by Twitter’s growing irrelevance. If you’ve firmly settled on Bluesky or Threads as the place to be, then more power to you. But I do think Pebble had the potential to become a solid alternative in its own right. It had a fraction of the other platforms’ user bases, which meant no onslaught of content like you might experience on Twitter or Threads. But that actually made it feel like you had a greater say in shaping what Pebble might ultimately become. Alas, we’ll never know for sure, now.
To end this on a more philosophical note, the rise — and fall — of social media platforms like Pebble ought to be a stark reminder to hold on to them loosely and act accordingly. If you really care about your online presence — if you want to own your content and ensure its ongoing availability — then nothing beats having your own site and embracing the POSSE mindset. After all, nobody knows what the social media landscape will look like in a few months.
I honestly wanted Pebble to succeed; I liked what its team was building and was planning to use it regularly to share stuff from Opus. But its closure further vindicates my belief that I can’t and won’t rely on any platform, however promising it might seem… not when I can create a platform that’s entirely my own, that is.
Update (10/25): Micro.blog’s Manton Reece weighs in on Pebble’s closing: “[W]hen I signed up several months ago it struck me that they had built another data silo without either a client API or integration with other platforms via ActivityPub. Without any changes to embrace the open web, Pebble was probably always going to fail, it was just a matter of when.”