So apparently Twitter’s leadership team has discovered the value it has for public alerts:
Of all the changes Elon Musk has made to Twitter, blocking emergency and public transit services from tweeting automated alerts might have been his least popular. User backlash roared, as National Weather Service accounts got suspended. Then, one of the country’s largest public transit services, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), had so much trouble tweeting, it decided to quit posting updates to Twitter.
It always seemed a little off that these organisations were using Twitter for this. Not everyone is on Twitter, and those that were had to agree to the terms of a private company which could, at any time, do… well, what it’s doing now. Should public alerts for weather and transportation really rely on such private entities?
I can see why these companies were used back in the late 2000’s, when they first came onto the scene. They had apps with push-based notification with a good (enough) user experience. They were also investing in the backend, setting up services that can scale. So organisations palming off dissemination of these alerts to Twitter made sense.
But I don’t think it makes sense anymore. With ActivityPub and (in theory) whatever BlueSky is cooking up, you now have open, federated protocols, and a bunch of apps people are building which use them. You also have public clouds which provide an easier way to scale a service. With these two now available, it seems clear to me that these organisations should deploy their own service for sending out these alerts using any or all of these open protocols.
Then, the public can come to them on their terms. Those using Mastodon or BlueSky can get the alerts in their app of choice. Those that aren’t interested in either can still use any mobile apps these’s organisations have released, and these protocols can be used there as well. One can imagine a very simple ActivityPub “receiver” app, stripped of all the social features apart from receiving notifications, that can be used for organisations that don’t or can’t release a mobile app. Plus, having a service that they run themselves could also make it possible to setup more esoteric notification channels, like web push-notifications through the browser.
And yeah, it’ll cost money and will require some operational expertise. But I’d argue that serving the public in this way is their perdure, and the reason why tax dollars go in their direction.
So now’s a great time for these organisations to step away from relying on these private companies for disseminating alerts and embrace the new federated protocols coming onto the scene. Who knows, maybe they’ll also embrace RSS. That would be nice.
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