TikTok, Aristotle, and Power Vacuums

July’s been a rough month for ByteDance, the China-owned parent company behind TikTok.

At the start of the month, the Indian government announced a nationwide ban on 59 Chinese mobile apps, with TikTok at the top of the list. The full pretense for the removal has been murky, but the core of the reasoning lies in “national security risks” to India. 

This past week, as of writing this, the US has announced an investigation potentially leading to a similar outcome for TikTok.

This week though, we’re largely going to avoid the geopolitics of the situation.

Instead, we’re going to take this opportunity for an exploration into a thought experiment that’s been on my mind as the headlines around this news have appeared these last weeks. 

It begins with an important premise.

Let’s imagine a world in which the US has announced an all-out ban of TikTok in the US. Google and Apple have honored the request. The app no longer runs on your device, it’s disappeared from the App Store, and any TikTok-recorded content not already saved onto your device is now unavailable.

As of this moment, in the US at least, TikTok is no more.

As a result of this, there’s now a TikTok-shaped hole in the American social media market, with massive existing demand (to the tune of around 40M users) in the country, and no obvious alternative to take its place.

Gather round, everybody — we have ourselves a power vacuum!

Horror Vacui

To understand what happened here, we have to take a quick look at exactly what a TikTok’less world means.

TikTok (or Musical.ly, before its TikTok merger) exploded into the mainstream social media world for its outsized creative community.

TikTok made it possible for anyone to be creative.

While plenty of apps have come and gone over the 2010s, each with a different approach in “empowering creators”, it’s difficult to argue that pretty much any of them have achieved their goal at any scale even remotely comparable to TikTok.

The one exception to this, arguably, was Vine.

Vine, in many respects, was a sort of spiritual predecessor to TikTok, all the way back in 2013.

At its peak reaching the position of #1 video sharing app on the App Store, Vine largely came out of nowhere and made quite the splash in the social media world. 

With its minimal camera interface, the ability to record multiple scenes within a single workflow, and a 6-second video limit, Vine was, by all means, a much simpler service than TikTok, but both serve(d) their core mission faithfully: make it easy for non-creators to create.

Vine’s subsequent disappearance left a massive hole in the extra-short-form content market, which established players raced to fill.

Today, TikTok is faced with the same position.

Horror vacui” refers to a concept attributed to Aristotle — “nature abhors a vacuum“.

In fairness, ‘multinational technology conglomerates building short-form content apps primarily aimed at the < 18-year-old market in middle/upper-class households‘ does somewhat push the definition of “nature” as Aristotle likely saw it.

The humans at the helm of these companies, though, pretty well fit the bill of being “natural” beings, so let’s run with it.

Aristotle’s concept, in market terms, then, can be interpreted with a function straight out of economics 101: supply shifts to meet demand. 

In this world in which TikTok has been banned, demand takes the form of ~40,000,000 newly single fans of short-form, creative video content.

When demand has that many zeros in it, supply tends to shift quite hastily.

The question then is not “will someone replace TikTok?”, but rather “who will replace TikTok?”. 

To answer that, though, we need to answer what it means to be a “TikTok replacement”.

To Have What it Takes

It’s tempting to look at Vine in search of clues on what a post-TikTok world looks like. After all, it did birth the first extra-short form video power vacuum.

In a similar fashion to TikTok, demand for the platform was at an all-time high, when it suddenly came crashing down.

The context, though, was very different.

When creators left Vine in a mass exodus, it was already more than 2 years into its massive hype cycle in the US market. By this point, many creators, and almost all of the largest creators, had already begun diversifying, namely to YouTube.

Sure enough, when the day came to jump ship to a new home, YouTube was the perfect destination for many creators.

YouTube had a focus on longer-form content than Vine. Beyond just being relieved of the time constraint, this served creators immensely in brand-building, all while building new revenue channels.

For top-performing Vine creators, the newfound ability to build relationships and depth with the audience proved invaluable to creating a number of the YouTube superstars of today.

These 2 years deep into Vine’s hype cycle, the app had already far surpassed the average lifespan of most new social platforms.

The widespread shift to longer-form content was part of a larger trend, as Vine shut its doors.

Social platforms rarely see a sudden exodus from one to another, dethroning the old guard, without the new platform offering an entirely different core format to its content.

Communities & culture are to thank for this. Once a critical mass of users establishes a platform as their go-to, they have very little incentive to up and move their entire community, their ‘local’ culture to a new service.

With that in mind, Vine’s downfall happened relatively late into its life-cycle. For a new social app to survive (and grow significantly) for over 2 years is a rare feat.

Unless a platform continually expands its offering, giving creators new tools and techniques to explore, its moat is almost entirely defined by its user culture and community — both elements that are (mostly) out of the platform’s control.

Through this lens, the shift from Vine to greener pastures was a fate rapidly approaching anyway, given a relative lack of innovation by the Vine team in offering new ways to create and share on the app.

The 6-second video limitation birthed an entirely new style of content at the time.

While every social platform was increasing capacity for longer videos, more complex content, etc, Vine took the opposite route — using constraints as a creative driver.

Over 2 years though, you can only be so inspired by constraints. Fatigue began to sink in, as it got progressively harder to create a regular flow of innovative content with such harsh limitations. 

TikTok, though, is a different story altogether.

Where Vine’s creativity was born out of scarcity, TikTok’s is born out of overwhelming abundance.

Offering a wide-spanning range of content formats and production tools, TikTok has made itself into a home to some of the most creative content on social media today.

In the long run (geopolitical concerns aside), abundance will always win, when faced with the opposite philosophy.

Beyond the technical capabilities available, the core driver to TikTok’s success, as we touched on earlier, is its community and platform culture.

The types of content on TikTok are wildly varied. In a 15 minute session, I was met with comedy routines, dancing, lip-syncing to movie dialogue, self-deprecating mockery, cute animals, and so much more.

Despite what appear like largely siloed verticals, TikTok’s platform culture is wildly powerful. If there’s one idea that sums up the spirit of the platform, it’s this:

Just. Be. Creative.

This strong community, this shared feeling of belonging to an in-group is no accident by TikTok. The trending music/challenges features are the cornerstone of inspiring platform-wide trends and cultural waves — and it works.

Just as Vine birthed a tight-knit feeling of community through a new content format, TikTok builds it through relentless effort in community empowerment.

Culture has never been an afterthought for TikTok. It’s never been the mere byproduct of a large user base — it’s a moat that TikTok works day and night to dig.

In turn, a constant flow of new features and production capabilities are the water with which the moat is filled.

As we saw last week in the case of Mixer, creator communities thrive when users are given both the tools they need to express themselves creatively and the culture they need to foster that same expression.

The “new TikTok” can never, and will never, be just a platform for creating creative videos — it must be a home for creators to feel safe and encouraged to try, experiment, learn, and try again.

The New Guard

So, in our proposed TikTok’less world, who takes the throne?

In his book Historical Mechanisms, Andreas Boldt described power vacuums brilliantly, succinctly, in the context of political structures:

New power centers develop around former peripheral vassals […] which take the power of failing centers

Put into the context of TikTok, the “peripheral vassals” Boldt suggests take the form of corporations, apps already well established in the social media and short video space.

More concretely, that primarily means Facebook (Instagram), Snapchat, and curveball, Byte.

Instagram and Snapchat have already long been circling TikTok, but so far have been woefully unable to compete with the platform’s meteoric numbers.

Just as Instagram and Snapchat were the sharks circling Vine, already smelling the blood in the water long before the day Vine ended operations, both platforms, among others, have been getting into position to strike once again.

Both platforms though, as they stand today, are swimming up-current in the quest to be the lighthouse that attracts TikTok’s best and brightest.

And this is where the answer to who is best placed to take over from TikTok gets blurry.


As we discussed, TikTok’s leading benefit stems from its culture. From the outset, even in its Musical.ly days in the US, creativity was the leading priority beyond all else. 

The “for you” curated discovery system serves to massively reduce hierarchy and size imbalances between creators. The organic reach for small creators is unrivaled.

Let’s look at Instagram as a counterexample.

On Instagram, and most social media platforms, content discovery is largely tied to user discovery.

Let’s break that down.

On Instagram, a new user looking to discover content is initially onboarded with recommendations to follow top accounts across their various categories of interest.

Until very recently, browsing to find new content was largely focused around finding new profiles to follow. You come across an account, and if you like what they do, you’d be recommended more of their back-catalog.

At the heart of the Instagram experience, until recently, profiles were the core of the platform. You followed individual profiles, not themes, individual creators, not a type of content.

This is changing with Reels, Instagram’s TikTok ~clone~ and its new recommendation engines, but has been fueled almost exclusively by the TikTok model.

This model, where the rich get richer, and organic discovery for smaller creators is difficult was turned on its head with TikTok — and it’s this model that fuels the root of the platform-wide culture.

TikTok rewards you for your creativity, in some sort of creative meritocracy, in a way that no other platform can.

Reels, then, in its current stage, perfectly ticks the box of offering creators new formats and tools, but it falls short on culture. Reels will always be engrained into a platform built on rewarding follower growth, over unfiltered creative ideas.

This doesn’t mean Reels can’t work, though. Just as TikTok has encouraged trends and community collaboration, a more hands-on culture management approach by Instagram puts the platform in a very strong position to take over from TikTok, should this day come.

Instagram’s Stories platform is already fueling a steady flow of creator tools. Half the equation is already solved, only culture remains.

Phoenix Tales

As I mentioned above, there is a less obvious, but non-negligible “peripheral vassal” in the form of Byte.

Created by an initial founder of Vine and launched in early 2020, Byte is being marketed as a sort of enhanced evolution of Vine. Given Vine’s massive success at the time, not a terrible pitch.

Visiting Byte’s website deepens the story. Where solving for community and platform culture appears to be the key to longstanding growth, Byte is about as on-target in its messaging as humanly possible.

On the news that the White House was flirting with the idea of banning TikTok in the US, Byte shot to the top of the App Store’s free app section.

In the same manner as TikTok, Byte understands the importance of balancing being a creative platform with being a social platform. Both go hand-in-hand, but it’s a necessary distinction to view TikTok competitors.

The platform has seen some strong initial traction, but has been relatively little discussed on other social media. Nonetheless, I’m definitely keeping an eye on Byte going forward. The leadership behind it has strong experience in the space, and the TikTok situation couldn’t be better timing for Byte.

As a sidenote, Byte wasn’t the only winner in the White House news. Snapchat’s parent company, Snap’s stock price saw gains of 8% on the day the information dropped.

Overall, Snap’s had a pretty solid year.

In my opinion, Snapchat’s a strong contender for the TikTok throne in a similar way to Instagram.

Their creative tools are next-level. The camera technology innovation, the augmented reality capabilities coming out of Snap these last years have been groundbreaking for the mobile camera market. They check the “creative tools” box perfectly.

Their discovery platform is slowly expanding too. While they’ve recently put a bigger focus on content production, they’re well poised to make a deeper push in organic content discovery, as their Discover feed has already begun to do.

Speed, though, will be a large decider in the new king.

TikTok’s culture, as we’ve discussed, fosters a home for ideas to spread like wildfire.

A recent example of this was fyp.rip — a service to download your entire TikTok library locally. On the potential ban news, and an (unrelated) glitch which led many users to believe the end of TikTok was upon them, word of the service spread quickly, and suddenly was managing numerous requests every second.

Just as TikTok’s memes, in-jokes, and trends move fast, concerted efforts to move the wider community en-masse to a new platform could gain traction extremely quickly.

This is contingent, though, on the value proposition of the destination platform being strongly aligned enough with the two core pillars of social creation apps: creative tools and community. 

As such, this is why Snapchat, Instagram, and Byte each fit the bill pretty strongly, each in their own way.

Regardless of which of the short-form apps take the crown, there’s one undeniable winner in the social video world — YouTube.

YouTube benefits over Byte, Snap, Instagram, or any of the numerous TikTok clones already on the market by virtue, in large part, of simply being stable.

While new fad apps come and go, YouTube remains the market leader for video. Almost everyone using any of the other platforms already uses YouTube.

While YouTube won’t be the destination for the short-form content itself, if (recent) history with Vine is any indication, it will gain a large fraction of secondary usage, thanks to creators expanding/diversifying their content offering.

YouTube is arguably the strongest platform for long-term brand building in the social media video space. It’ll gain from the influx of creators bringing young, engaged audiences to the platform. The platform’s renowned straightforward ad-based monetization also serves as a key selling point for many creators undecided where to take their brand.

In a world where TikTok disappears, then, it’s hard to argue for one single, overarching winner.

In the short term, its death in the US market would most likely fragment a 40M+ strong audience across several established platforms.

Just as Vine was a lesson for creators in not putting all their eggs in one basket, a TikTok disappearance would serve as a similar warning — and one I think many top creators are already wary of.

The creator landscape is very different from the 2013~2015 of Vine. Monetization opportunities and wider usage of brand sponsorship models have forced creators to explore more cohesive, cross-platform brand building in recent times.

Perhaps, then, the fall of one king doesn’t —at least in the short term— signal the coronation of another, but rather a cohesive spread of power across those “peripheral vassals”.

Nature abhors a vacuum, but that same nature is entirely agnostic to the who will rush to fill it.

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When You Come at the King

Everyone loves an underdog story.

When Mixer, a new video game streaming platform was launched in 2016 (initially under the name Beam), the gaming community was excited to see a new competitor enter the streaming arena.

The market, for anyone that isn’t familiar with the space, is far and away dominated by the streaming giant Twitch

Platform Market Share by Hours Watched

Mixer was created to disrupt Twitch’s market leadership, and bring some meaningful technical innovation to the industry.

What happened this week, though, is that the underdog, well… died.

Last Monday, news broke on the company’s blog, and quickly spread across social media and news outlets, that the platform was shutting down. 

What the announcement also included, though, ended up being a far more interesting story: upon shutting down, Mixer is partnering with Facebook Gaming.

The partnership basically means that Mixer will drive all their website traffic to Facebook Gaming, and many existing Mixer partnered channels will be grandfathered into the Facebook Gaming partner program. This allows them to keep the main partnership benefits, like subscription revenue, extra channel features, etc.

Today, we’re going to explore what this new partnership means for both Facebook and Microsoft (Mixer’s owner) going forward.

Before that though, we’re going to dig into what led to the underdog’s demise — and a deep dive into what it means to build a community, beyond building a platform.

Mixer is dead. Long live Mixer.

So what killed Mixer? 

These last days I’ve seen plenty of analysis of the concrete numbers around Mixer.

In fairness, they weren’t looking great.

Peaking in Q2 2018, Mixer’s total watch hours per quarter have only dropped.

For comparison, let’s look at similar figures across the industry:

Twitch clearly stands out as a behemoth in their stream numbers over this period. Though, as the EntertainmentStrategyGuy points out in his insightful piece, from Dec. 2018 to Dec. 2019, Twitch saw total watch hours grow by a relatively minor 1.7%. Not great, not terrible.

Nonetheless, though, Twitch singlehandedly dominates the entire video game livestreaming space. Meanwhile, Mixer’s numbers show growth that could quite easily be lost to a rounding error.

But the numbers are just the result of several actions and decisions that put them in this spot. It’s these decisions that we’re going to be exploring today.

Competitive Advantages

The leading issue underlying these figures is this: Mixer played to no competitive advantage.

A bold statement, sure. Let’s break that down, and look at Mixer’s competition to see what it really represents.


Twitch is the oldest major player in the industry. Born as justin.tv, Twitch has a long legacy in internet streaming history, and even more so in video game streaming history.

By virtue of this, they have by far the most entrenched community. The audience on Twitch is very loyal. For many, they don’t just watch a streamer, first and foremost, they watch Twitch.

This is a huge competitive advantage, and one Twitch plays to. Their community, their audience of passionate gamers and viewers is what makes up the large majority of the platform’s value today.

Amazon (Twitch’s parent company) doesn’t share figures for the company in their financial statements, but if they did, I imagine Twitch’s balance sheet would look something like this:

So, Twitch plays to its first-mover advantage and entrenched community.


Let’s look at YouTube.

YouTube has a massive advantage in the smooth transition from live content to video/VOD. Immediately upon finishing a stream, that however-many-hour-long piece of content can be instantly turned into a ‘normal’ YouTube video.

A great feature of this is the ability to display a recording of the stream’s live chat alongside the video, to follow the audience’s reaction in real-time, even after the fact.

This is a massive attraction for existing YouTube video creators looking to develop long-form content, without the headaches involved in repurposing content from a separate platform.

YouTube creators looking to expand to live content also benefit from already having their audience natively on the platform.

No need to try to drag your viewers away from the site, they can watch you directly where they’re used to watching you. Only this time, it’s live.

Facebook Gaming

Facebook Gaming plays to the website’s culture of sharing content and being a true ‘social’ platform at its core.

Similar to YouTube, an audience (to the tune of about 1.8B) is already using Facebook daily. The challenge remains to expand that audience to the gaming division of the platform, but the audience is already in the Facebook garden, and are used to sharing content there.

Facebook is well positioned to play to its existing social culture.


And now we reach Mixer. This is where it gets tricky.

Mixer played to no huge advantage.

In fairness, they did offer some differentiation in the form of their technical innovations. They were the first streaming platform to use “FTL” (“Faster than Light”), a streaming protocol which served to reduce the delay between the action and the viewers to under 1 second.

Typically this delay was around 20ish seconds on most sites, so the real-time interactions between the chat and the streamer were massively enhanced.

They also integrated a handful of interactive features, such as in-stream voting, which were nice-to-haves, but never a leading attraction for most viewers.

While these technical innovations were definitely game-changing (pardon the pun) at the time, they weren’t really enough to differentiate the platform against Twitch and YouTube, the two leading players in the space.

More than anything, Mixer was sold as a “Twitch with some cooler features”.

As the saying goes, though, it’s not enough to be against something, you need to be for something else.

And in the case of Mixer, there never really was much of a “something else”.

You may have noticed a common theme between the advantages of Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Gaming. In some form, they each draw power from access to a huge userbase. 

Of course, a startup platform like Mixer can’t compete on that front, straight out of the box.

The commonality, across all these platforms though, is that a userbase alone isn’t enough. The key lies in turning that userbase into a community.

It’s here that Mixer, or Microsoft, had a fundamental misunderstanding of what a Twitch competitor has to be.

A streaming service is not just a distribution platform.

First and foremost, it’s a community.


In one view, Mixer (or Microsoft) tried to spur platform growth by following the playbook of TV/movie streaming platforms.

If you’re Netflix or HBO, you want to bring content or talent to your platform which won’t be available anywhere else. Ideally, this will attract new users to your ecosystem, who hopefully will use your service as their main streaming service in the future.

Whether it’s winning the license to the entire Seinfeld catalog, or producing an exclusive special with its star comedian. These platforms benefit hugely from making their service the exclusive location to see that content.

Video game streaming sites have followed the same playbook, and Mixer didn’t half-ass it.

Less than a year ago, Mixer signed an exclusive deal with Ninja, the Halo pro player turned Fortnite streaming superstar. At the time of the move, Ninja was by far the largest streamer on Twitch.

A couple of months later, Mixer doubled down on talent acquisition with the announcement that Shroud, another top Twitch streamer, was moving to the platform. 

Both moves sent huge waves through the gaming world. Particularly with the Ninja announcement, the question was whether these moves would hurt Twitch enough to make a significant dent in their numbers — and if it did, did this signal that Twitch was now at the mercy of the highest bidder poaching any and all of their top talent?

As it turns out, the dynamics of growing a livestreaming platform aren’t quite the same as those of growing a content streaming platform.

If you’re a Netflix subscriber, and one of your favorite shows moves to Prime Video, you’re very likely going to follow it to the new platform. The switching costs are pretty minimal.

Even if you now have two subscriptions, the experience is mostly unchanged. You hop over to Prime Video to watch that show you love, maybe discover another series or two there, and use Netflix for the rest.

Maybe, even, you love the Prime Video library so much you decide to make the switch entirely. In any case, the experience of watching that content is pretty singular. Whichever platform you happen to be watching, once you hit play, the experience is about the same.

Mixer, as others have learned in the past, learned that for interactive communities such as livestreaming sites, this couldn’t be further from the case.

For inherently interactive communities, the switching costs are far from minimal. Stream watchers don’t want to move to another site (even though it’s free), just to follow one streamer they love, among the many they watch on Twitch.

When you leave Twitch to follow someone to their new streaming home, you’re not just leaving behind the other streamers on Twitch, you’re leaving behind an entire community.

Culture, Communities, and Curious Memes

Any social network has an engrained culture. A set of rites, rituals, and common understandings that make its users, otherwise a random group of people, into a real community.

When a new challenger enters the social network/platform space, they’re not just competing against the platform, they’re competing against an entire culture.

To say that Twitch has a strong culture would be a bit of an understatement. Any community has its own set of in-jokes, references and shared history, but Twitch has all of that x100.

And it gets weird.

At some point, I’d love to do a deep dive into gaming culture. Having been a ‘gamer’ well-engrained in the gaming community, and having built an audience of a few thousand in the space, I’ve long been fascinated at the strange world that is the gaming ‘community’.

The number of strange memes, references to a seemingly innocuous moment from a Twitch stream 8 years ago, and peculiar jokes in the community are astounding. Every other day I find myself trying to explain a seemingly nonsensical online community in-joke to my girlfriend. Usually, I get about halfway through before realizing that even I can’t quite figure out why it’s funny, but it still is.

She usually responds with some variant of “Uh-huh…”

While the gaming community isn’t the only online community with a long history of shared experiences and esoteric ideas, it might be the community where it’s the most noticeable.

Twitch in particular does a great job of maintaining this history and in-jokes through ’emotes’ — little custom-made emojis that can be used in the text chat alongside a stream.

There’s a long list of site-wide emojis, often birthed by moments or people that remain iconic across the entire gaming community. Many streamer channels also have their own list of emotes they can create, usable only in their chat, or by their paying subscribers.

Most of these emotes have a specific meaning or context, non-obvious on the surface, but one a seasoned Twitch ‘veteran’ understands.

If you’ve never watched a Twitch chat 20,000 viewers deep suddenly explode with a TTours spam, it’s not all that obvious what this emote could mean, beyond… a photography tour?

To try to explain just why and when this emote is used wouldn’t quite paint the whole picture.

It’s a perfect example of what Luc Benoist would call “objective esoterism“: I can tell you all about the context of that emote, but words alone can’t tell the whole story.

These references, this shared knowledge strengthens the invisible bond between the platform and its users.

By leaving Twitch for Mixer, you’re leaving behind an entire community of people who understand the ideas you do and know all the in-jokes you do.

You’re leaving behind your tribe.

Beyond being a ‘local’ in a particular streamer’s channel, this sense of community makes Twitch regulars feel like a ‘local’ to the entire platform, to the tribe.

Bijan Stephen offered an interesting view of communities on Twitch. In this view, there are three parts to the community interactions on the site:

  • Streamer to their livestream — this provides content to the platform
  • Livestream to its audience — this builds a localized community
  • Streamer to other streamer — this acts as some form of networking and helps cross-pollinate audiences to and from other creators

I’d like to offer a fourth part to this vision, though:

  • Audience to other audience

In the same way that a company’s best customer is one that freely acts as an ambassador for the brand, a leading advocate for the product or service the brand offers, a streamer’s audience can serve as an ambassador for a streamer, even in foreign lands (ie. a different Twitch stream).

Pictured: Ambassador diplomatic relations

Moving any stage of these community interactions out of the ecosystem in which they were born — ie. trying to woo an audience away from Twitch to Mixer — is an impressively hard task.

The Audience Equation

In the livestreaming world, then, buying talent doesn’t have the same swaying power that it does in the content streaming world.

In the context of livestreaming, we can formulate it like this:

Audience + $$$ = ability to attract talent, which can supercharge growth.

$$$ can bring talent on its own, but is not enough to attract an audience. This approach can only work when its supplemented by heavy investment in brand-building.

In putting the pieces in place to build a real community alongside the newly acquired talent, there is a stronger possibility of attracting a lasting audience. This doesn’t make it easy, because until achieving strong traction, that tribe is still in another castle, but it makes it possible at very least.

Microsoft never took this aspect of the platform seriously enough with Mixer.

The moment they signed Ninja marked the moment Microsoft told the world they felt that organic community growth takes too much time or too much money.

Rather than help supercharge growth, they expected their acquired talent to birth it entirely.

In the VC-backed, Silicon Valley startup world, this hypergrowth is very often necessary. These types of gambles, throwing cash at the problem, often can pay off. They also tend to be make-or-break situations.

If Airbnb hadn’t looked to expand overnight to new markets worldwide, burning money along the way, it likely would never have been able to compete with each local competitor quickly popping up around the globe, upon seeing Airbnb’s success. They had to move big, and fast, to kill that risk.

Microsoft, though, isn’t in that position.

They’re not a venture-backed startup in a do-or-die situation. Hypergrowth isn’t a pre-requisite when you have the time, talent, and money to build a long-term challenger.

Mixer died because money can’t buy an audience.

Winners and Losers

As we explore the business strategies behind the companies here, talking about them as we would players on our fantasy football team, it’s easy to lose sight of the human impact behind these decisions.

Other than the likely upcoming layoffs at Microsoft in the Mixer department, the group hardest hit by the news is undoubtedly the army of creators, until recently, livestreaming on Mixer.

On a side note, judging by reports of creators learning that Mixer was shutting down via their audience in their stream chat, it looks like the move blindsided streamers.

Of course, Microsoft wasn’t going to email creators before the information went public, but the announcement came out of nowhere. Although the Mixer founders left the company last year, leading up to the day, not a word had been leaked or rumored of any potential shutdown.

Another party losing out in the deal is every other smaller streaming platform. While the industry was already widely consolidated in the hands of Twitch and YouTube, Mixer’s death (ahem, “partnership”) will do little to make the lives of smaller players such as DLive any easier.

On the other side of the equation were the Mixer golden boys.

If anyone won big out of this deal it’s Ninja and Shroud. Getting signed by Mixer on an 8 figure deal, being limited to streaming there for not even a year, then reportedly forcing Microsoft to buy them out of their contracts, it’s been not too bad a year for both streamers.

Better yet, they now get to decide to either return home to Twitch or shop around for a new exclusivity deal with another platform.

The leverage in play for both creators is an interesting case study though, as they decide on their new homes.

On one hand, there’s an argument to be made that they lost some significant negotiating power by Mixer going under. Until now, top creators had been able to throw their weight around pretty heavily with the shared understanding that their name pull was enough to make ripples in the streaming world, whichever platform they chose to stream on.

Mixer upended this view. It was the first time a major player in the space publicly failed, and relatively quickly at that, showing the fragility of building a platform’s appeal around one or two creators.

On the other hand, you can argue that the whole ordeal has proven that only the top platforms can most effectively benefit from buying the top talent. 

With this in mind, they gain leverage in the discussions likely underway with Twitch and YouTube. Both platforms recognize the immense value the other will gain by signing (or regaining) this top talent.

Both platforms are at the stage where their talent acquisitions need only supercharge growth, rather than spur it from nothing. They’re already in the “$$$ + audience” position we talked about previously.

A move home to Twitch would regain a large portion of the audience they left behind last year when they migrated to greener (read: better paid) pastures, all while bringing back however many new fans they accrued on Mixer.

A shift to YouTube, though, is arguably more beneficial for both YouTube and the creators. Both streamers already have massive audiences on the site, and fans they left on Twitch who never made the jump to Mixer might be far more likely to make the hop to YouTube, where they’ll be greeted by an existing community on a site they almost all already use.

In line with the explosive growth of the passion economy in the last few years, so has the growth of the take that “power is shifting from platforms to creators“, and that remains true. 

That said, whatever the negotiations lead to, both YouTube and Twitch recognize the benefits either creator would receive on either platform.

In both cases, they’re returning to home turf, where their audience is already watching their content. What remains to be seen now though, is whether they return to their old streaming audience or their video audience.

Better yet, regardless of the outcome of the Ninja and Shroud deals, Twitch knows it stands as the presumptive new home for the majority of Mixer creators and existing audience.

As the go-to platform in the industry, it makes sense for most streamers to go to known ground, rather than venture afield to Facebook Gaming. The Mixer homepage as I write this is only further proof of this.

Each red block is a channel announcing a move to Twitch, rather than Facebook Gaming.

The Facebook Question

So where does Facebook Gaming fit into all of this?

Overall, Facebook comes out very, very well from this partnership. It will sign a number of existing Mixer partners to exclusive contracts on the platform, helping boost numbers, all while benefiting from the (albeit small) wave of Mixer streamers opting to move to Facebook Gaming rather than Twitch.

Moreover, though, Facebook wins on the advertising front.

As Mixer shuts its doors, it’ll take to Facebook a Rolodex of advertisers shifting their dollars from Mixer, to (hopefully) Facebook Gaming.

Moving to a known home with huge platform growth in recent months (don’t forget that +250% YoY growth), and best-in-the-business advertising tools, advertisers are likely excited to make the move to Facebook Gaming.

For Facebook, the deal is a perfect continuation of their ongoing growth efforts in both the advertising and gaming space.

As Facebook continues its gradual shift to becoming a media company beyond a social network, bringing new talent, new advertisers, and new viewers onto the platform is a win-win-win situation.

This deal helps Facebook Gaming further cement itself as a strong contender in the games livestreaming war.

Facebook’s entire business model is built on advertising and consumed media. Microsoft’s is built on neither.

In the last 10 years, Microsoft’s consumer media ambitions have faced some serious headwinds, and they’ve been quick to cut ties with projects that appeared to be sinking.

The Xbox One was initially marketed as more than ‘just’ a gaming console. It was supposed to be the media hub for the entire living room. A large focus point in the marketing of the Xbox One was its TV integration — the ability to route your cable box through your Xbox One, and benefit from all the extra features it could offer.

Until 2017, Microsoft had been pushing their own Groove Music, a music streaming platform, before ending it due to struggling figures, partnering with Spotify instead.

In the view of consumed media, Mixer’s demise seems somewhat in line with Microsoft’s previous attempts at expansions into the space.

Increasingly, it’s apparent that Microsoft is not interested in sinking the large costs in non-core operations when traction doesn’t come easily.

That sounds like armchair critique, but it’s not. Outside of Xbox, media isn’t a core focus for Microsoft. Shuttering underperforming non-core projects keeps more attention focused on their primary business.

Partnering with Facebook Gaming, though, does bring up the interesting question of xCloud, Microsoft’s unreleased cloud-to-mobile video game streaming (as in playing, not watching) project. 

This partnership allows Facebook to get front row seats and a powerful hand in controlling the integration of xCloud within their livestreaming platform.

Facebook is planning for the very near future, where you need only tap on a button as you watch a Facebook Gaming livestream, and you’re taken straight into the game you were watching, ready to be played on your device.

The advertising opportunities around this functionality will be powerful. The ability for in-stream ad spots driving directly to a playable demo of a game, with little to no time lag, will be a massive development for the platform.

For Microsoft, the deeper integration and reduced friction, putting their games and cloud gaming service in front of Facebook’s audience in the billions serve to go into end 2020 on a strong foot with the Xbox Series X launch — in fierce competition against Sony’s PlayStation 5.

With over 700M of the 2.5B monthly Facebook users having already engaged with gaming content, the move puts Microsoft front and center in accessing a massive addressable market.

The move helps Microsoft offload a large part of its operations, and therefore risk, in the consumer media space. This will help keep a more narrow focus on hardware and the gaming platform itself as xCloud gets closer to launch.

Microsoft is now free to focus on their core competencies, letting Facebook handle the rest.


So far, we’re 4,000+ words deep into exploring the past and present. It’s now time to look at the future for Facebook Gaming.

Until recently, Facebook’s gaming ambitions have been somewhat in line with those of other major gaming and media companies.

From their acquisition of Oculus in 2014, through the launch and expansion of gaming-oriented livestreams and a fully-fledged Facebook Gaming platform, Facebook has been playing the long game, slowly working its way into the ranks of the gaming top dogs, namely by having the immense pockets to bankroll each move.

More recently, Facebook has been rolling out its new Facebook Gaming standalone app. This, though, hasn’t been smooth sailing, with at least 5 rejections from Apple’s App Store — but that’s a story for another day, let’s focus on what Facebook is trying to do.

From the standalone app, Facebook Gaming allows users to “Go Live” with gaming content directly from their phones. Usually, streaming games requires a solid PC setup, bulky software, and hours of technical preparation.

By making game streaming more accessible to anyone, Facebook is slowly leaning towards the ‘casual’ gamer market — a much more accessible audience, and one already actively engaged with its platforms.

This opens the opportunities for Facebook to integrate the hyper-casual audience on even, say, Instagram, with deeper access to gaming services via xCloud, with near native integration between the platforms.

Mobile gaming has long been seen as the ugly duckling of gaming platforms, looked down on by ‘real‘ gamers (strong emphasis there) as not being a real game system. Twitch and YouTube Gaming do very little to cater to this non-PC and non-console audience. Facebook, then, is perfectly positioned to fill that void.

Twitch-style, ‘hardcore gamers’ aren’t the target market for xCloud, either. While it allows you to play games otherwise limited to consoles/PC on your phone with a controller, for most console and PC gamers, the appeal likely isn’t there for any intensive gaming sessions.

On the other hand, more casual gamers will be thrilled by the ability to play graphics-intensive, triple-A titles on their mobile device, without having to invest in a powerful PC, or a gaming console, both of which sacrifice portability.

This innovation would open the mobile gaming market to a new world of games previously reserved for the console/PC gamers, without many of the pricey purchases that go into it.

In integrating xCloud natively with the Facebook Gaming platform, obvious parallels appear with a 2015 internal memo by Mark Zuckerberg re: Facebook’s AR/VR strategy.

Gaming is critical but is more hits driven and ephemeral [than social communication and media consumption], so owning the key games seems less important than simply making sure they exist on our platform. I expect everyone will use social communication and media consumption tools, and that we’ll build a large business if we are successful in these spaces.

The exact focus, here, is different to the one Mark lays out in the document, here screen-based games rather than an AR/VR platform, but the strategy remains the same.

Rather than developing and owning the key games in the gaming space, Facebook is more interested in making sure they’re accessible via Facebook. In the AR/VR world, this means they’re playable on Facebook’s platform, but in our case, Facebook is at least getting close to this by making them easily accessible via Facebook Gaming, through Microsoft’s xCloud.

With this memo in mind, each step Facebook makes deeper into the gaming world can be seen in the context of their long-term augmented/virtual reality platform ambitions.

Time has shown us that Facebook is more than happy to play the long game, waiting for opportunities to present themselves to dominate their market.

Rather than throw money at a problem and cross their fingers hoping for overnight success, Facebook has a history of moving slowly but surely toward their goals, and Facebook Gaming is no exception.

Plenty of platforms are gunning for Twitch’s crown, but have so far fallen short. 

What if Facebook, though, isn’t going after Twitch at all?

Facebook has decided that it’s much easier to rule a world —here, the casual gaming world— that they themselves have created, rather than try to dethrone the beloved leader of another.

After all, as the saying goes, when you come at the king, you best not miss.

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Twitter & the Cool Kids Club

When I was in middle school, there was a student lounge off the main hall where we spent break time.

The door was almost always open for anyone to peek in on your way past — and peek 12 year old Rhys did — and yet for years, this promised land was completely out of bounds to me.

It was reserved, by the strict laws of the Collège Pierre Robert middle school in Le Dorat, France, exclusively to last year students.

In retrospect, it was nothing too special. A bare room with a couple of old sofas, an old-school TV that I’m not sure I ever once saw working, and a work surface with a dirty kitchen sink.

To my middle school mind, though, the room might as well have been the garden of Eden itself.

Every now and then, by some act of God (read: a benevolent older brother), a non-last year student would be welcomed into the exclusive club, then later return to us mere mortals to recount the tales of how the other half lived and the juicy last year rumors he discovered.

Upon hearing new stories from the room and the last year students that occupied it, there was nothing we wanted more than to be a fly on the wall of that grimy utopia.

I believe Twitter has recently been making large steps toward creating their own version of that intriguing private lounge.

Before that, though, some news.

In a release on Wednesday, Twitter rolled out (to some) the ability to create audio tweets. Basically, short audio clips limited to 2:20 mins, which can be opened as either video clips, or passive audio clips you can listen to as you scroll your Twitter feed.

There’s a chance this tweet format could help to add some sort of nuance, a bit more of an intimate tone to messages, helping humanize the creator behind them.

Of course, this could already be done with video tweets, but the lower friction to creating an audio clip compared to a video clip is definitely not negligible, which gives me high hopes for the feature as it rolls out in a more widespread fashion.

Right now, audio tweets are limited to top-level posts (no replies), are limited in length (mostly the same as videos), and can’t be created on desktop or Android.

We aren’t going to talk much about audio tweets today. Rather, we’ll expand on what this release, and another recent feature, can tell us about the vision Twitter has for its future.

In most of the discussion and reactions I’ve seen about this release these last days, the general consensus seems to be that this is the groundwork for Twitter to get in the podcasts game.

Sure, it would make sense.

Many users likely consume Twitter content while listening to external audio, in the form of music or podcasts. As such, Twitter would benefit from bringing that extra media consumption onto the platform natively to profit from additional interest data, in-stream advertising space, and higher session duration, as users passively consume a Twitter podcast while actively reading the Twitter feed.

Today, though, I want to explore an alternative hypothesis for Twitter’s recent feature releases, beyond podcasting:

Twitter is racing to build Clubhouse before Clubhouse.


For those that don’t know, Clubhouse is a new invite-only social app that works near exclusively by audio. Users can join in or just listen to people chat across unlabeled chatrooms.

Right now, the app is very VC / tech nerd heavy, by virtue of it being invite-only, and looking for attention in this exact audience. Now fresh off a Series A by Andreessen Horowitz at a valuation of a cool $100 million, I’d say that strategy worked.

Clubhouse has proven to the world that there’s unearthed opportunity in enabling high-quality discussion groups, and reducing friction in starting a live conversation open to others to listen in on, or even jump into.

It’s that last part that’s most interesting about Clubhouse, and the potential land grab Twitter could look to make in the coming weeks/months.

Those 1 on 1, or small group conversations are already happening between interesting, high-profile people on Twitter. The large majority of meaningful interactions on the platform take the form of DMs. While conversations are often started in public tweets and replies, discussions tend to only get deeper when continued outside of the open discussion thread, where anyone can interact with the participants.

As David Perell often puts, standard tweets are the visible part of the Twitter universe, the part we see as we explore our feed. DMs, on the other hand, are the dark matter of Twitter: we know they’re there, but we’re clueless to the secrets they hold.

In other words, DMs and DM groups are the underwater section of the Twitter iceberg: invisible from above, but sprawling once you get a glimpse beneath the water. Clubhouse served as a brilliant way to bring these conversations to the surface.

Drawing of an iceberg representing Twitter public view vs Direct Messages

Live content, breaking down barriers between the creator and the audience isn’t entirely new to Twitter of course.

The platform has had livestream features since late 2016, shortly after it acquired Periscope. Now, the two platforms are intertwined as part of the Twitter Broadcast services.

Twitter Live, though, has never really taken off as a go-to streaming service. To try to kickstart Twitter’s live platform ambitions, and to justify the Periscope purchase, they’ve gone as far as to license exclusive content with the NFL on Twitter Live, but while Periscope has had some semblance of continued interest over time, Twitter Live’s integration with it has struggled.

Multi-line graph plotting the relative search interest for Twitter Live, Periscope and Instagram Live

Twitter doesn’t publish its livestream usage numbers, so the data isn’t as granular as I’d like, but using a proxy for user interest, search trends, the graph above is telling of the relative interest of Twitter Live and Periscope relative to Instagram Live, a leading competitor.

Audio streams or live discussion rooms, on the other hand, could see significantly different numbers.


Audio discussion streams offer much lower friction to start than video streams.

Physically appearing on video online is a huge hurdle for most people to cross. The hurdle is only bigger when that video is streamed to the world in real-time, without any ability to edit and cut parts before being shared. I’d argue that for the majority of Twitter users, that hurdle is high enough to not be worth crossing.

Adding to that mental hurdle, the recent work from home wave has shown us the limits of video calling: being on camera for long periods of time is exhausting.

Audio streams are very different. Audio talks tend to require much less planning, they feel much more spontaneous. In your car on the way home from work? Hopping on a (hands-free) voice call seems perfectly reasonable. Getting on a FaceTime call, on the other hand, feels much more mentally taxing.

Graph plotting the downward curve of retained privacy relative to the effort required, by different means of communication

Audio streams, in the Clubhouse-style format, when brought to Twitter, would help expand the platform’s Live ambitions, while working towards their mission to help create human connections.

Audio streams take the polished, filtered, asynchronous format of tweet conversations, and make them more direct, more human.

These audio streams / voice rooms act as a weaker proposition than video streams for solo streams, ie. just a single creator talking to their audience of followers. That is the typical live stream format.

As such, these audio rooms would be designed to used to foster discussion, a live, audio version of the day to day discussions between personalities already happening on Twitter. Some of these happen in the open, on our feeds, but the large majority happen in the dark matter of DMs.

There’s nothing particularly secret or private about the large majority of these conversations, but they’re taken to DMs because the Twitter feed is just not optimized for lengthy discussion — largely by design.

Audio solves this.

The resurgence of podcasts in the last couple of years shows that the audience is absolutely there for longer-form discussion. This is only more true when the conversation is between personalities we already follow.

This is largely what has sparked the wave of guesses that Twitter is bringing a fully-fledged podcasting feature to the app. That said, it’s unlikely that Twitter wants to open that can of worms.

The podcasting space is hotter and more highly contested than ever before. In the last 18 months, Spotify has shown that they are not messing around when it comes to long-form and podcast content.

In early 2019 they announced a deal to purchase podcast network Gimlet Media, and Anchor, a podcast creation platform. This reportedly ran them over $340M.

Under a year later, they made waves again by acquiring the huge podcast network “The Ringer” for almost $200M.

A just couple of months after that, the Twitter tech world near-on imploded when news broke of Spotify signing a deal with Joe Rogan, bringing all future and past podcasts exclusively to the platform for a rumored $100M. If you’re curious to learn more on this deal, Packy McCormick over at Not Boring has a brilliant write up on this, which you can read here.

More recently still, Spotify has announced new deals with Kim Kardashian and Warner Bros, to create exclusive new content for the platform.

All of that to say: the podcast space is a difficult one to compete in right now.

Into the Light

Rather than focusing on polished, long-form podcasts, Twitter is uniquely positioned to do what it does best: simplify the medium entirely.

Twitter is in a perfect spot to bring these high-quality, thought-provoking interactions away from external apps like Clubhouse, and onto the platform natively.

Instead of competing in hosting and creating fully-fledged podcasts, why not just be home to the discussions happening in those podcasts?

Creators on Twitter already have a low-friction, highly engaged communities that now don’t need to be lured out of the walled garden of Twitter.

Standard live streams never took off on Twitter because they offered a mediocre way of doing something you could do better, and with a bigger audience, somewhere else.

Instagram Live has strong appeal because the platform itself is so highly visuals-oriented. As such, a video-based stream is a value proposition in line with the main goal of the platform.

Twitter, though is thought-focused. You follow someone on Twitter to hear what they have to say, not to peek into what their life looks like. Audio, then, fits the bill perfectly, and this week’s release of audio tweets was step 2 in bringing these backroom discussions into the light.

Wait. Step 2?

Yes. In fact, Twitter has been moving quickly these last weeks to begin building out the Clubhouse of the blue bird world — the bird box if you will. Just me? Huh..

Just a few weeks ago, Twitter engaged what I believe was step 1 in developing the “private conversations shown to the public” angle. This took the form of “Limited Reply Tweets”.

This feature, not available to all users quite yet, lets you limit who is able to respond to a tweet you publish.

New Twitter tweet privacy options dictating who can reply

In adding additional privacy options on a tweet, creators have more ability to have these once-private discussions ‘out loud’ on the Twitter open forum, without having to sift through replies by other users to continue a one-to-one discussion.

This feature enables more transparency in interactions between personalities and acts as a little window into the discussions that now don’t have to happen behind closed doors.

Audio rooms are a natural evolution of this.

By hosting private group calls out in the open for anyone to listen into, with the ability to ‘raise their hand’ to be invited to jump into the conversation, these interactions become even more human and allow that feeling of truly being a fly on the wall of a room hosting an interesting discussion.

By offering the ability to be invited to join the conversation, in a similar way to how Twitter Live and Instagram Live already offer it, you avoid the impression of being locked out of the discussion on a stream.

To counter that feeling, most streaming sites include a live text chat to talk with other users and the streamer.

In order to avoid creating the impression of just another livestream, just this time without audio, I think this interaction would be better served with a request to speak, without the running chat. This keeps the feeling of being that fly on the wall, listening in, rather than being in the audience of an actual show.

The Same and Nothing Alike

A private, yet public voice room feature positions Twitter somewhere at the crossroads (a relevant topic right now!) of podcasting, streaming, and group calls. Nonetheless, it leans towards neither explicitly.

To differentiate from the podcast world, it wouldn’t offer full recording suite functionalities, keeping the discussions raw, unpolished, natural.

To differentiate from typical live streaming, it’s audio only. It’s not about the show, it’s about the discussions and ideas it’s home to.

It’s impromptu, low-effort.

To differentiate from the group chat apps, it makes the discussions private, yet public, allowing listeners to join to get a peek into the private conversations of the people they follow.

A large benefit of audio-only streams is in reducing the attention needed to consume the content.

When you watch a live stream on mobile, it typically requires your full attention.

When you listen to a podcast on mobile, you’re usually doing something else at the same time. Very often, that something else is scrolling your social media feed.

Being home to live discussions, without falling one way into the podcast world, or the other way into the live stream world, is perfectly in line with Twitter’s core mission:

To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers.

If you’re not busy, and you get the notification that two interesting people you follow on Twitter are having a live call right this moment, just one tap away, you’re almost always going to end up scrolling your Twitter feed while you listen passively to that discussion, just moments later.

Better yet, unless something comes up, you’re likely going to listen to that conversation right until the end. Maybe they invite another personality you follow into the discussion, maybe they invite someone to add their two cents on what’s being said. Whatever happens, you’re likely there until the end of the chat.

As Twitter’s luck would have it, you’re also now on your Twitter feed, seeing adverts as you scroll, until the end of the chat.

For Twitter, luck indeed!

One Size Fits All

These live rooms carry strong appeal to all different types of Twitter users.

For us strategy geeks, picture this notification:

Twitter notification example

Is there really a scenario in which we don’t click on that?

For the immense audience of sports fans on Twitter, try to imagine a “Stephen A. Smith, LeBron James, and Kevin Love are chatting, tap to listen in!” notification not getting the click of every basketball fan on Twitter.

Or for the absolutely fanatical K-Pop stan audience on Twitter (don’t get me started), the results of a simple push notification of “Jungkook is talking to literally anyone” might legitimately start fires in Twitter datacentres.

Twitter is perfectly positioned to bring these interactions to the platform in a more casual manner than most streaming websites. It would serve as Instagram Live’s more casual, more discussion-oriented (competitor) cousin.

In its mission to facilitate sharing ideas and meaningful discussion, Twitter is well on its way to build its bird box (there it is again) to rival Clubhouse before Clubhouse even launches.

The pieces are all coming into place for Twitter to increase the time users spend on the platform — increasing revenue — and to solidify Twitter as the go-to platform for thoughtful interaction.

In fairness, I’m not sure how much thoughtful interaction really happened in that fabled student lounge at Collège Pierre Robert — I transferred schools right before my last year.

Maybe Twitter could fill that void, and be home to those conversations we were so excited to listen to.

In any case, I’ll forever be intrigued by those tales of that exclusive middle school break room.

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