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Pebble’s Last Day — The Short Life of a Truly Social Site

We’re inclined to subtitle this “A Camera’s Eye View of the Death of a Social Platform.” There are resources here for folks trying to find people they knew on Pebble.

Yesterday, the social network that strived to be a Twitter replacement with a difference ended the party and shut down for good.

It started life as T2, for “Town Square,” and launched in November of last year. The platform was intended to be an alternative to Twitter (now branded X), which was taken over by Elon Musk at about the same time as Pebble was launched.

Like Twitter, posts on Pebble were limited to 280 characters. Unlike Twitter, users were expected to be nice to one another. It wasn’t a place to be rude. It was supposed to be like your town’s square, where everybody knows each other, or at least should act as if that’s the case. Express yourself freely, but be nice in the process, was its golden rule.

Evidently, being nice isn’t as popular as it once was, because as the site approached the end of its first year online it had only managed to sign-up about 20,000 users. Those numbers might or might not have grown quicker if registration had been open instead of requiring an invitation. Users of the site were given something like an invitation a week that they could hand out to anybody they knew that needed one.

Bluesky, Pebble’s largest competitor in the Twitter-clone arena, uses almost the same invitation-only approach for growing its site. After being around for a couple of years, or about twice as long as Pebble, it has about a million daily visitors to its website, and about half a million additional daily users on its Android app.

Until fairly recently I never had any trouble giving away Bluesky invites, but I never had much luck handing out Pebble invites, even when I told folks that I was seeing much more engagement on Pebble than I’d ever seen on any other social site, and that I liked the site even more than I like Mastodon, which is where I spend most of my social time these days.

Anyway, about a week or so ago Pebble announced it would be shutting down at the end of October because funding had dried up due to VCs thinking it hadn’t attracted enough users, and that if anyone wanted to keep their posts, they should go ahead and begin downloading them.

On the morning of October 31, the site’s operators announced the beginning of what turned out to be about of day and a half of long goodbyes. It was touching and bittersweet, and reminded me of Conan O’Brien’s last week as host of The Tonight Show back in 2010, but more on that later:

Gabor Cselle, who made the post above that somebody reposted, is a co-founder of Pebble who previously spent nearly 6 1/2 years as director of Area 120 for Google, after serving for nearly two years as a group product manager at Twitter.

Sarah Oh, Cselle’s co-founder, also spent time at Twitter. For nearly two years she was a human rights advisor there, until being let go not long after Musk took over. Before that, she spent nearly two years at Facebook, starting as a project specialist and UX researcher and leaving as a program manager lead, reporting to the office of the CEO and COO.

Cselle’s Halloween morning post caused a bit of confusion from some users, who assumed that “last full day” meant that the site was scheduled to be taken down at midnight — or at least at midnight in some unknown time zone. That prompted this post from a proud Pebbler after the date had already changed on his side of the Atlantic:

Screenshot of a post from Pebble's last day.

Later, well into the daylight hours here in the US and it was obvious that Pebble was still around, an “official” post from the site brought clarity:

By then, Cselle’s initial “last full day” post from the previous morning had already started people posting their goodbyes, often including information on how they could be reached on other social sites, and with almost everyone commenting that Pebble/T2 had given them a much better experience than other social sites — not because of anything technically different, but because of the friendly and largely positive community they found there.

Screenshot of a post from Pebble's last day.

Screenshot of a post from Pebble's last day.

It so happened that I had (still have, actually, if anyone wants one) quite a few invitations to Bluesky, so I sent Joan Drum one in a reply (I’m making an educated guess on the name — I don’t know her and as far as I know we never interacted on Pebble). She replied back with a thank you.

I also wanted to contribute something special to the site before it was gone, so I posted this:

Screenshot of a post from Pebble's last day.

The change in masthead isn’t going to happen for quite a while, and I’m not yet spreading the news anywhere else, so I’m trusting you to keep this to yourself. 😉

Last day on Pebble post linking to Prince's live performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Although the above post didn’t say it, I immediately took it to be a goodbye post, because it reminded me of how Conan O’Brien ended his last night as the host of The Tonight Show on NBC — with a seven minute version of Free Bird that included O’Brien playing guitar, his old SNL alum Will Ferrell handling lead vocals, musicians Ben Harper, Beck Hansen and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons playing along, as well as O’Brien’s Tonight Show band.

I’m familiar with the Prince video which also features Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and Beatle George’s son Dhani Harrison, and figured that it was a fitting way for whomever posted it to say goodbye.

Also, Cselle and others were doing double duty trying to make sure that there were ways for Pebble users to get together on other platforms once the site went dark.

Goodbye post from Pebble's last day.

…and otherwise helping people who didn’t want to go back to TwitterX find a new home.

Screenshot of a post from Pebble's last day.

One of the last things I saw on Halloween Eve, when most of us thought that Pebble would be gone sometime around midnight, was this:

Screenshot of a post from Pebble's last day.

And then, near the 5 pm closing hour on November 1, there was this:

Screenshot of a post from Pebble's last day.

Screenshot of a post from Pebble's last day.

And today, with the platform officially closed, there is this:

I forget when this next post came down the pike, but as soon as I saw it I knew it should close this article.


  1. Mike S. Mike S. November 2, 2023

    I hadn’t even heard of Pebble until this post. This is unfortunate.

    But that’s why Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Tiktok, and X are so hard to dislodge – the network effect.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous November 5, 2023

    Seems like there are not enough “nice” people in the world. Or enough people who want to be censored by arbitrary policies of what is and what is not “nice”.

    This article is not nice because it wasted my time.

  3. James James November 7, 2023

    Free speech isn’t always nice. But most people support free speech. Being censored is not free speech. I dislike what trolls do but still support their right to troll.

  4. Mike S. Mike S. November 7, 2023

    @James – I used to think that way.

    But first, free speech in a literal public place like standing outside a courthouse is different than free speech on a website that isn’t owned by a government agency. FOSSForce could ban me for using the word “orange”, and that’s their right.

    Secondly, in practice, what happens is that bigots on social media sites tend to mass troll minorities until they’re driven off the service. If you look at early adopters of Diaspora and later Mastodon, long before Elon Musk bought Twitter, there was a huge portion of trans people and black people. Because on Twitter where everyone could see everyone else, they would get slammed with abuse. Look at the staggering volume of transphobic and racist comments on Slashdot, or on 4Chan.

    It’s easy to say, “That’s the price of freedom” when you’re not the one getting attacked. But at some point, continuing to support free speech on those platforms is a conscious decision to prioritize the rights of the trolls over the participation of the minorities.

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