I often see online platforms come and go. However, last night I realized I don’t remember the last time I witnessed any platform, whether a website or a video game, dying right before my eyes. I’m very much unused to this strange sensation when I read an announcement stating that a place I visit daily will cease to exist after a specific date.
I’ve seen promising projects struggle to gain traction and lose all of their steam early. I’ve witnessed entire communities migrating from one place to another. I’ve seen Facebook and Twitter taking over, sucking all the air out of the local internet landscape.
For most of the time though, I was among the earliest to actively leave places and never look back. Sometimes the process was more organic: I would gradually lose interest and stop visiting a site due to shifts in my interests. Announcements of platforms being shut down often catch me by surprise, leaving me in a strange nostalgic mood about the passage of time.
“Not gonna lie I’m getting sparkly eyes”
In the early 2010s I picked up Need for Speed: World, an online video game from the well-known racing franchise by Electronic Arts. That particular game offered a unique experience by my standards back then: fun and familiar gameplay combined with a sense of belonging to a community of other people.
I drove around the map and saw real people doing the same in real time. I could join competitive events and race against other people. That fictional environment felt relatable due to the sole fact I wasn’t the only human in it.
By the 2010s multiplayer-only video games had been an established phenomenon for a while. However, I never had enough time in my life to pick up and get hooked on any of them. I completely missed massively popular titles like Counter-Strike or World of Warcraft. For my teenage brain, ‘online human interactions’ and ‘video games’ were on separate shelves. It took NFS: World to change that.
My interest in NFS: World was just as intense as it was short-lived. I had to move on with my life. It took me a few more years until I could pick up gaming again. But the game left a sizable dent in my memory.
I completely missed the big news: in 2015 Need For Speed: World was shut down.
I wasn’t there, but I still find it a truly emotional experience. Players gather on the map in anticipation. Fireworks explode in the sky. It feels like New Year’s Eve, except the New Year never comes. Someone says “this is it, the last minute” on the group chat.
“Lmao, bye World”
Windows 7 error sound.
Game client crash.
With my fond memories of the game, that YouTube video still hits me hard. The game appeared at the right moment in my life and was special in more ways than I can describe.
A few years later the game was revived by its fanbase as Soapbox Race World and I gave it a brief shot in 2019.
The curious case of Pebble (not the smartwatch)
I spent a lot of 2023 playing with social media platforms, including very tiny and / or obscure ones. Even though I had found my home in the fediverse, I was still curious about other sites and their approach to community growth and feature development.
In June 2023 I got an invitation to T2, another emerging platform built by former Twitter employees. In September 2023 it was renamed to Pebble.is.
T2 made a positive first impression. It felt nice to be personally greeted by one of the co-founders. Unlike many other platforms in the past, my very first status yielded some interactions. People said hello, dropped a follow and regularly showed up in my notifications. I approached this new place with an open mind, curious to see what happens next.
I started cross-posting to Pebble some of the stuff I would typically post to the fediverse. I enjoyed the relaxed vibe and a very unique community. Many of those people, especially those who didn’t like other platforms like Mastodon or Bluesky, felt at home on Pebble.
It was Pebble where I saw a sizable crowd of people from very unobvious parts of the world. Nowhere else I have seen this many folks from Japan. Nowhere else before Pebble I have seen Rohingya people. Nowhere else have I met someone who played a minor role in a Hollywood movie.
Of course, I wasn’t oblivious to the fact Pebble was still in its infancy as a social network. It hasn’t grown to the size of any fediverse platform or Bluesky. Its claims about trust and safety were yet to be verified.
What was worse, Pebble was a proprietary closed-source platform run on borrowed money. It had to monetize something in order to survive and that something couldn’t be a one-time fee for a verification checkmark. It would inevitably start seeking revenue and lose a lot of its charm in the process. That wasn’t a question of if. That was a question of when.
None of that happened after all.
As I’m writing these words, Pebble is scheduled to shut down on November 1.
Well, goodbye I guess
Like Need for Speed: World, Pebble is another place on the internet that left me with memories despite being merely a footnote in my online history. Unlike the former though, I was there when the shutdown was announced.
I’m struggling to remember if I ever witnessed any other online platform shutting down while I was still on board. And you know what? It’s a strange feeling.
I can’t deny I’m in a privileged position. My well-being is very loosely connected to any particular place on the internet. I can afford to experiment, sign up, and quit places to my heart’s content.
One of the reasons I’m eager to check out unassuming corners of the internet is that I want the internet to expose me to events and ideas I wouldn’t come across otherwise. I want my social media to force me to rethink things I take for granted. I want to connect with like-minded people outside of my usual bubble. I want to have a broader perspective. Pebble, despite all of its drawbacks as a proprietary for-profit platform, was one of the places that brought exactly that.
Despite time passing by and the internet getting increasingly more greedy and hostile, I still have enough curiosity to try things early. But I’m not delusional. Two decades of being online taught me to treat each website, each forum, each server as a temporary stop on a longer journey. Platforms, websites, servers come and go. New ones will eventually emerge.
For everybody else on the internet, it’s just another day in the office: a Twitter-wannabe failed to survive the competition in a crowded market. And that’s true.
But there’s something else: it’s another unique community forced to dismantle and scatter among dozens of other inferior places against their will. As someone who briefly belonged to that community, I feel sad about that. Where other people saw a ‘circlejerk of people saying hello’, I noticed an interesting corner of humanity with a unique atmosphere that may be hard to replicate on other platforms.
Like those people watching the final fireworks in Need for Speed: World, I’ll probably be around to see Pebble going down. Maybe I’ll manage to post my last status right before it goes dark. It was fun while it lasted.