- Elon Musk’s chaotic reign on Twitter proved a big boost for smaller rivals.
- The use of multiple Twitter alternatives has increased in recent months.
- With difficult user interfaces, security issues and uneven beta launches, success can be fleeting.
Never before have there been so many possible alternatives to Twitter, although none seem to be close to a real replacement for the platform.
Long before Elon Musk arrived, Twitter users deplored the service but remained dependent on it. A strong mix of news, opinion, comedy, gore and unpredictable drama has kept it going for a decade plus. And it’s easy to use, the hallmark of American-born social media companies. Regardless of the advantages of a decentralized network like Mastodon, it is not easy to use.
“It’s a barrier to usability,” said David Carr, senior insights manager at SimilarWeb, which has tracked Mastodon’s trajectory. “You have to choose a server, and people don’t really like to make decisions. It’s more like, ‘Just tell me what to do.’
Still, Mastodon and other new potential Twitter rivals have grown, especially since Musk officially took control of Twitter in late October, data compiled by Insider shows. Daily usage of Mastodon, Hive Social and Counter Social have all increased dramatically in the last two months. Meanwhile, at least half a dozen other Twitter-like platforms have recently launched in beta or are set to launch early next year, including Post.News, Spoutible, Mozilla.Social and Bluesky, founded by none other than Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey.
If there was ever a time for a text-based platform to threaten the hold Twitter has over its user base, it’s now. Investors want to back new social media companies as not only Twitter, but Instagram and Facebook, have lost some of their edge. These new services are unlikely to be acquired, with antitrust authorities restricting Big Tech M&A, so they have a chance to grow on their own.
The most important thing is that people seem ready and willing to try something new. With sophistication and great features, any of these platforms could possibly be the next Twitter. Or they can fizzle out, and instead become the next clubhouse. There are already signs of trouble for several of these new offerings: downloads have plummeted recently, suggesting that interest is already waning.
See below for a full look at some of the new platforms available for use so far and their performance since Musk took over Twitter.
Mastodon was founded in 2016 in Germany by Eugen Rochko, so the only really new part of the platform is the attention it’s getting as a Twitter alternative. It is a text-based social platform, or “microblogging” site, home to independent servers or “instances”. New users must find a server to join and gain access to, along with a few other steps before they can post and use the platform.
In early November, the TwitterMigration hashtag was trending on Mastodon for several days as Twitter users created accounts amid Musk’s chaotic takeover. After the billionaire enacted his first round of mass layoffs, former Twitter employees even set up their own server on Mastodon, Macaw.Social.
For the month of November alone, Mastodon’s web traffic jumped 1,000% year-over-year on just 200 of the more popular servers, according to SimilarWeb data. The platform has around 1,000 servers set up, but some host just one user. Downloads of the iOS app are up more than 4,000% since Oct. 24, with daily active users up 6,000% to more than 1 million, according to Apptopia data. However, downloads have started to drop in the last month, dropping by 52%. Daily users have remained steady at 1.4 million, a big increase from usage before Musk’s takeover of Twitter, which typically hovered around 20,000 daily users.
Hive was first launched in 2019 by Raluca Pop, now 24 years old. Unlike Mastodon, Hive is a centralized platform and the user interface is more simple and similar to the setup process of Twitter or Instagram, in that all it takes to get an account and start posting is some basic information. The app can best be described as a cross between Twitter and Instagram, with a focus on images and text and similar features such as re-posting, comments and likes, with the addition of easily adding music and color themes.
Like Mastodon, the service has seen tremendous growth since Musk took over Twitter. Downloads of the iOS app have grown 290,000% to 1.5 million since Oct. 24, with daily users up 660,000% to 321,000, according to Apptopia data. A major user security issue disclosed in late November is at least partly to blame for Hive’s 88% drop in downloads over the past month. Nevertheless, it has maintained more than 500,000 daily users.
Counter Social was launched in 2020, started by the pseudonymous self-identified “hacktivist” The Jester. The platform doesn’t try to be all things to all people – it blocks entire countries from access, such as Russia, China and Iran. It has a more unique interface which by default is a dashboard that displays a few columns of posts similar to TweetDeck. It’s constantly updated, offering a more kinetic feel than other social platforms, and there’s a $4.99 per month upgrade available that unlocks a variety of features, including live streams of network news, emergency radio traffic and ephemeral file sharing and voice calling, and various additional privacy features.
The platform has received less public and media attention than Mastodon or Hive, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t also grown in the wake of Musk’s Twitter takeover. It has reached 110,000 downloads of its iOS app, a 4,500% increase since late October, with daily users up 2,500% to around 18,000, according to Apptopia. Monthly usage is still up 44%, although, like Mastodon and Hive, downloads have fallen in the last month, falling 83%.
Post was first launched in November, earlier than planned because Noam Bardin as founder and former Waze CEO wanted to take advantage of the moment created by Musk of people actively looking for alternatives to Twitter. It might have worked. Still in Beta, Post now has more than 300,000 active users and more than 600,000 people on a waiting list to join, according to Bardin. It has also received an undisclosed amount from VC fund Andreessen Horowitz and Scott Galloway, the NYU professor and media personality.
Bluesky (expected launch in 2023)
Bluesky was born in 2019 as a research project at Twitter still under Jack Dorsey, and is now being built completely independently of the platform he founded. Dorsey has shared few details about Bluesky, other than that it is designed as a decentralized social networking protocol. In October, not long before Musk took control of Twitter, Bluesky began allowing signups for a waiting list, saying the beta will “launch soon.”
Spoutible (expected launch in 2023)
Spoutible comes out of Bot Sentinel, a tool created by Christopher Bouzy, which identifies, tracks and flags Twitter bots or accounts that engage in targeted or coordinated online attacks and disinformation campaigns. Announced in early December, Spoutible is being described as a new social platform that will allow users to “spout” while avoiding harassment and other such issues. A beta version of the platform is expected at the end of January.
Mozilla.Social (expected launch in 2023)
The latest Twitter alternative to be announced comes from Mozilla, the organization that powers the Firefox browser. Mozilla said just this week that it plans to launch its own publicly available instance of “Fediverse.” Fediverse is a collection of Federation and Universe, and is essentially a group of independent but interconnected servers that interact and offer their own software packages. Mastodon is also part of the Fediverse, for example. “An open, decentralized and global social service that puts people’s needs first is not only possible, but absolutely necessary,” Mozilla said. Mozilla.Social is expected in early 2023.
Do you work for a social media company or are you someone else with insights to share? Contact Kali Hays at [email protected], on secure messaging Signal at 949-280-0267, or via Twitter DM at @hayskali. Reach out with a device that doesn’t work.