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- Elon Musk’s chaotic reign at Twitter proved a huge boost to smaller rivals.
- Usage of several Twitter alternatives has surged in recent months.
- With tricky user interfaces, security issues, and uneven beta launches, success could be fleeting.
Never before have there been so many possible alternatives to Twitter, even if none seem to be anywhere close to a real replacement for the platform.
Long before Elon Musk came along, Twitter users bemoaned the service yet remained addicted to it. A potent mix of news, opinion, comedy, cringe and unpredictable drama has kept it a fixture for a decade-plus. And it is easy to use, the hallmark of American-born social media companies. Whatever the benefits of a decentralized network like Mastodon, easy to use it is not.
“There is a usability hurdle,” said David Carr, senior insights manager at SimilarWeb, who has been tracking Mastodon’s trajectory. “You have to choose a server and really, people don’t like to make decisions. It’s more like, ‘Just tell me what to do.'”
Still, Mastodon and other new potential Twitter rivals have grown, particularly since Musk officially took control of Twitter at the end of October, data gathered by Insider shows. Daily usage of Mastodon, Hive Social, and Counter Social are all up dramatically over the last two months. Meanwhile, at least half a dozen other Twitter-like platforms have recently been launched in beta or are set to be 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 ever there was a time for a text-based platform to threaten the hold Twitter has over its user base, it’s now. Investors are looking to back new social media companies, as not only Twitter, but Instagram and Facebook, have lost some of their edge. These emerging services probably won’t be acquired, with antitrust authorities limiting Big Tech M&A, so they have a chance to grow on their own.
Most importantly, people seem ready and willing to try something new. With refinement and good features, any of these platforms could feasibly be the next Twitter. Or they could fizzle out, and instead be the next Clubhouse. There are already signs of trouble for several of these new offerings: Downloads have plunged recently, suggesting interest may already be waning.
See below for a complete look at some of the new platforms so far available for use and their performance since Musk took over Twitter.
Mastodon’s emphasis on decentralization only appeals to the most tech-savvy.
Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Mastodon was founded in 2016 in Germany by Eugen Rochko, so the only truly 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 have to find a server to join and be admitted to, along with a few other steps before being able to post and use the platform.
In early November, the hashtag TwitterMigration was trending on Mastodon for several days as Twitter users set up 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 just the month of November, Mastodon’s web traffic jumped 1,000% year-over-year on just 200 of its more popular servers, according to SimilarWeb data. The platform has about 1,000 servers set up, but some host only one user. Downloads of its 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 off over the last month, falling by 52%. Daily users have held steady though, at 1.4 million, a major increase from its usage prior to 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 its user interface is more straightforward and similar to the set-up process of Twitter or Instagram, in that all it takes to get an account and start posting is some basic information. The app is easiest to describe as a cross between Twitter and Instagram, with a focus on images and text and similar features like re-posting, comments and likes, with the addition of easy to add music and color themes.
Like Mastodon, the service has seen huge 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 revealed at the end of November is at least partly to blame for Hive’s 88% drop in downloads over the last month. Yet, it has maintained more than 500,000 daily users.
A look at a homepage of Counter Social, a new Twitter alternative
Counter Social launched in 2020, started by the pseudonymous self-identified “hacktivist” The Jester. The platform is not trying to be all things to all people – it blocks entire countries from access, like Russia, China and Iran. It has a more unique interface that defaults to a dashboard showing a few columns of posts similar in look to TweetDeck. It refreshes constantly, offering a more kinetic feel than other social platforms, and there is a $4.99 per month upgrade available that unlocks a number of features, including live streams of network news, emergency radio traffic, and ephemeral file sharing and voice calls 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’s reached 110,000 downloads of its iOS app, an increase of 4,500% since the end of October, with daily users up 2,500% to about 18,000, according to Apptopia. Monthly usage is still up by 44%, although, like Mastodon and Hive, downloads have dropped off in the last month, falling by 83%.
Post launched only in November, earlier than planned because as founder and former Waze CEO Noam Bardin wanted to capitalize on the moment created by Musk of people actively looking for alternatives to Twitter. It may have worked. Still in Beta, Post now has more than 300,000 active users and more than 600,000 people on a waitlist to join, according to Bardin. It has also received an undisclosed amount of funding from VC fund Andreessen Horowitz and Scott Galloway, the NYU professor and media personality.
Bluesky (expected to launch in 2023)
Born in 2019 as a research project at Twitter still under Jack Dorsey, Bluesky is now being built wholly independent of the platform he founded. Dorsey has shared little detail about Bluesky, beyond it being designed as a decentralized social network protocol. In October, not long before Musk took control of Twitter, Bluesky began to allow signups for a waitlist, saying its beta will “launch soon.”
Spoutible (expected to launch in 2023)
Spoutible comes out of Bot Sentinel, a tool created by Christopher Bouzy, that identifies, tracks and flags Twitter bots or accounts that are engaging in targeted or coordinated online attacks and disinformation campaigns. Announced at the start of December, Spoutible is being described as a new social platform that will allow users to “spout off” while avoiding harassment and other such issues. A beta version of the platform is expected in late January.
Mozilla.Social (expected to launch in 2023)
The latest Twitter alternative to be announced comes from Mozilla, the organization that runs the Firefox browser. Mozilla said just this week it is planning to launch its own publicly accessible instance in the “Fediverse.” A portmanteau of federation and universe, the Fediverse 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 the needs of people first is not only possible, but it’s 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 insight to share? Contact Kali Hays at firstname.lastname@example.org, on secure messaging app Signal at 949-280-0267, or through Twitter DM at @hayskali. Reach out using a non-work device.