On Monday, Elon Musk replaced Twitter’s blue bird logo with an X. Musk had teased the new logo over the weekend, tweeting: “soon we shall bid adieu to the twitter brand and, gradually, all the birds.” Many users are unimpressed.
Musk likes the letter X—he named his space engineering company SpaceX and his AI company xAI, and when he was at PayPal, Musk unsuccessfully tried to have the company renamed to X-PayPal and include an X in the logo. In October, Musk tweeted that “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.” This idea, often referred to as a super app—similar to China’s WeChat or Southeast Asia’s Grab—could include social networking, payments, finance, and other functions in one central app. In May 2022, Musk discussed the super app idea on technology industry podcast All-In, saying that a super app could be made starting with Twitter or from scratch, but either way “this thing needs to exist."
Since purchasing Twitter for $44 billion in October 2022, Musk has made a number of dramatic changes, including mass layoffs and changing Twitter’s approach to content moderation. As a result, many users have begun to search for alternatives and a May 2023 survey from the Pew Research Center found that a quarter of Twitter users said “they are not very or not at all likely to be on Twitter a year from now.”
Meta, the company behind Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, launched its Twitter alternative, Threads, on July 5. According to data from Similarweb, a digital intelligence platform, Threads saw a spike in usage in the days after its release, reaching around 45% of Twitter’s active users on July 7, but traffic has declined since then to around 12% of Twitter’s active user count. This still leaves Threads far ahead of other Twitter alternatives, such as Bluesky Social, Mastodon, and Truth Social, although behind less direct competitors to Twitter, such as Discord and Reddit.
Because social media sites are much more useful when everyone uses them, it’s very hard to dethrone an incumbent platform like Twitter. But this phenomenon also means that, if users start to leave Twitter en masse as a result of Musk’s influence, another site could take Twitter’s place fairly rapidly. This has happened before: According to data from Comscore, a media measurement and analytics company, Myspace had more than twice as many monthly worldwide unique visitors than Facebook in April 2007, but a year later Facebook had caught up. By December 2008, Facebook was twice the size of MySpace.
There are increasingly more platforms becoming available for users who do decide to leave X. Here are the top alternatives to the Twitter experience.
Best for getting off Twitter as quickly as you can: Threads
Meta has a history of aping its competitors’ features—Instagram Stories was launched to counter Snapchat Stories, and Instagram Reels to counter TikTok. Threads is a close copy of Twitter, and is the only Twitter alternative that has gotten close to matching Twitter in terms of numbers of people using the platform.
Unlike Twitter, which has a user-friendly desktop version, Threads can only be accessed via a smartphone app, and users need an Instagram account to sign up. Threads users can automatically follow all the same people they follow from Instagram as part of the set up process. The site itself has the same glossy, minimalist design as Instagram. So far, many of the posters are social media reps at large companies and meme accounts.
Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said in a Threads conversation earlier this month that Threads was not aiming to replace Twitter, but instead was trying to “create a … a less angry place for conversations.” As part of this goal, Threads will not try to promote politics or hard news because “any incremental engagement or revenue they might drive is not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let's be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.”
It’s worth watching whether Threads’ user numbers start to pick back up. The much-touted potential cage match between Musk and Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg might be only the second most important fight in social media this year.
Best for finding your community: Mastodon
Mastodon is named after an extinct ancestor to elephants (Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko told TIME that “I just chose whatever came to my mind at the time.”) Rochko created it as a direct alternative to Twitter and much of the functionality is very similar, with slightly different nomenclature. On Mastodon, users don’t tweet, retweet, and like. Instead, they toot, boost, and favorite.
The most basic version of Mastodon was released in 2016, however very few people used Mastodon until Elon Musk announced that he was purchasing Twitter. Musk’s acquisition was finalized Oct. 27 2022, and daily downloads of the Mastodon app increased from 3,400 that day to 113,400 on Nov. 6. In December, Twitter banned Mastodon’s Twitter account and links to Mastodon servers were disabled. Twitter later reversed these decisions.
Mastodon can be accessed via internet browser, or via desktop or smartphone app. Upon signing up, users need to choose a server. This is a fairly significant decision—each server sets its own content moderation rules and enforces those rules, and the moderators that run a server can shut down accounts and read private messages. Users can move between servers, but they can’t take the content that they’ve produced with them. Mastodon’s list of open servers is a good place to start, as it only includes servers with a certain level of content moderation. For further reading on how to start using Mastodon, try this guide on Github and the website fedi.tips.
Despite being regularly trumpeted as a serious competitor to Twitter, with many Twitter users listing their Mastodon handles in their Twitter name or bio, Mastodon has not come close to Twitter’s number of users. This is partially a result of the tyranny of network effects—the high barrier to exit from a social media site that everyone is already using. But Mastodon’s server-based design could also be part of the problem.
Best for maybe replacing Twitter in future: Bluesky Social
Jack Dorsey, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter, announced in 2019 that Twitter was funding the development of an open protocol for decentralized social media—a protocol is a set of rules that outline how devices connected to a network communicate and share information. When Dorsey made the announcement, he wrote that Twitter would be one of the social media networks that used the protocol.
However, once Musk acquired Twitter, the relationship between Bluesky and Twitter was terminated, according to a blog post from the Bluesky team, and it became clear Twitter would not use the protocol developed by the Bluesky team. Instead, Bluesky launched its own social network, Bluesky Social. Bluesky recently raised $8 million, which it says it will use to “expand our team, manage increasing operation and infrastructure costs, and grow the AT Protocol ecosystem as well as the Bluesky app.”
Bluesky Social is still in beta mode, meaning that you need an invite to access it. Once on it, you can use Bluesky on your browser, or via a desktop or smartphone app. Bluesky’s design and functionality are very similar to Twitter. One major difference is that, like Mastodon, Bluesky is decentralized, meaning future users will be able to create their own servers with their own content moderation rules. Now, users can pay for their own domain (the free default domain is @bsky.social), which allows them to verify their identity.
Best for supporting Black-owned businesses: Spill
Spill was launched in June 2022 by former Twitter employees Alphonzo “Phonz” Terrell and DeVaris Brown. In an interview with AfroTech, Terrell and Brown described how they created Spill with the aim of “creating safety for diverse communities.” According to the app’s Apple Store description, Spill is trying to become “the de facto platform to discover and discuss culture worldwide.”
Best for hanging out: Discord
Discord functions less like Twitter than some of the alternatives already covered, but there are still many similarities between the two platforms and Discord has many more users than the more direct Twitter alternatives. Discord was originally created for gamers, and many people still use it to hang out over video chat while playing games with or against each other. Users can communicate via voice chats, video conferences, and text-based conversations. These interactions can be one-on-one or within designated groups, and users can share a variety of media. The design feels a lot like a work communication software like Slack or Teams.
The structure of Discord also revolves around servers where communities can gather around shared interests, be it video games, music genres, or dozens of other topics. Within these servers, users can set up multiple channels, both text and voice, to categorize their discussions. Users can get started by downloading the desktop or smartphone app, or by signing up through a web browser.
Best for learning new things: Reddit
Members, known as Redditors, can post content (like links, images, or text posts) to these subreddits, and the community votes to determine the prominence of each post on the site. Popular posts rise to the top and can be viewed by a larger audience. Meanwhile, discussions ensue in the comment sections, fostering an environment of knowledge exchange and camaraderie. Reddit is available through web browsers, through smartphone apps on iOS and Android, and through a windows desktop app (there is currently no official desktop app for Mac users).
Best for your right-wing uncle: TRUTH Social
On Jan. 8th 2021, Twitter announced that it was permanently suspending President Donald Trump’s account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” In February 2022, Trump launched “TRUTH Social,” a new social media platform a press release claimed would “give a voice to all.” Since then, Trump has promoted QAnon content on TRUTH Social and ads targeting QAnon believers have appeared on the site.
The design of the site is very similar to Twitter, except that tweets are called “truths.” This similarity is a result of the fact that TRUTH is built using the same code as Mastodon—the code is open source.
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Write to Will Henshall at email@example.com