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Ever since Elon Musk bought Twitter in October, many users of the social media platform have debated taking their thoughts elsewhere, and some have actually done so.
Some object to Musk’s spreading falsehoods, ramping up hate speech after he took over, his firing of half the Twitter staff, and his reinstatement of former President Donald Trump’s account. Some think the site will go completely down at some point due to many of the company’s engineers leaving. And some just say that the site’s best days are behind it.
Either way, Twitter has had some real “Closing Time” vibes over the past couple of weeks, with many longtime users taking Semisonic’s advice to heart: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
Here’s a look at where some Twitter users are testing the waters.
Mastodon, founded in 2014, has received most of the attention in recent weeks and has gained a lot of users during that time. Mastodon says it has more than 2.5 million monthly active users as of Tuesday. Nearly 180,000 people joined Mastodon in just one day last week, according to data scientist Esteban Moro.
Soooo, what is Mastodon, exactly?
It is a decentralized and open source social media platform. Anyone can start and host their own Mastodon server and create their own community, which can connect to other Mastodon servers. Since it is open-source, it is not owned by anyone and its creators do not own the copyright.
This is by design. “Nobody has control over the entire network,” founder Eugen Rochko told NPR last week.
“It is, in fact, more democratic,” he said.
You can read more about the structure of Mastodon on its basic help page. That page declares, “Mastodon is not Twitter.” He says the site won’t push you to follow certain people and that Mastodon doesn’t emphasize popularity or virality of a post: “The important thing here is to interact in real conversations.”
Each server has its own rules and moderators, and moderators can act as guardians of that server, deciding who can participate. Users of the different servers (known as Instances) can generally interact with each other, although Instances can form around specific interests, such as that for journalists, or cyberpunks, or food and wine enthusiasts. You can create accounts on more than one server, so you don’t need to pick the perfect community right away.
Mastodon doesn’t offer some of the features familiar to Twitter users, such as quote tweets. Also, direct messages can potentially be read by a server’s moderator, so keep that in mind.
It can be daunting to start all over on a new network. Some Mastodon transplants use tools like Fedifinder and Twitodon to find Twitter accounts they know and follow them on Mastodon.
Screenshot of NPR
Hive Social, founded in 2019, is available as a mobile app for Apple and as a beta on Android. It offers a history feed (rather than the algorithmically determined feeds of many major apps) and claims it doesn’t “shadow ban” or prioritize certain accounts.
The app promises to bring back “what you loved about social media in a new way.” Some aspects of Hive, like profile music, hark back to a simpler time, namely the Myspace era. It’s also very photographic, like Instagram or Tumblr.
Like Mastodon, Hive Social is experiencing rapid growth amidst the chaos of Twitter, despite ostensibly being one run by just two people and move towards crowdfunding.
Hive Social was no. 1 in Apple’s App Store ranking of free social networking apps on Wednesday. Hive said Monday which had surpassed 1 million ‘Besties’ and said Tuesday it had gained 250,000 users overnight, despite its email verification process not working. (Twitter, meanwhile, still ranked #1 in the App Store’s news app rankings.)
On Twitter, new Hive members have cheered its growth, though many have complained about the lack of a desktop app or website and said they’ve encountered login and username difficulties.
Screenshot of NPR
Post was founded by former Waze CEO Noam Bardin and aims, similar to Twitter, to bring together news and social media.
The site is making a direct appeal to departing Twitter users, promising content moderation, the ability to write posts of any length, and “a civilized place to discuss ideas.”
“Remember when social media was fun, it introduced you to great ideas and interesting people, and actually made you smarter? Remember when it didn’t waste your time and make you angry or sad? When you could disagree with someone without being threatened or insulted. We want to bring it back with Post,” Bardin wrote in a post on the site’s home page.
It’s hard to see what Post offers, since there’s currently a long waiting list to join. According to an email update Tuesday night, the site had 180,000 people on its waitlist, 20,000 people had been invited to join, and 16,000 had their accounts activated.
Like Hive, the site’s small staff is struggling to keep up with demand. Bardin wrote that “the platform is holding up well,” but cautioned that users should be careful when selecting a username, as they won’t be able to change it for a while, and that questions sent to support via email will not they will be answered for several days.
Bardin admits the site is still “half-baked,” lacking basic features like the ability to search for other people to follow and a personalized feed of people you’re following once such functionality exists. “That means 1,000 people are all on the same feed and seeing the same thing. As you can imagine, there are a lot of photos of cats and dogs,” she wrote in an update Saturday.
Legacy social media networks
Of course, many Twitter users are already on other social media platforms. Twitter’s uncertain status could prompt them to use other well-known social networks more or differently.
Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit and Tumblr still exist, with their quirks and moderation problems.
They may not have the same claim to “town square” status that Twitter has sometimes come close to, but to varying degrees they feature some of the same qualities that Twitter delivered: news, entertainment, community, and endless feeds of content.
Can any site foster the same communities and conversations that thrived in the heyday of the bird app? It’s too early to know for sure, but many people are hoping the answer is yes.