In the weeks since Elon Musk took ownership of Twitter, he launched (and paused) a poorly conceived and executed plan to sell “verified” blue checkmarks, scared many of the platforms advertisers into rethinking their spends, and allowed a mish-mash of previously banned rightwing accounts back on the service.
It’s been a ride, and we’re just getting started under the Musk regime.
The turbulence has made for a fun reality show of sorts, but it’s also pushed millions of users to start pondering what might be next if Musk alters Twitter to a point its unrecognizable from its original form. Or, in a worst-case scenario feeling more viable by the day, if Musk literally just runs the service into the ground until it’s forced to shutter for good.
As users have flocked to sample the myriad upstart and long-running services that could potentially take its place, one fact has become increasingly clear—there really isn’t a great alternative to Twitter out there. At least not at this point. Sure, there are existing services and new services that can fill the social media niche, but most are either far too small or too focused on different goals than what most users use Twitter for in the first place.
If anything, the tech landscape (and user base at large) has been caught off guard by just how messy the fledgling Musk era has been, and it has everyone scrambling to figure out where everyone else might land if things go sideways quickly. But unlike the slow-then-fast evolution from something like MySpace to Facebook, the search for a Twitter replacement feels more rushed and dire. Like passengers in a plane all looking for a parachute, not simply looking for the next cool thing.
Twitter works because it’s the only place where journalists, celebrities, sports stars and everyone else are all on equal footing to interact. It’s where news happens, where news breaks, and where a story can come and go before it ever actually makes it into a proper “news story.” Twitter is just where things happen, and that’s incredibly hard to replicate unless all the people who make it interesting are actually there. If everyone breaks off into different places, can we ever recapture that?
So, let’s take a tour through the main options as they stand, and talk through why they are (or aren’t) a strong fit at this point to take over for our favorite little blue bird. To be clear, there’s a lot of potentially great services out there, many just need some time to scale up—which will likely be dictated by which option (if any) starts to gain a critical mass of Twitter ex-pats in the coming months and years.
In the meantime, get ready to create some accounts and park your handle and username just in case.
Though the masses have mostly only discovered Mastodon in the past month or so, the open-source social networking service has been around since 2016. It works in similar ways to Twitter, but with a healthy amount of caveats. The coolest part is that anyone can operate their own server, and the various servers can all connect and communicate through a federated network. With it being effectively crowdsourced, that means there are no ads, so score one for Mastodon.
But as more than a million or so new users have logged on to check out Mastodon in the past month, its quirks have come to the forefront. Users have to select a server to join, which can be a bit confusing for a typical user just wanting to interact with others, and the moderation rules can vary from server to server, which could also be confusing for users not used to a system like that, where they may not understand which server they’re hosted on. There’s also the question of reliability, with the system being effectively volunteer-run, there could be reliability and service hiccups if Mastodon grows too much too quickly. It’s an interesting option, but likely a bit too complicated for mass adoption.
Hive is a Twitter-esque service started around late 2019, which has grown organically up until a few weeks ago. Then disaffected Twitter users started signing up to check out the service en masse, pushing sign-ups past 1 million users. The team running Hive is still very much in the start-up phase, and it’s honestly remarkable what they’ve been able to do with such a small team and resources. The service itself feels very much like a sweet spot between Twitter, Instagram and MySpace (back when MySpace was fun). Users can post images and videos, as well as personalize their profiles.
It has a lot of potential, but also a whole lot of growing to do if it wants to viably challenge Twitter. The service is still effectively a start-up, which means there’s a lot that could go wrong (or right!) as it scales up to meet increased demand. That said, it’s definitely one to keep an eye on over the next year or two to see how it scales, and if the service has the staying power to bring in new users and keep them there.
The OGs: Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok
You know them. You probably have (or had) accounts on them—but are they worth revisiting and trying to use as a Twitter replacement? Your mileage will definitely vary. If you just want cool pictures and fun memes, Instagram and Tumblr might be enough to fill the void for you. Facebook is still easily the biggest social media platform in the world, which remains a blessing and a curse. You’re just as likely to get hit up with a friend request from Uncle Larry and your high school bully, as opposed to the cool people you followed on Twitter. It’s a social media platform, for sure, but a very different experience.
TikTok, while not technically an OG, is also positively huge and great. But it’s also video-driven, which isn’t the typical experience you find on Twitter. The actual social interaction aspect is also different, siloed into comments sections on videos, but if you came to Twitter in the Vine days and don’t care as much about the news-making? TikTok could make sense to consider.
No rundown of social media services would be complete without mentioning the right-wing Twitter clones that sprung up in the years before Musk bought the service and welcomed back many of the far-right icons conservatives followed to those alt-services after they were dismissed for things like hate speech and misinformation in recent years.
Look, if you’re interested in joining a service like Parler or Donald Trump’s Truth Social, you’re probably already there. These sites are very Twitter-esque, but designed to attract largely an audience of right-wing celebrities, politicians and voters who felt they weren’t being well-served at the pre-Musk version of Twitter. So basically, they’re right-wing echo chambers with little opinion or news outside that bubble. But it’ll be interesting to see if Musk’s takeover of Twitter could potentially weaken these alternative services among right-wing users, as they might now feel more welcome coming back to the mothership at Twitter under Musk’s reign. Only time will tell.
Coming soon: Bluesky, Cohost, Post
This is where it gets interesting. The “next” Twitter might not exist yet, but it could be in the works. There are a handful of interesting new social media projects that could hit the sweet spot, though it’s still incredibly early as most of these are still in invite-only betas at the moment. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is working on a new social media project dubbed Bluesky, which aims to be a decentralized social network protocol (similar in ways to Mastodon, in theory), though presumably easier for users to connect with and use. It’s still early, but Bluesky could eventually be the engine that powers our next favorite social media service.
There’s also Cohost, which aims to follow many of Twitter’s tactics while going back to curation and ditching algorithms. Cohost is also aiming to allow users to have digital tip jars and subscriptions. It seems like a lot of cool ideas, but still early days to know how it all comes together.
Post, which is currently available through a waitlist, is aiming to fill that journalist and news niche that made Twitter so addictive. The service allows users to write and share posts of any length, pay for articles from premium news outlets, and aims to create a “civil place to debate ideas.” It sounds like a place where the smarter, savvier side of Twitter might land, so it could be worth getting on that waitlist. Just in case.
Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.