Twitter has been a bit chaotic since billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk took over, halving the company’s workforce, turning the platform’s verification system upside down, bickering with users over jokes and acknowledging that “stupid things” could happen, when he redesigns one of the most well-known information ecosystems in the world.
On Thursday, amid an exodus of executives responsible for privacy, cybersecurity and compliance, he warned the company’s remaining employees that Twitter may not survive unless it finds a way to get at least half of its revenue to get subscriptions.
While it’s not clear if the drama will prompt many users to leave — in fact, having a front-row seat to the chaos may prove entertaining for some — but lesser-known sites Mastodon and even Tumblr are popping up as new ones (or renewed) alternatives. Here’s a look at some of them.
(Oh, and if you leave Twitter and want to keep your tweet history, you can download it by going to your profile settings and clicking “Your Account” and then “Download an archive of your data.”)
Mastodon shares the name with an extinct mammal resembling an elephant and has emerged as a pioneer among those curious about life beyond the blue bird. It shares some similarities with Twitter, but there are some major differences — and not just that its version of Tweets is officially called “Toots.”
Mastodon is a decentralized social network. That means it’s not owned by a single company or billionaire. Rather, it consists of a network of servers, each running independently but able to connect, allowing people on different servers to communicate. There are no ads as Mastodon is funded through donations, grants and other means.
Mastodon’s feed is chronological, unlike Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter, all of which use algorithms to get people to spend as much time on a page as possible.
It can be a bit daunting to sign up for Mastodon. Since each server operates separately, you must first select one to join and then go through the steps to create an account and agree to the server’s rules. There are general and interest and location based, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Once you’re in, the feed is reminiscent of Twitter. You can write (up to 500 characters), post photos or videos, and follow accounts, and see a general public feed.
“We present a vision of social media that no billionaire can buy and own, and strive to create a more resilient global platform with no profit incentives,” Mastodon’s website reads.
The site currently has more than 1 million users, almost half of whom signed up after Musk took over Twitter on Oct. 27, according to founder Eugen Rochko.
Another option, Counter Social, also operates an ad-free, user-funded, chronological social platform. To prevent foreign interference, Counter Social blocks access to Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria. It boasts of offering one-click translations in over 80 languages. According to its website, it has over 63 million monthly users.
Remember Clubhouse, back when we were all on lockdown and couldn’t speak in person? It’s the lively audio-only app, somewhat overshadowed by Twitter Spaces, which also allows people to talk to each other about interesting topics (think conference calls, podcasts, or “audio chat”).
Once you’ve joined, Clubhouse lets you start or listen to conversations on a variety of topics, from tech to pro sports, parenting, black literature, and so on. There are no posts, photos, or videos – just people’s profile pictures and their votes. Conversations can be intimate, like a phone call, or involve thousands of people listening to a talk with names in bold, like at a conference or stage interview.
SUBSTACK and MEDIUM
For extended reading, newsletters, and general information gathering, these sites are perhaps closest to the blogging era of the early 2000s. You can read both without signing up or paying, but some writers, creators, and podcasters create premium content for paying subscribers.
Tumblr, which was as good as dead, seems to be enjoying something of a resurgence. The words/photos/art/video site is known for its devoted fan base and has been home to angry posts from celebrities like Taylor Swift. It angered many users in 2018 when it banned porn and “adult content” that made up a large part of its highly visual and meme-friendly online presence, leading to a large decline in its user base.
Onboarding is easy, and for those who miss the early years of social media, there’s a decidedly retro, comforting feel to the site.
T2 or TBD?
Gabor Cselle, a Google veteran who worked at Twitter from 2014-2016, is determined to create a better Twitter. He’s currently calling it T2 and says the web domain name he bought for it – t2.social – cost $7.16. T2, which may or may not be its final name, is currently accepting signups for its waitlist, but the website is clearly not up and running yet.
“I think Twitter has always had a problem figuring out what to do and how to decide what to do. And I always had that in the back of my mind,” Cselle told The Associated Press. “On Monday I decided to just get started. I haven’t seen anyone actually do it.”
Twitter-style text and TikTok-style videos are an idea. Cselle says that for this to work, the lyrics really need to be “spiced up” so they don’t get drowned out by the videos.
“I bet it’s going to be easier and more efficient to build a better Twitter or a better public space now than to fix the old problems with Twitter,” Cselle added.
Of course, Cselle isn’t the only one taking advantage of the opportunity. Project Mushroom, for example, is planning a “safe place on the web — a community-led, open-source home for creators seeking justice on an overheated planet” and says it got 25,000 early signups for its yet-to-launch platform.
“In my opinion, things will continue to fragment into ideological platforms and some will die and then we’ll see a new consolidation over the next few years,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a professor at Syracuse University who studies social media.
One of Twitter’s most valuable features has been the ability to find information in seconds. Was that just an earthquake? Twitter will tell you. Or at least it did.
While there’s no perfect replacement for Twitter, it’s easier than ever to stay up to date with local, national, and international news. Apple and Google both offer news services that pull together articles from a wide range of publications (Apple offers a premium subscription service that gets you access to more articles, while Google shows free stories first.) There’s also Flipboard, which like a personal works magazine curated according to your interests.
Of course, it’s also possible to subscribe to individual publications (or download a free news app like AP’s AP News).
Yes, you may have to pay for some of them, and no, you won’t get a blue tick on your subscription.
Credit: AP/Barbara Ortutay