It’s as if the Thanos finger snap that new Twitter boss Elon Musk performed on Twitter staff has been extended to Twitter users. While overall usage of the platform is up according to Musk, people keep posting — on Twitter — that they’re leaving Twitter.
The big question is: where do you go?
My feeling right now: there is no good alternative to Twitter. And my guess is that those who say they’re leaving will (mostly) be back.
I have the now-obligatory outpost on Mastodon, but let’s be honest: Mastodon is not ready for prime-time, and it’s not clear it ever will be a mass-market replacement to the raucous marketplace of ideas that Twitter has become.
Mastodon might have gained hundreds of thousands of users in recent weeks, but they are spread out over 7,100 servers, meaning that there’s kind of no “there” there. Following people in a Twitter-like way is more challenging, and while Mastodon has a methodology of surfacing the most interesting content across the federated network of servers, it’s patchwork.
Worst of all: re-creating your network in a brand-new place is hard. Doing it in a place that is kind of 7,100 places is harder.
There’s an opportunity for Mastodon as a sort of distributed Reddit, with each Mastodon server acting roughly like a subreddit. If that works, great. But let’s face it: first of all, we already have Reddit and — it’s worth noting — a Reddit where you don’t have to individually sign in to each subreddit you want to join. And secondly, that’s not exactly Twitter.
Other options include Post, a very early stage social platform that still has a beta waitlist, or DeSo, the “social layer of web3,” which wants you to sign in — like most of web3 — with you wallet. (Thank you, no, I’ve seen the track record of crypto and web3 security, and it’s literally awful. Let me make an account like any sane web2 platform, with my username and password.) There’s also India-based Koo, which claims to be the world’ second-largest microblogging platform with 50 million downloads of its app amid Twitter’s post-acquisition transition. And of course there are the Gettrs, Truth Socials, and Parlers of the world, which are clearly lacking in a breadth of perspective and tend to be focused on what — for me — is among the most boring of human preoccupations: politics. Slightly less on that spectrum but still pretty far in that direction: Minds.com.
Traditional social social, business social networking, and tiny upstarts.
What’s left is the Meta-owned juggernauts of Facebook and Instagram, plus — if you will — dark social in WhatsApp and Messenger groups. And Microsoft’s LinkedIn, which is focused on business networking but has over the past few years expanded its publishing and news-oriented tools.
The problem is that Facebook is not really a marketplace of ideas. Facebook actively downgrades visibility of posts with links outside its walled garden, especially on news and politics. And while that’s great to see the grandkids and the cat pictures and the personal news — and I really do mean that: it’s good for those things — it limits Facebook’s ability to be a Twitter-like marketplace of ideas with links to great content and interesting insight all over the internet. That’s an Achilles heel of LinkedIn as well: like Meta, LinkedIn likes to keep people inside the wall, and posts that might bring them outside the place are typically not the ones that get great engagement.
There’s Instagram, which is great if you’re a fitness model but not so amazing if you’re a tech pundit or a news junkie.
There’s YouTube, which is intriguingly more social than it used to be, but it’s also a heavy-lift publishing platform: making and publishing videos isn’t for everyone, and it’s also a silly thing to do when you just want to share that one post that perfectly sums up the Russian-Ukraine conflict.
There’s also Reddit, where you can share information easily. Unfortunately, the best thing about Reddit (the mods who filter the submissions) is also the worst thing about Reddit (the mods who prove that even a tiny amount of power can go instantly to pretty much anyone’s head).
Others which might be interesting but all seem too small, too limited, too not-quite-ready include Hive Social, CounterSocial, Amino (sort of a safe Mastodon for teens), Plurk (a Twitter clone from Taiwan), Tumblr (sorry: been there, done that), or Discord (in my very humble opinion, the Discord experience is perfectly summed up in the name of the platform), Cohost (still in beta), Clubhouse (audio-only? tried that during Covid), Tribel (another Twitter clone), and more.
I just don’t see a viable alternative.
(Although I can imagine Mark Zuckerberg having a few thoughts about a different version of Facebook to make it operate more in Twitter mode, separate from the standard Facebook experience.)
And I honestly don’t get the need to leave, either.
If you dislike the new owner, stay there and present different opinions. If you dislike his re-enabling of former U.S. president Donald Trump’s account, stay there and compete in the marketplace of ideas.
I fully stand to be proved wrong, but in my opinion there is no viable alternative to Twitter as a relatively global marketplace of ideas where you can follow just about any thought leader, political leader, celebrity, sports star, or random person off the stream, and participate in a broad global conversation. It’s imperfect, it comes with challenges and dangers, it’s messy at times. And I really dislike the way Musk has come in like a bull in a china shop, firing thousands of people without so much as an all-hands chat and a thank-you-for-your-service-but-we’re-making-big-changes-quickly.
That all said: at minimum, Twitter is interesting, the pace of innovation has quickened and should stay fast (if Musk hasn’t fired too many of the people who keep the service running), and anyone can still play.
The real-time news and debate site that is Twitter still stands as the best in its class.