Twitter now has new ownership (yes, I know you knew, but it’s worth repeating), and the social network (not to mention most other media outlets that follow popular culture and technology) has been awash with speculation about what Elon Musk will do with it. Some Twitter users state that they plan to find an alternative instead of hanging out and finding out – and some have already left.
So if you want to keep following social networks, but stop dealing with Twitter, where do you go? We looked around and found several possible alternatives. Most don’t have the size and scale of Twitter, and it’s hard to say if any of them will gain enough followers for it to make a living. Some of them are based on Twitter’s real-time feed, but most offer a different take on what a social network can look like. Depending on what you get out of Twitter – maybe you use it to broadcast your work or maybe you use it to track news events, or maybe you use it to connect with other Twitter users – you might prefer some of these options over others. But take a look and see if any of these seem worth checking out.
Mastodon is a kind of decentralized version of Twitter. You don’t necessarily join Mastodon; you join a specific server operated by an organization, individual, or group of individuals. The moderation policy is determined by each group (although there are basic moderation policies that apply to all servers). You are not limited to a single server; you can follow people or have followers from other servers, and you can switch servers – or create your own servers.
On Mastodon you post toots (instead of tweets) with a limit of 500 words per post; you can attach images, a video or an audio file. Hashtags are encouraged to help people find your toots, and there are apps for iOS and Android devices. (There also is a Beginner’s Guide to Mastodon and a site with a lot of tips.
To sign up go to https://joinmastodon.org/ and click the Servers link at the top of the page to choose which server to sign up for. You can choose to search by subject and/or language. With some you can join right away; others have waiting lists. You could start with one of the more populous ones, like mastodont.social (which had about 779 thousand users at last count).
Reddit is a well-known network that has been around for a while. The site is modeled after classic message boards, so it doesn’t look or act the same as a Twitter feed – instead, it’s divided into subgroups, known as subreddits, and you can join any subreddit you like. sparks interest – anime, crochet, Star Wars, sci-fi literature, or whatever flavor of politics, religion, or social topics you want to discuss.
There may be more than one subreddit that covers a different aspect of a topic or has a different type of moderation. Each subreddit has its own rules and the moderator can kick you out if you don’t follow them. You start a topic and the discussion on that topic is threaded; you can vote up or down a topic or any of the items in a topic. Because the interface is threaded, there may be discussions where an author answers questions about a book or a tech expert helps with problems. But Reddit is big, so expect to spend some time exploring before finding your communities.
Cohost is a new social network that is still in beta. Anyone can sign up, but if you don’t have an invite, you’ll have to wait a day or two before you can actually post; however, you can look around you. (It only took me about 24 hours to activate.) As with Twitter, you follow other people’s posts; however, messages are always displayed in the order they were posted rather than through an algorithmic list. Pages are created around specific users or topics; you can follow a page or follow a topic (indicated by a pound sign). If someone wants to follow you, you must first approve that person.
Tumblr — which launched in 2007 and has gone through quite a few business owners — is more of a series of blogs rather than a social network for discussions in its own right. You can easily scroll through the latest posts of all the people you follow; click on the item to see (and join) any discussions. Each item provides text, images, or videos; followers can then discuss the submissions via attached notes. You can also reblog (in other words, post the item to your feed) or share the item with other services.
Unlike the previous services, Tumblr does have ads, although you can remove the ads for $4.99 per month or $39.99 per year.
Discord is more of an inviting discussion service than a free social network. It consists of separate servers that allow participants to participate in text discussions, video and voice calls, and exchange files; the interface can be highly customized by the admins depending on how they want to handle permissions, discussions, icons, etc. In other words, Discord can be a very useful tool, especially in the hands of someone who is fairly tech savvy.
When you download the Discord app (which is available for both desktop and mobile devices), you can display as many groups as you want on the left side of the screen. For example, if you have a server of your company, a fan club or a group of friends, you can simply click from one to the other.
CounterSocial is the first social networking app I came across that also includes a VR aspect (which it calls Counter Realms). But if you want to stick to the basics, this social network brags on its front page that it doesn’t allow trolls, ads or fake news – and in fact it currently bans several countries because they are “origin points” for bots, such as Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria.
The user interface works through a series of columns instead of the traditional feed; if you’ve ever used Tweetdeck, you’ll have a good idea of what CounterSocial looks like. You can use each column to track different hashtags or user lists. You can lock columns in place or move them around the interface; arrange notifications for replies or new submissions. There is also a chat link for support and conflict resolution. The social network is free; a Pro account costs $4.99 per month and includes additional security, access to other feeds such as traffic radio and news videos, and access to Counter Realms.
WT.Social is a fairly straightforward social network that advertises itself as non-toxic. WT stands for “WikiTribune”, which was apparently an earlier iteration of the site; it is hosted on GitHub. The interface is very Facebook-like, with a central feed; you can follow people (“friends”) or topics (“subwikis”), and if you can’t find a subwiki dealing with a topic you are interested in, you can create your own. You can add images or videos to your posts; the site is still said to be in beta.
If you’re looking for an alternative to Twitter, you probably don’t need to be told about Facebook, and if you’re not on Facebook, it’s probably intentional. But as my colleague Monica Chin mentions in her how-to on quitting Twitter: “There are a lot of terrible, terrible, no good, very bad things about Facebook. But if you miss the opportunity to keep up with family and friends on Twitter , you can also do that on Facebook.” It’s true that despite the algorithm-driven feeds, the frequent ads, and the potential privacy issues, there are still many people – often family members – who still use Facebook, and there it is.
There are, of course, a number of other social networking resources; we’ve only touched on a few here.
- While most of the networks mentioned above rely mainly on the written word, there are some quite popular social networks that use video as their main means of communication, such as TikTok and be real. If you’re comfortable using video — or even prefer text-based social networking — these are a few places to go.
- There are, of course, other networks that focus on specific needs or communities. For example, LinkedIn is focused on business and job search (and thinking influencing of course), while DeviantArt is a place for the visual arts community.
- There are also networks that are still under construction. One that is often mentioned, but whose future may be in question: Blue sky. This experiment of creating a decentralized social network is funded by Twitter, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks.
- And of course there’s the traditional blog – which is still a way to communicate with friends, family and (if you’re a creative fan). Which blogging service and/or software you use depends on what you want to do, who you want to show it to, and how familiar you are with the technology.
The point is – no social network is forever (like the lamented Compuserve, the pre-MySpace Friendster, and the yes-it-is-yet-there kind of AOL). Twitter has certainly had a strong influence on community discourse in recent years; we’ll have to see if it will keep that influence under this new chapter and, if not, what will replace it.
Janice has been with businesskinda for 5 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider businesskinda team, Janice seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.