Twitter users (and ex-users) are still watching to see what the next chapter will be in the soap opera called “What Elon Musk will do with Twitter next.” Start a small war with Substack? Temporarily replace its bird logo with a Doge? The possibilities seem endless.
If you’re becoming bored with the whole thing, and you want to continue following social networking without having to deal with Twitter, where do you go? We’ve 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 attract enough followers to give it a run for its money. Some of them ape the real-time feed of Twitter, but most provide a different take on what a social network can look like. Depending on what you get out of Twitter — perhaps you use it to broadcast your work, or maybe you use it to keep up with 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 often cited as the most likely replacement for Twitter, although there are very distinct differences. You don’t join Mastodon per se; you join a specific server (also known as an instance) run by an organization, individual, or group of individuals. The moderation policies are determined by each group (although there are basic moderation policies that apply to all the servers). However, you’re not limited to a single server; you can follow people or have followers from other servers, and you can change servers — or create your own.
On Mastodon, you post toots rather than tweets (although the usage of that term may have become unfashionable) with a 500-character limit per post; you can attach images, a video, or an audio file, and you can edit your posts after they are published. Hashtags are encouraged to help people find your content, and there are apps for iOS and Android devices. (There is also a beginner’s guide to Mastodon, a site with a bunch of tips, and a variety of other help sites. )
To sign up, you go to https://joinmastodon.org/ and click on the Servers link at the top of the page to choose which server you want to sign up for. You can choose to search by topic and / or language. Some will let you join immediately; others have waiting lists. You can join a larger, generalized instance such as mastodon.social or mstdn.social, or you can opt for a more specified instance such as graphics.social or disabled.social.
Reddit is a well-known network that has been around for quite a while. The site is modeled off of classic message boards, and so doesn’t look or act the same as a Twitter feed — instead, it is divided into subgroups, known as subreddits, and you can join whatever subreddit piques your interest — anime, crochet, Star Wars, sci-fi literature, or whatever flavor of politics, religion, or social topics you may want to chat about.
There can be more than one subreddit handling a different aspect of a topic or that has a different type of moderation. Each subreddit has its own rules, and the moderator can kick you out if you don’t adhere to them. You start a topic, and the discussion on that topic is threaded; you can upvote or downvote a topic or one of the entries in a topic. Because the interface is threaded, there can be discussions in which 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 you find your communities.
Cohost is a new social network that is still developing. Anyone can sign up, but you may have to wait a day or two before you can actually post (which, according to the FAQ, is a spam prevention measure); you can, however, look around. (It only took about 24 hours for me to be activated.)
As with Twitter, you follow the posts of other people; however, entries are always shown in the order they were posted rather than via any kind of algorithmic listing. Pages are specific to their users (although they can have more than one editor), and you can request to follow someone’s page (or someone can request to follow yours). In either case, the request must be approved. You can also search on (and bookmark) hashmarked tags if you’re looking for a specific topic.
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Tumblr — which launched in 2007 and has gone through its fair share of corporate owners — is more a series of blogs rather than a discussion social network per se. You can easily scroll through the latest entries of all the people you follow; click on the entry to see (and participate in) any discussions. Each entry is text, image, or video-based; followers can then discuss the entries via attached notes. You can also reblog (in other words, put the entry into your feed) or share the entry to other services.
A number of new features have been added over the past year, including livestreaming via Tumblr Live. Unlike the previous services, Tumblr does have advertising, although you can get rid of the ads for $4.99 a month or $39.99 a year.
Discord is more an invitational discussion service than a free-for-all social network. It is made up of separate servers that allow participants to participate in text discussions, video and voice calls, and exchange files; the interface can be heavily tweaked by the administrators 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 reasonably tech-savvy.
When you download the Discord app (which is available for both desktops and mobile devices), you can list as many of the groups you belong to as you like on the left side of the screen. For example, if you’ve got a server from your company, a fan club, or a group of friends, you can easily click from one to the other.
Another new service, Post concentrates on news content in an interesting fashion. The idea is that you can “discover, read, watch, discuss and share premium news content without subscriptions or ads.” Instead, if you want to read an article that’s normally behind a firewall, you can pay for that specific article.
Post works on a point system. You are given 50 points when you join, and you can use them to either read a paywalled article or to reward a creator whose post(s) you like. Each point is worth one cent and is kept in a virtual wallet; you purchase more for a small added fee (for example, purchasing 300 points costs $4.20). The cost of reading an article can vary widely: for example, a USA Today article costs 1 point, and a Reuters article costs 3 points, while articles from Fortune had price tags of 59 and 69 points. (Individual creators can also turn their posts into paid content.)
Meanwhile, the social networking angle consists of people either commenting on articles or adding links to articles (in those cases, it works the same way as other social networks, taking you out of Post and to the site where the link originates).
One of the reasons that Musk may have gotten so peeved about Substack appears to be its introduction of Notes, a social networking add-on to its blogs and other content. Notes is, according to Substack, “a new space where you can publish short-form posts and share ideas with other writers and readers on Substack” — in short, a social network sitting alongside Substack’s longer content.
You access Notes via a tab on the Substack site; once there, you can start a note and add up to six images or GIFs to it. You can also like, comment on, “restack” (in other words, republish), or share other posts — basically, the same way you are able to like, comment on, and share Substack articles and blogs. You can use the @ sign to mention other Substack writers as well.
Will Substack Notes be any threat to Twitter? It’s an interesting question and one that will be interesting to follow.
Spoutable is one of the more Twitter-like of the new social networks. Aptly, it uses a whale / ocean metaphor throughout: you “spout” your opinion instead of posting it; you go to a section called Making Waves to see what topics are currently popular; and for the few seconds it takes to go from one section to another, you get an animation of a whale disappearing into the sea. Like Twitter, you have a profile page, you follow and are followed, you have a timeline and can do one-to-one chats.
On Spoutable’s About Us page, it expresses its determination to take diversity and privacy seriously while mitigating harassment and other problems endemic to social networking. The network already had its first challenge in that area when it ran into problems with some members of the romance community. Meanwhile, Spoutable is free (although it does ask for contributions) and available to try.
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 keep to the basics, then this social network boasts on its front page that it doesn’t allow trolls, ads, or fake news — and has a long list of measures it takes to promote privacy and security, including identity breach alerts, real-time fake news awareness via FactLayer, and no third-party tracking. If you want, you can try out Alfred, CounterSocial’s GPT-3 AI feature.
You have a choice of UIs: the Advanced Mode works via a series of columns rather than the traditional feed; if you’ve ever used Tweetdeck, you’ve got a fair idea of what it looks like. You can use each column to follow different hashtags or user lists. You can pin columns in their place or move them around the interface and arrange notifications for replies or new entries. The alternative Simplified Mode offers a single feed, more like Twitter or Facebook. There is also a chat link for support and conflict resolution. The social network is free; a Pro account costs $4.99 a month and includes additional security, access to other feeds such as traffic radio and news videos, and entry into Counter Realms.
WT.Social is a fairly straightforward social network that advertises itself as “the non-toxic social network.” WT stands for “WikiTribune,” which was apparently a previous 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 don’t find a subwiki that deals with a topic you’re interested in, you can create your own. You can add images or videos to your posts.
If you are looking for an alternative to Twitter, you probably don’t need to be told about Facebook, and if you’re not on Facebook, that’s likely intentional. But as my colleague Monica Chin mentions in her how-to on quitting Twitter, “there are a lot of horrible, terrible, no good, very bad things about Facebook. But if you miss the ability to keep up with family and friends on Twitter, you can do that on Facebook, too.” It is true that despite the algorithm-powered feeds, the frequent advertising, and the possible privacy violations, there are still a lot of people — often family members — who still use Facebook. And there it is.
There are a number of other social networking resources out there, of course; we’ve only touched on a few here.
- While most of the networks listed above predominantly depend on the written word, there are some quite popular social networks that use video as their main means of communication, such as TikTok and BeReal. If you’re comfortable with using video — or even prefer it to text-based social networking — those are a couple of places to go.
- There are, of course, other networks that focus on specific needs or communities. For example, LinkedIn is geared toward business and job hunts (and thinkfluencing, of course), while DeviantArt is a place for the visual arts community.
- There are also networks that are still in the works, such as Bluesky. This experiment in creating a decentralized social network is funded by Twitter, so it will be interesting to see what happens. It’s currently in beta, and you can join the waitlist to try it out.
- And, of course, there is the traditional blog — which is still a way to communicate with friends, family, and (if you’re a creative) fans. Which blogging service and / or software you use depends on what you want to do, who you want to show it to, and how comfortable you are with the technology.
The point is — no social network is forever (such as the late lamented Compuserve, the pre-MySpace Friendster, and the yes-it-is-still-there-sort-of AOL). Twitter has definitely had a strong influence on community discourse over the last few years; we’ll have to see whether it will retain that influence under this new chapter and, if not, what will replace it.
Update April 25th, 2023, 2:00PM ET: This article was originally published on November 1st, 2022; since then, Substack Notes, the Post, and Spoutable have been added, and some of the other entries have been brought up to date.