The best Twitter alternatives

The best Twitter alternatives

Not a day goes by when X, formerly known as Twitter, is not in the news. Whether it's the locking out of users who are not logged in, the abolition of the block function or the renaming to X: the social network seems to have its best days behind it. This is made clear by the following figures: The number of active scholars on the platform dropped by 50 %. More and more users are leaving the network. But what alternatives are there? What are their strengths and weaknesses? And for whom are they suitable? We clarify this in this article.

Short disclaimer: This article was written at the end of August/beginning of September 2023 based on current information. In the following text, we equate networks and social media. 

Centralised vs. decentralised social media

Many networks on this list advertise a decentralised architecture. But what does that actually mean?

The easiest way to explain "decentralisation" is with the email infrastructure. There are many different providers, such as AOL, GMX, Outlook or GMail. If one of them were to close down, you could easily switch. You would lose your email address, but you would still be reachable with a new email address. "Centrality" on the other hand would mean that everyone uses only one email provider.

Most new networks take up this concept. When registering, you select an "instance", i.e. a provider that you want to join. This can be a pre-selected instance, but also your own instance. The advantage of this is that even if the instance to which you have joined ceases its service, the social network will continue to exist. You can easily move your profile from one instance to another at any time. If X or another central network were to close down tomorrow, all your data would be irrevocably lost. This is not the case with decentralised networks.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of centralised and decentralised networks?

Both centralised social media and decentralised ones have certain advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages and disadvantages of centralised networks

Up to now, we have mainly been familiar with centralised networks. Whether Facebook, X, YouTube, TikTok or Reddit: here, the power is completely in the hands of a company, for example Meta at Facebook. These networks are designed to retain as many users as possible and therefore try to make the user experience as easy as possible: Registration is done in just a few clicks, the apps are intuitive and quick to use, and finding contacts is also made easy.

Unfortunately, the biggest advantages are also the biggest disadvantages. These companies need money. They earn it by selling your data (= personal characteristics), through advertising or subscriptions. Since the "power" is in the hands of a company, they can make unpopular decisions, for example by making it difficult for third-party apps to use the API (like X and Reddit), discontinuing popular services (like Vine or Periscope), or withholding features from non-subscribers. They also try to keep you on the platform with intransparent algorithms. Depending on the network, they are more likely to play click-building and emotional posts than posts from your friends. 

But centralised social media can also be discontinued, as MySpace or Google+ show. Your posts, followers and friends are then gone. The big players also lose out in terms of data protection, because centralised media are more vulnerable to hacker attacks.

Advantages and disadvantages of decentralised networks

Decentralised social media consists of so-called instances (also called servers) that together form a network. These can be hosted by companies, by private individuals, or even by you. No instance is above the other; all have equal rights. Nevertheless, each instance can set its own rules. Some are more relaxed about freedom of expression, while others want to provide a safe space for minorities. Others only accept local residents or employees. A billionaire may buy an instance, but not the whole network. So, unlike X, the whole network doesn't go down the drain. The power is in the hands of the community, so to speak.

Nevertheless, the decentralised structure also brings disadvantages. For one thing, users first have to select an instance when registering. This may be difficult to understand at first. All providers on this list offer a main instance that you can join first though before you switch to another instance. The decentralised structure also makes it difficult to search for posts, friends or pages across instances. So if you want to find a specific post from a specific user, you have to do a lot of searching. 

Moreover, there are no uniform moderation rules. What we understand by freedom of expression can differ from what Americans understand by freedom of expression. However, if an instance is extremely out of line and tolerates racist, xenophobic or illegal content, it can be blocked (blacklisted) from the rest of the network, but not by one CEO. Moderation is thus democratised to a certain extent. 

In addition, decentralised services also bring technical challenges: On the one hand, all instances must have the same basic framework, i.e. patches must be applied regularly, new features must be supported and the servers must be kept running. This work has to be done by the instance operators. Server failures, in turn, only affect individual instances, not the entire network.

These are the best Twitter alternatives

Bluesky Social

Bluesky was originally created within the Twitter company itself and was spun off in 2021. The company behind the social medium, Bluesky operates as a non-profit company. This means that the company is primarily committed to the common good, rather than to investors and shareholders.

Since May 2023, the source code has been public and thus accessible to everyone. The underlying protocol on which the decentralised network is based is called AT Protocol. In terms of look and feel, Bluesky is surprisingly close to Twitter, but it lacks elementary functions such as DMs and hashtags. In addition, it is currently only possible to join via a waiting list or an invitation code. 

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is behind the company. In addition, the network leaves elementary questions open, for example about monetisation - it is still a US network. So if you're tired of billionaires running social networks after the Twitter debacle, we have to disappoint you. Dorsey has attracted attention several times in the past for pro-Musk statements. So whether Bluesky Social is trustworthy for you, you have to answer for yourself.

App name

iOS

Android

BlueSky Social 

(Registration currently only possible by invitation)

Download for iOS

Download for Android

Who is Bluesky Social suitable for?

  • For people who want the early Twitter back
  • For people who do not want to worry so much about the functions

Mastodon

Mastodon has been around since 2016 and has popularised the idea of a decentralised social network, experiencing a boom especially after the Twitter takeover. The eponymous company behind the network is developed in Berlin and is a non-profit GmbH, it is currently financed exclusively by donations and is free of advertisements. 

The underlying architecture is called ActivityPub. In theory, this standard allows users to communicate with other networks that also use the ActivityPub standard. In the future, this could be BlueSky and Threads itself!

Due to the German origin, the two main instances mastodon.social and mastodon.online are subject to German laws, which means no hate speech or nazi content. The features are also user-friendly: Users can add trigger warnings or ALT text to posts for impaired people. Comfort functions such as subsequent editing, polls, a Tweetdeck-like overview and much more are also available.

Where Mastodon falls short, however, is in the area of user experience and interface. The instances mentioned above can overwhelm newcomers. The web interface is also quite ugly - but since Mastodon is open-source, there is a healthy ecosystem of third-party apps. 

App name

iOS

Android

Mastodon

Download for iOS

Download for Android

Ivory

Download for iOS

Not available for Android

Tusky for Mastodon

Not available for iOS

Download for Android

Mammooth: for Mastodon

Download for iOS

Not available for Android

Focus for Mastodon

Not available for iOS

Download for Android

Who is Mastodon suitable for?

  • For people who value the fact that the data is in the EU and does not belong to a billionaire
  • For people who like to work with the network and have a bit of technical knowledge
  • For people who are looking for a grown and robust Twitter alternative

Threads

When Thread launched in July, it took off: Over 100 million people signed up in just 5 days. Even ChatGPT took longer to reach this milestone. After the impressive rise was an even more impressive downfall: at the end of July, the platform recorded only 8 million active users. Unfortunately, Threads is not currently available in the EU and Switzerland, not even via VPN. Nevertheless, we list the app here in case it becomes available in the future.

The biggest strength is the deep integration with Instagram accounts. By default, both Threads and Instagram use the same username, profile picture and display name. The integration also presents you with user suggestions from your Instagram followings when you sign up. This makes registration quick and easy. Posts can be up to 500 characters long, videos up to 5 minutes. In the future, there should be a connection to the ActivityPub protocol. This would mean that Mastodon (@username@mastodon.social) and Threads (@username@threads.net) users could communicate with each other without having to register with the other network.

Unfortunately, Threads currently lacks elementary functions such as DMs, editable posts or hashtags. In addition, you can only delete the Threads account together with the Instagram account. In the future, however, it will be possible to delete only your Threads account. Although there is no advertising at the moment, the Facebook parent company Meta is still behind Threads. 

App name

iOS

Android

Threads (currently not available in Switzerland)

Download for iOS

Download for Android

Who is Threads suitable for?

  • For people who use Instagram (and Facebook) extensively
  • For people who like things easy and comfortable

Plurk 

Anyone interested in Asian series, music, anime or hobbies should take a look at the Taiwanese network Plurk. The network has existed since 2008! The term "timeline" is taken literally here and displayed horizontally as a timeline instead of vertically. This may look complicated to us at first, but it makes it possible to post (as text, videos or links) about life events in the timeline afterwards. Posts can also be made accessible only to a certain group, such as friends. Group chats are also possible. 

Due to the Taiwanese origin, however, mainly Asian users can be found there. If you don't mind that and the strange user interface, you will quickly find like-minded people on Plurk.

App name

iOS

Android

Plurk

Download for iOS

Download for Android

Who is Plurk suitable for?

  • For people interested in anime, Asian series or music
  • For people who have no problem with the fact that the platform is only used by a few Swiss people

CounterSocial

With CounterSocial, the name says it all, because you can definitely call it an anti-network. It is probably also the first and so far only VR social network. Here you can meet with friends or colleagues and undertake joint activities in virtual reality, such as watching films or holding meetings. 

But even without VR, CounterSocial offers familiar social media functions. The network is based on the code of Mastodon and was launched in 2017. The creators declare war on trolls, fake news, tracking and other annoyances - CounterSocial even actively advertises privacy functions. Besides the VR feature, businesses should also take a look, as the network even provides features like 500 GB of storage, video calls (even with non-users), group chats and more. 

If you wish, you can even have your posts deleted automatically and thus protect your privacy. Other features like verification, and even dark web monitoring, prevent someone from stealing your identity and make it harder to troll around. The timeline can be displayed either as a single column or in multiple columns, similar to Twitter. 

App name

iOS

Android

CounterSocial

Download for iOS

Download for Android

Who is CounterSocial suitable for?

  • For people who are looking for a safe space without trolls, fake news or hate
  • For people who would like to meet in virtual reality but do not trust Facebook and the Metaverse

Conclusion: There is no one Twitter successor

As you can see, there is no *one* Twitter successor. All alternatives have strengths and weaknesses. But the biggest challenge will be to convince friends to join a single network. But if the ActivityPub standard catches on, we see a future for decentralised social media. Wordpress, Medium, even Mozilla are behind the protocol.

But all platforms have one thing in common: hate and agitation don't stand a chance, unlike on Twitter. And we should all wish for less hate and agitation in our lives!

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