Twitter used to be the place for artists, writers, journalists, and other professionals to hang out online. It had great discoverability, and people built huge followings seemingly from scratch. People sold books, connected with agents and editors, and became (sometimes unfortunately) celebrities based on the pithy comments they posted about matters both serious and inane. At its height, it had over 528.3 million monthly active users. If you wanted to be somebody, you were on twitter.
Welp, all good things must come to an end. When it was purchased by Elon Musk in 2022, he started implementing changes that let some of the already extant toxic elements come to the forefront, as well as doing things like letting anyone who wanted to pay $8 a month be verified which had, until then, been a privilege of people with some sort of public notability. It became, essentially, useless for the purposes people had been using it before. It was even rebranded as X, which was as frustrating as it was nonsensical. Most progressives jumped off the platform over the course of the next year, along with most advertisers.
But Twitter isn’t as dead as it feels. People are still using it. It’s developed an even more toxic culture, however, so for my purposes is no longer a fun place to hang out online. It still has 353.7 monthly active users, so it’s still kind of the King Gorilla of micro-blogging sites.
Into the void twitter’s ‘sort-of’ implosion left, several other sites emerged. There seemed to be a new twitter clone every week, sometimes multiples of them. But three of them have really gained some sort of traction, and I want to write about my experiences on them here. In addition to these three, I also tried Hive, which seemed promising but did not have a staff that was ready for prime time. A month or so in, it went down for updates for what was supposed to be one day and which stretched out into multiple weeks. No one came back when it did. I don’t even know if it still exists. I also signed up for a spoutible account, but I have never used it. Is Spoutible even still a thing?
But the three I have used extensively are Mastodon, Threads, and Bluesky.
What can I say about Mastodon? It currently has about 1.8 million monthly average users, so it’s not even the same class of creature as Twitter was. Part of Mastodon’s deal is that it’s not one site, or even one collection of sites. It’s part of something called ‘The Fedi-verse’ and is made up of hundreds of different servers (called instances). You need to join one of them to participate. This used to be a daunting challenge, but lately the mastodon app has made mastodon.social the default app for new sign-ups. Theoretically, you are able to change instances to find one that is a better fit for your personal circumstances, but this process can be described as arduous at best. Basically, you need to know what you’re doing, tech-wise, to fully get Mastodon. Also, while each instance has its own rules, there are some commonly accepted practices you’re supposed to follow. Like using descriptive alt text for your images. These rules are just kind of understood, and new people sometimes run afoul of them and then the hordes descend to yell at them. Sometimes. My specific instance is welcoming and pretty chill, but there are some instances that are less so.
Also, it can be difficult to find the people you want to follow on Mastodon. Another problem is that discoverability is low, since every different instance has different rules for what accounts it will show you. They also have different rules for how they handle link previews and even how long your post can be. I’ve found a pretty nice group of people to follow on Mastodon, but none of my posts have really gone beyond them. Adding to this problem is the fact that there just aren’t that many Mastodon users who are active. If you already know of an active community, it can be a great place to plug in, but if you don’t know anyone, you’re going to have a very lonely time of it.
Also, instances can be what’s called ‘de-federated’ from other instances, meaning they basically cease to exist for each other, which means if that happens you lose all of your followers. Mostly this happens because of content violations, but it’s possible for it to happen for whatever reason the other admins decide upon. This is basically social media for people who know what they’re doing, not for normies. That can be a feature, not a bug. It’s up to you. I enjoy Mastodon, but it’s not my go-to when I have a new release or any other kind of news to share, the way twitter once was. It’s probably not destined to become a twitter replacement, and many, of not most, of its users would prefer that it didn’t.
You can follow me on Mastodon @ChadGrayson@mastodon.otherworldsink.com
Threads is the micro-blogging entry from Meta (the company that runs Facebook and Instagram), and that is both a blessing and a curse. It started out being linked to your Instagram account, which was nice because it gave users a pre-existing network of followers and accounts to follow. The bad part is—how do I put this?—the reasons I follow someone on Instagram, which is all about images, are completely different from the reasons I might follow someone on Threads. I think it would have been better not to link the apps at first, but I am not an expert.
To begin with, everything was running on an algorithm, with no following tab, but that was fixed after a couple of weeks. Compared to Mastodon, it’s much easier to develop a following on threads. After starting a little slow, I started interacting with people and responding to the questions and ‘follow-threads’ other people posted, and I quickly had over 100 followers (not a lot, but better than Mastodon).
Threads currently has 23.7 Monthly Active Users which, again, is not in Twitter/X’s ballpark, but is better than Mastodon. Also, discoverability is much higher on threads. It’s easier to get your posts seen beyond your small circle, using whatever algorithmic witchcraft is available to you. But every day I see several posts from people that are basically like ‘This Place is Dead,’ and maybe for them, it is, but Threads is definitely an app that will give you back what you put into it. Find your people (I’ve found a thriving community of writers and readers), interact with them in non-toxic ways, and your feed and your following will grow.
The Culture of Threads is much less focused on the ‘outrage of the day,’ which was what Twitter felt like most days. Everybody is kind of chilling and doing their own thing. It’s not a place you would go to for breaking news, but most people like it that way. Right now, Threads doesn’t have ads or sponsored posts, but I’m sure that is coming, eventually.
So, yeah, it’s a Meta product, with all that entails, but if you’re willing to give it time, it can be a rewarding experience.
Follow me on Threads @c.e.grayson
Bluesky has the blessing/curse situation as well, as it was created by Jack Dorsey, who co-founded twitter. Right now, it has 1.5 million monthly active users, putting it somewhere behind Mastodon. It’s the identity of those users that makes it worthwhile, however.
Bluesky is considered to still be in beta, and the only way to open an account is to have an invitation. Invitations are given to its active users to hand out however they please, so, to get in you have to know somebody. Cue flashback to my high school years when I wasn’t allowed to sit at the cool kids’ table. But thanks to a friend, I did eventually score an invite. Here, I found all of the famous people who had abandoned twitter, which was nice. There is also a big population of civilians like me, and so far, everything seems pretty respectful and chill. I’ve had some nice interactions with some people, and I’ve been followed back by people who are heroes of mine, which feels weird and nice at the same time. I’ve only been on Bluesky for a couple of weeks, and my reach there is not large. Discoverability seems to be an issue here as well, but all of this might change when it’s out of beta and you no longer need an invite to join. How that will change the culture remains to be seen.
Follow me on Bluesky @chadgrayson.bsky.social
I titled this ‘Social Media Showdown” but I’m not really picking a winner. I will say my reach is greatest on Threads, and I absolutely know that I’ve sold some books from there, not so much Mastodon or Bluesky. They each have their distinct cultures, but every site does. You get out what you put in, really, as it is with most things.