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A look at the gold rush to become the new Twitter

Twitter Inc.’s demise is imminent. At least that’s the declaration from those who’ve announced their move to another platform. That they’ve made these pronouncements on Twitter itself, and then stuck around to watch, highlights how difficult it is for users to cut their addiction since Elon Musk took a machete to the network.

Amid the dysfunction comes an increasing number of alternatives vying to lure Twitterati. Some were created out of the ashes of Twitter, while many are getting a fresh start after languishing in the shadows for years. Here’s a look at the alternatives for those seeking a Plan B, and how they stack up against the Blue Bird.

Mastodon. The German social media platform founded by Eugen Rochko six years ago is the early favorite for the title of “the next Twitter,” yet it has polarized opinion. For one thing, it’s not even a single site. Mastodon is actually open-source software that enables anyone to run their own social networking service. If you choose to do so, then you can link to other Mastodon-based sites to create what’s called a “fediverse,” so that a member of one site (also called an instance, or a server) can interact with those on other sites. The website allows people to automatically find those they follow on Twitter, easing the transition.

Proponents love this decentralized, censorship-resistant approach. Content moderation is done at the individual instance by that group’s appointed hall monitors, and users can get blocked or booted if they don’t comply. As a result, censorship can be erratic — what’s allowed on one server can get you banned on another. In addition to the uneven approach to free-speech, opponents complain that it’s too confusing. The on-boarding process is complicated, and merely choosing which server to sign up on is a mind-melting decision which turns people away. Detractors complain that Mastodon is a poor copy of Twitter, but that criticism is unfair. It was never meant to replicate the original, and instead aims to offer an alternative way to imagine and run social media. In this respect it’s a resounding success, but that doesn’t mean it will become the new town square.

Post. According to its founder, Noam Bardin, the startup “will be a civil place to debate ideas; learn from experts, journalists, individual creators, and each other; converse freely; and have some fun.” The former chief executive of traffic app Waze (later bought by Google) has put Post behind a velvet rope as it builds the product and scales up, so it could take time before new users get access. Among the innovations are headlines, text-formatting, longer posts, and tipping. It marks topics with a #hashtag, similar to Twitter, and has both favorites and trending categories so users can easily find what most attracts them. You can respond to someone else’s post, but are reminded that “discussions are moderated for civility.”

More centralized than Mastodon, Post is likely to suffer the same content-moderation challenges as Twitter, though discourse so far seems civil. A glance at the user base hints that it may end up attracting Twitter’s progressive crowd who want more control over how they share information and engage. If it can manage to scale and onboard users quickly, while at the same time ensuring conversations remain polite and friendly, then Post has a good shot at becoming the new hub of conversation. But Bardin and his team will need to make tough decisions about design, content, and business model in order to make it work.

Koo. Based in the Indian tech hub of Bengaluru, this app is the closest so far to a Twitter clone — its logo is a yellow bird. If you’re looking to replicate the familiar feed and engagement of the original, then this is the place to go. It even allows you to transfer your entire library of tweets and follow those who’ve already made the move. Started three years ago, Koo received a huge boost in attention when Twitter got into a spat with the Indian government as Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to control social media under the guise of stopping terrorism. Indian users, including many government officials, flocked to Koo as the local alternative to the American site. Founder Mayank Bidawatka rejects accusations that it’s right-leaning or pro-Modi. “We believe in freedom of speech as much as we believe in being responsible and honesty in speech,” he wrote in an explanatory post.

India has more than 20 modern languages, so Koo differentiates itself by allowing multi-lingual posts. I asked users on Koo — it now has more than five million globally — what made it unique, and the overwhelming response was that it was more friendly, fun, and courteous than Twitter. Like its rivals, Koo’s biggest challenge will be ensuring civil discourse — it uses a mix of machine learning, community reporting and moderation. If it can iron out some early bugs then Koo might be the best chance at replicating the original. The big question will be whether users really want a repeat of the site they left, or want to start afresh with something new.

T2.Social. This upstart is the most direct attempt to leverage the coming collapse of Twitter. Gabor Cselle, who was most recently at Google, got to work on this project the day Musk started firing people, and by late December had barely 100 users. Like Post, the team has a waiting list and wants to build the product before it’s let loose on the world. But a recent discussion with TechMeme’s Ride Home podcast shows their intent is to hew as close to the original Twitter formula as possible. Its biggest test will be whether they can build and scale the product in time to catch the wave of Twitter refugees.

Substack. The email newsletter service is not an obvious alternative to the real-time nature of Twitter, but it’s getting a lot more interest. Not sure where to turn next, many content creators have urged followers to sign up for their Substack. This may be a placeholder until they can direct subscribers back to a new social-media platform. Yet Substack may itself seize the moment and build in more interactivity.

Discord & Reddit. Though quite different sites, the turmoil at Twitter offers a good excuse to venture onto new platforms. Discord has private communities, also called servers, that allow like-minded folks to hang out. Its user base skews toward gaming, but that’s not set in stone and we can expect its community to broaden over time. Reddit offers moderated bulletin boards that have become a mix of stock tips, cute memes, and conspiracy theories. Because of the siloed approach to content, you’re unlikely to bump into posts that offend you — unless you’re looking to be offended. But it can also be an echo chamber where misinformation can fester.

Truth Social & Hive. Whatever your ideology, the reality is that attempts to lure audiences away from Twitter come from across the political spectrum, and these are among the offerings. Truth Social was founded by former President Donald Trump after he left office and was booted from Twitter. There’s little to suggest that either will get anywhere near the scale of Twitter, and users should be aware of reports about security vulnerabilities.

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube. It’s easy for Twitter fans to forget that these sites even exist, and just as easy to dismiss them. But the reality is that they have far more users than Twitter, and extremely loyal followings. A big challenge for text-based content creators such as journalists, policy wonks and tech elites is adapting to the more visual nature of these bigger platforms. But that’s just the reality of modern social media. If you can look past the beauty-myth imagery and duck-lip selfies, they can be fantastic places to build a following and find useful information. And text isn’t totally out of place — content on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok often make use of photos, graphics and words to relay a message succinctly with fewer limitations than Twitter.

Musk’s renovation of Twitter has spurred many to look elsewhere, though the skeptics are largely taking a wait-and-see approach. While they do, rivals may pick up steam and offer a true alternative. A final victor won’t be crowned quickly. Instead, those looking for a back-up option will probably want to sample the options and tread carefully. Bloomberg

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