Twitter alternatives: what to know about BlueSky and Mastodon

The best Twitter alternatives that appeal to those in the know.
Stephen Vicinanza
Twitter Mastodon.jpg

There's a great deal of chatter about Elon Musk taking over Twitter. The tweets are flying, so to speak. The usual suspects for a social media change are listed below, but going one step further is necessary. The two platforms listed after the usual social suspects are what many a tech geek has considered as alternatives to Twitter, since these two stand out as close to being just like Twitter: BlueSky and Mastodon.

The Usual Suspects

  • Facebook
  • Snapchat
  • LinkedIn Premium
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Tumblr
  • SlideShare

Those are all perfectly reasonable choices, though, they are already well established in their unique social presences. You aren't always going to be able to just tweet again, like you have been.

BlueSky

Although not online to the public yet, BlueSky is going to be the app most closely aligned with Twitter. It is in fact created by one of the Co-founders of Twitter Jack Dorsey. Dorsey left as Twitter CEO in 2019 to pursue a non-profit venture, funded by Twitter, which became BlueSky.

The platform is a decentralized, open-source framework, where the account holder will have access to their data and their algorithms. A decentralized platform is one where all members have the same rights as the owner. Similar to how the Cryptocurrency blockchain works. There is no central authority, like we might say a holding company owns another company, or a CEO makes the final decision in what happens to a company's finances. In decentralized companies there is no central authority. This has some benefits and some down sides.

The benefit is no one can ever sell BlueSky and it can never go bankrupt, because each member owns their own data. The cons are some bad actors can take advantage of the platform's anonymity to run ransomware or malware, because no names are vetted.

This protocol is most like Twitter itself, except it will have a 500-character limit to any one post.

The accounts will be portable, meaning that users of the platform will own the content they publish and be able to place posts on different social platforms. The team at BlueSky haven't said yet, which social platforms will share in this "account portability" aspect of the platform.

If you may be thinking that the platform will be owned by Twitter, because its first series of funding came from the Twitter coffers, and hence be obligated to Elon Musk, this is not true. BlueSky is a wholly independent organization, with independent hiring practices and no obligation to Twitter at all. That is because, although funded by Twitter, it was a nonprofit and for "public benefit."

The BlueSky organization also has no CEO. It is a decentralized platform, similar to Mastodon and the blockchain. No one owns BlueSky, and it can't be taken over by anyone. No one can sell BlueSky, but it may be available as shares similar to the blockchain.

Dorsey plans on having a Beta test version within the latter part of 2022, or early 2023. People can sign on to the waiting list, but don't look for too much information on the platform. What's being said by the team and by Dorsey himself, is scant little. The rest is internet gossip. So far Dorsey has reported that 30,000 people have signed on to the waitlist.

The decentralized nature of BlueSky is also similar to that of Mastodon, the other Twitter alternative that is worth talking about.

Mastodon

Mastodon is a social platform that was started in 2016 to give people a place to meet not controlled by any central authority. The social media platform was built around the motto, of safe, fun, and no bullies. That goes for all sides, no matter what your political views are.

Mastodon is a European platform. It is a free and open-source platform, with a decentralized infrastructure. The decentralized platform is where no central authority owns the platform, such as a CEO or another company. The members own their data. In an open source platform, the code that is used to run the site is free to use or change, except for a basic structure that everyone agrees not to change, users of the platform can write their own instructions to the system. It is free from license agreements, but does have some terms and conditions. This means that unlike Twitter, which hosts all its users on a single, centralized service, Mastodon users can follow and interact with people on a wide variety of other Mastodon servers. If people don't like how one server is run, they can use another server.

It is designed around self-hosted social networking services which, like BlueSky, is free from bankruptcy, takeovers, or buyouts. There is no executive structure, but there is microblogging, like Twitter.

On Mastodon account holders "Toot," to each other, reminiscent of Tweets. But there are some differences. Account holders can have a profile with photos and videos. "Toots," have more characters than "Tweets," and also the ability to speak one on one with other account holders. There is a timeline and a feed. Some servers are constructed around topics, such as science, technology, etc.

One of the challenges that Mastodon faces is the server set up. Because it is decentralized, users wind up on separate servers when capacity is reached. This is different from Twitter's single huge server and can create some friction. Users can follow each other on different servers, but users wishing to add people on other servers have to input the username into the website hosted on their server. The "follow" button on other users' profiles only works if you are a member of the same server.

The Mastodon servers can host up to 250,000 people, then a new server is brought up. Twitter can host millions on its one large server. That doesn't mean Twitter is immune to server issues — at the height of the pandemic, Twitter did have problems with dropping Tweets and accounts losing followers in the thousands.

Elon Musk

When Elon Musk took over Twitter there was a strong reaction from users on the site. Immediately there was a storm of violent rhetoric aimed at political Tweets. There was a number of influencers leaving the site, although not as many as predicted. It is expected they will return.

The new owner, who owns Tesla, began to make political claims and align himself with one party over another, revealing his feelings towards groups of people. Many had been aware of his decision making skills, or lack there of, for some time.

Immediately upon taking control of the company, he fired Twitters moderation teams, leaving a wide gap in what was considered censored speech and what was considered free speech. A great deal more abrasive and threatening Tweets began to surface.

There were reversals of some Tweets, and reports of Musk having breached labor laws, with the mass firing. It is a takeover that is not going as planned.

He allowed anyone to purchase a blue check, on Twitter Blue, which previously had meant the account was verified and belonged to who the account said it belonged. Now anyone can impersonate anyone else and the blue check is no longer useful.

The Elon Musk side of this story is ongoing and we will update on events as they happen.

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