Was there a Twitter exodus or just a Twitter pause? Did it even matter? New data takes a look at how a range of “Twitter alternatives” have fared in the months following Elon Musk’s acquisition of the popular microblogging network, now that the burst of new installs driven by his takeover has tapered off. The data indicates that many apps continue to grow to a lesser degree while other apps have seen growth decline. But it also shows that Twitter itself was never significantly impacted, at least in terms of new app installs.
Downloads, of course, are only one window into the overall picture. But it’s a measurement that can be assessed independently, using third-party data, instead of relying on companies to report their own metrics — many of which don’t.
Interest surrounding a group of Twitter alternatives began in late October, when the Tesla and SpaceX exec Elon Musk officially closed on his $44 billion Twitter acquisition. Continual chaos on the microblogging site has been the rule ever since. Amid controversial policy decisions and overnight changes, some subset of the Twitter audience decided to exit to other sites to get their social fix or at least experiment with different options for a time.
By November, Twitter alternatives like Mastodon as well as established social platforms, like Tumblr, were seeing rapid and sizeable increases in both downloads and active users, reports found.
Now that the dust has settled — well, Twitter is still chaotic, but we’re used to it now, I suppose –– it’s worth checking back in to see how some of these Twitter alternatives are doing today.
The data, curated for TechCrunch by app intelligence firm data.ai, is not a comprehensive look at the full Twitter alternative app landscape. For obvious reasons, it doesn’t take into account some of the buzzy but yet-to-publicly-launch apps that have raised funding for their Twitter-like experiences, such as Post, T2, and Spill. For the same reason, it does not include Bluesky, the decentralized alternative Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has in the works. A few smaller apps and Trump’s Truth Social are also not included.
However, the firm did take a look at some of the more formidable challengers for Twitter users’ attention, including the Fediverse-connected app from Mastodon and others.
Recently, a Wired report indicated that Mastodon’s growth spurt was over, as active users had declined by over 1 million. They suggested that many Mastodon newcomers decided the app was not a viable Twitter replacement. The platform had grown over two months to 2.5 million monthly active users, up from 380,000, the report noted, but it dropped down to 1.4 million active users in January. However, as Techdirt’s Mike Masnick pointed out, the Fediverse as a whole — that is, the group of interconnected servers where Mastodon along with other apps reside — had grown from 600,000 active users in the pre-Musk era to now around 2.6 million. Hardly a slump, he said.
Data.ai’s analysis of worldwide app installs across iOS and Android also indicates Mastodon’s app is still growing, though to a lesser degree.
Its installs are down quite a bit from November’s peak of 2.9 million monthly downloads. It still managed to gain 180,000 new installs in January — that’s 169,000 more installs than it had in September 2022. Sure, it’s not enough to topple Twitter by any means, but it’s not yet in decline. (Of course, we understand that app downloads don’t equate to active users, as Mastodon’s first-party data shows. Downloads are only a signal of user interest, but many apps never make it beyond the first launch, if they are opened at all).
Mastodon’s mobile traction is more complicated as there’s a wide and growing ecosystem of third-party clients for users to try, in addition to the web. One popular alternative to Mastodon’s official app is Ivory, the newly launched client from Tapbots, whose Twitter app Tweetbot was killed by Musk’s Twitter API changes. Ivory is only a few weeks old, so it’s not a fit for this analysis, but it could have siphoned off some of Mastodon’s downloads for a brief period during its launch.
While Mastodon continues to hang in there, other Twitter alternatives have seen their download growth stall or slow.
Reddit and two more politicized alternatives, Tribel and GETTR, have seen download growth decline since September 2022. Reddit’s downloads dropped by 20,000 since September, while left-wing Tribel and right-wing GETTR’s downloads declined by 36,900 and 42,000, respectively.
To be fair, Reddit is still a massive app, adding a whopping 4.2 million new installs in January, down from the 4.7 million it had during November’s peak. For this reason, it’s not clear that Twitter’s chaos had much impact on its growth or decline, beyond perhaps a slight uptick in installs as people decided to spend their free time elsewhere for a bit.
Tribel and GETTR, meanwhile, are not faring as well. The former saw only 1,100 total new installs in January, while the latter saw 48,000.
That 48,000 is far more than Hive, another Twitter alternative that quickly gained traction after Musk’s Twitter takeover.
The social app is more of a cross between MySpace, Twitter, and Instagram and appealed to a young audience. Hive soon found itself in the top 20 on the U.S. App Store in November after seeing a million sign-ups, it claimed at the time. But Hive later had to shut down for an extended period to rewrite its software in the wake of serious privacy and security concerns.
Data.ai’s figures seem to support Hive’s claims of a November boost, however, as it saw 1.1 million new installs that month, up from just 300 (!!) the month before. Hive is still growing, though only slightly. It had 10,700 more installs in January than it did in September 2022 — but that’s only because it had just 300 installs that month (as it did in October).
Two other apps that many believed would benefit from Twitter’s upheaval were Tumblr and Discord.
As it turns out, Twitter’s changes didn’t seem to play a role in the latter’s growth or decline. In fact, Discord installs dropped from 8.3 million in October 2022 to 8.0 million in November, even as the other apps were booming. It then grew installs again to 8.5 million in December and to 9.7 million last month. Similar to Reddit, this movement doesn’t seem to reflect either a bump from a Twitter exodus or a drop from newcomers who later abandoned the service. Discord is fine on its own.
Tumblr’s figures are more interesting, though. The company itself reported having gained some traction from the Twitter exodus. Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg — whose company acquired Tumblr from Verizon in 2019 — told The Atlantic that Tumblr’s iOS downloads were up 62% the week after Musk took over Twitter.
Looking and iOS and Android data combined, as data.ai’s figures do, there’s definitely a November bump to be seen. Tumblr gained 880,000 new downloads in November, up from 450,000 and 500,000 in September and October, respectively. That trend has normalized since, though Tumblr is still slightly higher than the prior baseline, with 510,000 December installs and 480,000 in January. The company also made waves in November, when Mullenweg announced Tumblr would soon add support for ActivityPub, the decentralized social networking protocol powering the Fediervese.
Finally, as for Twitter…have you heard the expression “any press is good press?”
It seems Twitter has benefited from the increased attention — or the rubbernecking, perhaps.
Worldwide mobile app installs are up by 3.7 million in January compared with September 2022. Notably, Twitter installs didn’t decline in November. Instead, it gained new downloads even as some of its users seemingly left for other apps. In other words, any Twitter exodus may have been offset by new Twitter arrivals. Active user data would tell a better story here, but Twitter is no longer and publicly traded company and it’s not clear that Musk is analyzing user data as Twitter had before, which would allow for a direct comparison. But his claims of a burst of November sign-ups could be directionally true, as the month saw higher app installs than October.
Data.ai found that Twitter grew from 16.6 million installs in October to 18.6 million in November as Musk took over, then dropped in December to 16.9 million. Last month, it again jumped back to 18.6 million installs. That means it has the same 24.8% download growth rate it had in November.
The broader set of Twitter alternatives, meanwhile, grew downloads by 35.6% in November and this dropped to 8.1% in January.
As it turns out, there’s no real winner yet in terms of Twitter alternatives.
Larger apps like Reddit, Discord, and Tumblr continue to have sizable user bases and will continue to grow, but they haven’t exactly picked off a chunk of Twitter’s user base for themselves. Smaller apps have either floundered or returned to normal.
If anything, the biggest boost to the wider ecosystem hinges on new user awareness of the Fediverse and Mastodon, even if the app hasn’t transformed into a dominant force. Fediverse growth could ultimately be a trend that plays out over a longer period of time than just a few months post-Twitter acquisition, as more apps join the decentralization movement.