Was there a Twitter exodus or just a Twitter hiatus? 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, after the explosion in new installs triggered by his takeover has slowed. The data shows that many apps continue to grow at a slower pace, while other apps are seeing a slowdown in growth. But it also shows that Twitter itself has never been significantly affected, at least as far as new app installs go.
Of course, downloads are just a window to the big picture. But it’s a measurement that can be independently evaluated using third-party data rather than relying on companies to report their own metrics — many of which don’t.
Interest in a group of Twitter alternatives began in late October when Tesla and SpaceX exec Elon Musk officially completed his $44 billion Twitter acquisition. Permanent chaos on the microblogging site has been the norm ever since. Amid controversial policy decisions and overnight changes, a subset of the Twitter audience decided to head to other sites to find their social fix, or at least experiment with different options for a while.
Twitter alternatives like Mastodon, as well as mainstream social platforms like Tumblr, reportedly saw rapid and significant increases in both downloads and active users in November.
Now that the dust has settled – well, Twitter is still messy, but we’re used to it now I suppose –– It’s worth checking back to see how some of these Twitter alternatives are doing today.
The data, curated for TechCrunch by app intelligence firm data.ai, isn’t a comprehensive look at Twitter’s entire alternative app landscape. For obvious reasons, it doesn’t account for some of the buoyant but not-yet-publicly-launched apps that have raised money for their Twitter-like experiences, like Post, T2, and Spill. For the same reason, it doesn’t include Bluesky, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s decentralized alternative, which is in the works. A few smaller apps and Trump’s Truth Social are also not included.
However, the company has looked at some of the more impressive contenders for Twitter users’ attention, including Mastodon’s Fediverse-connected app and others.
A recent Wired report showed that Mastodon’s growth spurt was over as active users had dropped by over 1 million. They suggested that many Mastodon newbies decided the app wasn’t a viable Twitter replacement. The platform had grown from 380,000 to 2.5 million monthly active users in two months, the report noted, but it fell to 1.4 million active users in January. However, as Techdirt’s Mike Masnick pointed out, the Fediverse as a whole – i.e. the set of interconnected servers hosting Mastodon along with other apps – went from 600,000 active users in the pre-Musk era to around 2.6 million now grown. Hardly any burglary, he said.
Data.ai’s analysis of global app installs across iOS and Android also shows that Mastodon’s app is still growing, albeit at a slower pace.
Installs are down significantly from November’s peak of 2.9 million monthly downloads. It still managed to rack up 180,000 new installs in January — that’s 169,000 more installs than it did in September 2022. Sure, it’s by no means enough to topple Twitter, but it’s not on the decline just yet. (Of course, we understand that app downloads don’t equate to active users, as Mastodon’s first-party data shows. Downloads are just a signal of user interest, but many apps never make it past the initial launch when opened will all).
Mastodon mobile traction is more complicated as there is a wide and growing ecosystem of third-party clients besides the internet for users to try. A popular alternative to Mastodon’s official app is Ivory, the newly launched client from Tapbots, whose Twitter app Tweetbot was destroyed by Musk’s Twitter API changes. Ivory is only a few weeks old, so not suitable for this analysis, but it may have siphoned off some of Mastodon’s downloads for a brief period during its launch.
While Mastodon remains there, download growth of other Twitter alternatives has stalled or slowed.
Reddit and two other politicized alternatives, Tribel and GETTR, have seen download growth slow since September 2022. Reddit downloads are down 20,000 since September, while downloads of the left tribel and right GETTR are down 36,900 and 42,000 respectively.
To be fair, Reddit is still a huge app, adding a whopping 4.2 million new installs in January compared to the 4.7 million it had during its peak in November. Because of this, it’s not clear if Twitter’s chaos had much of an impact on growth or decline, aside from perhaps a slight increase in installs as people decided to spend their free time somewhere else for a bit.
Tribel and GETTR, on the other hand, are not doing so well. The former saw just 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 rose to prominence after Musk acquired Twitter.
The social app is more of a mixture of MySpace, Twitter and Instagram and appeals to a young audience. Hive soon found itself in the top 20 in the US App Store in November, after it claimed one million signups at the time. But Hive later had to shut down for an extended period to rewrite its software due to serious privacy and security concerns.
However, Data.ai numbers seem to support Hive’s claims of a boost in November, as there were 1.1 million new installs that month, up from just 300 (!!) the month before. Hive is still growing, albeit slightly. It had 10,700 more installs in January than it did in September 2022 — but that’s only because it only had 300 installs that month (like 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 its growth or decline. In fact, Discord installs fell from 8.3 million in October 2022 to 8.0 million in November, even as the other apps were booming. Installs then rose again to 8.5 million in December and 9.7 million last month. Similar to Reddit, this movement doesn’t appear to reflect a setback from a Twitter exodus, nor a decline in newcomers who later left the service. Discord alone is fine.
However, the numbers from Tumblr are more interesting. The company itself reported gaining traction from the Twitter exodus. Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic — whose company acquired Tumblr from Verizon in 2019 — told The Atlantic that Tumblr’s iOS downloads jumped 62% in the week after Musk acquired Twitter.
Looking at iOS and Android data together, as data.ai’s numbers do, is definitely seeing a November boom. Tumblr saw 880,000 new downloads in November, up from 450,000 and 500,000 in September and October, respectively. This trend has since normalized, although Tumblr is still slightly higher than the previous baseline with 510,000 installs in December and 480,000 in January. The company also made waves in November when Mullenweg announced that Tumblr would soon support ActivityPub, the decentralized social networking protocol that powers the Fediervese.
Finally, as far as Twitter is concerned… you’ve heard the expression “All press is good press?”
It seems Twitter has benefited from the increased attention – or perhaps the rubber neck.
Global mobile app installs increased by 3.7 million in January compared to September 2022. In particular, Twitter installs did not decrease in November. Instead, it gained new downloads, although some of its users seemed to have left for other apps. In other words, each Twitter exodus may have been offset by new Twitter arrivals. Active user data would tell a better story here, but Twitter is no longer a public company and it’s not clear that Musk is Analyze user data like Twitter before it, which would allow for a direct comparison. But his claims of a burst of signups in November could be indicative, as that month saw more app installs than October.
Data.ai found that Twitter grew from 16.6 million installs in October to 18.6 million in November when Musk took over, and then dropped to 16.9 million in December. Last month, it rose again to 18.6 million installs. That means it has the same download growth rate of 24.8% as in November.
The broader range of Twitter alternatives, on the other hand, increased downloads by 35.6% in November and fell to 8.1% in January.
As it turns out, when it comes to Twitter alternatives, there’s no real winner just yet.
Bigger apps like Reddit, Discord, and Tumblr still have sizable user bases and will continue to grow, but they haven’t exactly captured a chunk of Twitter’s user base. Minor apps have either stalled or returned to normal.
If anything, the biggest boost to the broader ecosystem rests with renewed user awareness of Fediverse and Mastodon, even if the app hasn’t emerged as a dominant force. Fediverse’s growth could ultimately be a trend playing out for longer than just a few months after the Twitter acquisition, as more apps join the decentralization movement.