I tried replacing Twitter with Bluesky, Threads, and Mastodon: What I found

More and more ex-Twitter/X users are seeking new online homes. I kicked the tires on these three nascent services. Here's what you need to know about them.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
aerial view of people connected by lines
Orbon Alija/Getty Images

Joining a new social network in 2024 is an odd, lonely, quiet experience. By now, most of us who are active social networkers have established communities online. But if those communities were on Twitter (now known as X), they may well have died off.

We follow, and are followed by, a relatively large number of people on Facebook and LinkedIn. Your followers may be true friends, business colleagues, family members, fans and other constituents. X, on the other hand, is a very mixed bag. I used to have regular dialogs with my many Twitter followers. I still have a large followership, but there's no dialog. Unlike when it was Twitter, X is very much of a ghost town.

Also: I paid for Twitter Blue (aka X Premium) for six months. Was it worth it?

The people you follow may fall into similar categories, with the addition of people and companies you're interested in, but are unrequited in terms of follow-back interest. These might be celebrities, big companies, customer service organizations, or feeds of information you care about.

When you join a new social network, all of that is gone. You're starting out fresh. Yes, a few of your friends might have invited you to join, so you might have a core group you're still familiar with, but it's still very quiet.

Over the past year, I have dabbled in Bluesky, Threads, and T2, which became Pebble, which then died. I also joined Mastodon, which is more of a decentralized social network. None of them have achieved anything resembling the level of vibrancy of Twitter before it was nuked.

Although your mileage may vary, I've found that Facebook and LinkedIn seem to have maintained a bit more of an interactive community, especially within individual Facebook groups. But neither of these seems to have the immediacy and global connection that Twitter (when it was Twitter) once had. Instagram is still Instagram, but it's not really a text-oriented social network, so, like YouTube and TikTok, I'm not including it in this article's discussion. 

The Bluesky community

Last summer, I joined Bluesky due to an invite I got from one of my tech press colleagues. I knew of about 20 other people on Bluesky, also in the tech press, so I followed them. A few of them followed me back. Bluesky is no longer invitation-only, but my followership hasn't increased by much. 

Also: 5 reasons to try Twitter rival Bluesky (no invite needed)

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Despite posting every article and newsletter I write to Bluesky, my followership has grown to all of 54 people -- compared to the 19,000 or so I had on Twitter (I still do, but I don't think any of them are showing up anymore). On Twitter, the community once felt like a bustling metropolis and now feels like a post-apocalyptic metropolis. On Bluesky, it feels like homeroom

Also: How to join and use Twitter rival Bluesky Social

The Threads community

Threads, Meta's bid to unseat Twitter, is another example. Threads is tightly integrated into Instagram, so much so that my Instagram profile picture and description were automatically moved into Threads:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

As you can see, I have 229 followers. The needle hasn't moved much. I had 122 followers when I had four posts up on the service, and now that I have 50-something, I've added a little over a hundred followers. The desktop version doesn't show how many people I follow. But it is possible to find out the size of your community by clicking the phone app, then the heart icon, and then the little icon at the top of the screen under All. Yes, it's convoluted.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Then, you can click a tab to see how many followers you have and how many you follow (I apparently follow 108). There are also a bunch of folks in pending.

Also: I've used social networks since the 80s. Threads is the most annoying one I've tried

Writing this, I was initially a bit baffled by where all these follows and followers came from. But ZDNET's Lance Whitney explains that on setup, you can follow the same accounts you follow on Instagram. I must have done this. But since not all of those accounts are on Threads, the people I'm following on Instagram who have not set up their Threads are listed as Pending (including the names of a few friends who are no longer with us).

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

I described Twitter as feeling like a city and Bluesky as feeling like a homeroom, at least in terms of the size of my following community. Threads, with a following community of a few hundred, doesn't feel like anything. Maybe it's because it's all phone-based, but I don't get any vibe from it at all.

Also: Changing this phone setting instantly made the Threads app better for me

Most people I follow have posted the obligatory "I'm here" post, and a few additional ones, but my feed isn't nearly as relevant to me (more on that below) as the feeds from Facebook or Instagram. Threads needs time to age. I guess it could become interesting eventually.

Then there's Mastodon

While you can read a master feed of everyone you follow on Mastodon, your social feed runs on one individual server. If you want to have a Mastodon account, you need to set one up on a specific server.

Also: Mastodon isn't Twitter but it's glorious

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

If you don't like the server you signed up for, you can move your followers to a new server. But you can't move any of your content. Mastodon supports content export, but not content import. So you need to choose well.

Also: How to get started with Mastodon

The problem is, joining a Mastodon server feels a lot like joining a homeowner's association. There are some open servers, but there are also a lot of servers where you have to apply for membership and support the group rules. In a sense, this is more like Facebook groups than Twitter.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

I did apply to a few servers that seemed interesting, didn't hear back from a few, and got turned down by one. They didn't like some articles I wrote and didn't want me to be a member of their community. Bummer, dude.

I did eventually just sign up to the main server, mastodon.social. So, if you want to follow me there, I'm at @davidgewirtz@mastodon.social. And yeah, Mastodon social addresses are longer and more complicated, because the server has to be attached to your profile name.

Also: How to join a Mastodon server with the official Android app

That said, a lot of my tech journalism colleagues seem drawn to Mastodon, so if you're more inclined toward the interest-based community approach Mastodon offers, give it a try.

Bluesky vs. Threads vs. Mastodon

Bluesky feels like a mostly complete service. Threads is a released product that feels unfinished. For example, earlier today the desktop web interface (such as it is) for Threads completely failed. It's back now.

Also: I tried Bluesky Social and it's basically a far friendlier Twitter (for now)

Both of these have some heavy-hitter backing. Bluesky was started by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. Here's the company's description of its founding:

Bluesky was initially a project kicked off by Jack Dorsey when he was CEO of Twitter in 2019. Jack chose Jay to lead Bluesky, and Twitter paid Bluesky services income to build an open social protocol for public conversation that it could someday become a client on. Bluesky has been an independent company since its formation in 2021.

In late 2022, Twitter chose to sever the service agreement with Bluesky, and Bluesky agreed. The Bluesky PBLLC has continued to pursue its original founding mission to "develop and drive large-scale adoption of technologies for open and decentralized public conversation."

Threads, of course, is backed by Meta/Facebook/Instagram, which means it has a lot of runway and availability of resources.

Bluesky has a full mobile and desktop environment. Threads has a mobile environment with most of the necessary functionality, and the desktop web environment has improved since last summer. You can now post and browse your feed.

Also: Instagram feed fix: How to see more of what you want (and less of what you don't)

This may not matter for those who just post selfies when they're out and about. But for those of us who curate our posts, or post links to stories we write or find interesting, Bluesky is definitely the winner. It's much harder to curate a social media strategy solely on the phone. To be fair, Instagram has owned its segment of the market with a very phone-centric app, but although it has reach, it's inconvenient for professional social media users.

Bluesky has one feed that's just made up of the people you follow, and another that's called What's Hot. That's a general list populated by posts with higher engagement. As you can see, the level of discussion is much more in keeping with the sorts of things I might be interested in. This makes sense because the few people I currently follow on Bluesky are people who say interesting things.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

As for Threads, I have no idea what is going through the Meta collective mind. It appears that the Home feed consists of whatever Threads wants to feed. As such, I got Paris Hilton (she's still around?) and a Kardashian (not, apparently, to be confused with a Cardassian) in my Home feed. There was no profanity, so that's something. But… why?

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

With a feed like that, I find Threads personally worthless as a source of information. I might consider posting some of my articles to it, but I'm much more likely to ignore it until it's possible to separate the wheat from the Kardashian.

If you find a Mastodon server you really like, then you might enjoy staying mostly in that community. Since I'm already involved in way too many groups and communities, I haven't dug into the server-based Mastodon experience. It's a little different from other social networks. You don't like something, you favorite it (by clicking a star icon). Only the poster knows you favorited it. So you can't see how many likes a post has.

Had Twitter not launched first, and Mastodon had first mover advantage, I think Mastodon might have been huge. But since it's a late-to-the-party substitute solution that's a little more complex and a little less inclusive than Twitter, it's probably destined to be a bit of an edge system for the foreseeable future. That's not to say there's nothing to like, because it's nice. But it's not going to take Twitter's place as the voice of the online community overall.

I frankly doubt anything will. Twitter may well have been of a time and place, and we may never see its like again.

My recommendation

Bluesky has the most potential. I've yet to see a discussion I feel compelled to participate in, but many of the items posted are interesting. As for Threads, it's an app on my phone that's hanging on by a thread. I've been using it for six months and it just doesn't seem any more compelling. Mastodon just seems to be clomping its big ol' pachyderm feet at a measured pace, but it seems solid enough.

That's the key takeaway, I think: let's check back in again in six months. Remember that LinkedIn and Facebook are positively ancient by comparison to these alternate solutions. Twitter/X, for all its faults and weird changes, was battle-tested but has been heavily abandoned. But Bluesky, Mastodon, and Threads are barely out of their diapers.

Also: How you (and Elon Musk) can set up Windows 11 without a Microsoft account

Give them time. Both the Meta team and Dorsey and the team he's put together completely "get" social networking. They've been there. They've done that. Expect most of the complaints and massive annoyances to go away, except the few things we find annoying that the dev teams may have decided to bake into their business models, like whatever monetization schemes both will surely come up with.

It certainly doesn't hurt to sign up for an account and claim your name. Give each service whatever attention you can spare. But give them time and don't take them all that seriously. Yet.

What about you? Are you on Bluesky or Threads? What has your experience been? Do you expect to migrate away from Twitter to one or the other? What about Mastodon? Is its approach to walled garden social media something that appeals to you? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly update newsletter on Substack, and follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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