Why Hive Social is not a viable Twitter alternative (yet)

Hive has been having its share of problems. Let's take a hard look at today's reality, where the service might go, and what it would take to get there.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

I was assigned to review Hive in the middle of November. More on that below. But as of December 1, the service was shut down to fix "security issues that affect the stability of our application and the safety of our users." Four days later and the app is still displaying the maintenance message.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Because there's been such a fuss about Twitter alternatives, and because Hive experienced rapid growth in the aftermath of Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, we're going ahead with our look at Hive, even though it's currently unavailable. Some of my experiences in the weeks before the site shut down are instructive, in that they reflect the state of the offering even before these new issues were discovered.

And with that, let's get started.

What is Hive? 

Hive is a social network generating buzz as people look around for Twitter alternatives. But it's not ready for prime time. It's fairly likely that given the time and resources to grow, it could become a compelling alternative to the likes of Twitter. But not today. 

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As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have no intention of leaving Twitter. I worked very hard to build up an audience, and I can still reach and talk to many of you on that social network. So far, I haven't personally felt any ill effects from the Musk Administration's ownership. Of course, time will tell.

But a lot of folks are at least exploring the idea of moving to a social network that doesn't have Elon Musk at the helm. Steven Vaughn-Nichols explored a few of them and has some recommendations. Jason Perlow dug deep into Mastodon, and called it "glorious."

I was given the assignment of looking at Hive. In mid-November, TechCrunch reported that Hive shot up to become a top-20 app in the iOS app store, and has had over a million downloads. Forbes reported that Hive is having its "viral moment."

For Hive's young founders, these are both exciting and terrifying times. TechCrunch reports that Hive was founded back in 2019 by a 22-year-old college student, Kassandra Pop, also known as Raluca. Hive's official About page says Hive was formed by two college students, but that second student is unnamed. The About page says Raluca taught herself coding to create the first version of Hive, but the page states that one individual "full-stack developer" was brought on board in 2021.

As of the time of this writing, Hive is mostly self-funded. The About page reports that a "pre-seed investor" did provide some funding, but reading between the lines based on the context, it's unlikely that first check was large. ZDNET has reached out to Hive for additional comment, but we haven't yet heard back.

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This progression -- starting with an original prototype app, refining it with more professional coding skills, hitting some success on the app store, and getting a little bit of angel investment to be able to eat and pay rent while growing the business -- is a very typical and workable pattern for new startups.

It allows for controlled growth and stepwise refinement. What it doesn't allow for is an enormous flood of users along with the accompanying stress on infrastructure. While the exodus of a relatively large number of users from Twitter might seem like a dream come true for competing social networks, the reality is that without the proper infrastructure, it could be deadly for a small, bootstrapped company like Hive.

The promise of Hive

In many ways, Hive was/is supposed to be something of a spiritual successor to Twitter. As with Twitter, people can follow you without you having to follow them back.

You can watch a timeline of posts, although it doesn't appear (I really couldn't test it due to Hive's technical issues) that the river of posts responds to any internal relevancy algorithm other than displaying each item as it's posted.

There are a few additional features. One, which many of us have long wondered why it's not available for all Twitter users, is the ability to edit a post. Or, at least, you can't edit a Tweet unless you pay for the privilege. Musk is apparently considering making that essential capability a free feature of Twitter.

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Hive users are presented a list of interests they can follow, and Hive will create separate feeds for those interests. Now, in the few days I was able to check them out, the topic area feeds were pretty much out of control, with pictures and posts completely unrelated to the topics showing up in the topic feeds.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Hive also offers one other feature that, if memory serves, harkens back to MySpace. You can assign a music track to your profile and have it play when someone visits your profile. Apparently, one of the ways Hive expects to make money is by allowing you to buy slots for additional music tracks. It's an idea, I guess.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

The reality of Hive, as of December 2022

Let me be clear. I have the highest hopes for Hive and its intrepid founders. But as of now, even as of a week or two ago before the service shut down, it's not a usable product.

My first experience of Hive was attempting to sign up. I created an account, but the validation process failed. For a few days, each time I tried, a message flashed at the bottom of the screen: "Verification quota exceeded. Exceeded quota for sending email verification."

Hive Social verification
Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Eventually, though, I did get the verification email and was finally able to get into my account. I asked a few folks I knew to friend me, so there would be some activity on the site. I then posted my first few posts.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Unlike with Twitter or Facebook, if you post a link, all that shows in the feed is the link. There's no image that goes with the link. That's kind of disappointing, but it's not a deal killer. It's kind of charmingly retro, actually.

In the first day or so, a few people liked and commented on my posts. Unfortunately, I don't know who, because the Hive interface wasn't able to show the names. I had a whole two followers and only the name for the first follower was shown. There was simply blank space where the second follower's name should have been displayed.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

That's about as far as I got. We celebrated Thanksgiving weekend. I caught up on work. By the time I got back to looking at Hive, it had been shut down for maintenance by its developers.

What does it mean for Hive and for you?

All products take time to develop. Had Twitter not had its Elon Musk moment, Hive would probably have taken another year or two to mature and solidify. But it's certainly not there now.

Hive has a lot going for it. Its interface is clean and understandable. It has some helpful and fun features. And, once the infrastructure allows for enough signup verification emails to be sent out to meet demand, signup and onboarding will be easy.

But it's not clear how the service is going to make money. There doesn't appear to be any advertising or intent to sell advertising. The only income source, so far, appears to be additional tracks on musical profiles -- and that's just not going to be enough to pay the infrastructure fees.

This is a service desperately in need of professional investors and product management. It's actually in a good place to get both. Most investors who look at new businesses ask "how are you going to find users?" Hive has them buzzing all around.

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There's enough interest and enough users to justify some speculative investment and refine the site and the service. That's good.

With investment should come the money to pay for the basic infrastructure needs -- like email verification. It should also come with enough to hire some professional programmers and a product manager or two. And with those folks will come the expertise to find a business model for this offering.

I actually think there is a valid business model in the DNA of this site. It might have something to do with the music profiles, or perhaps bringing MySpace-like music back to a social network, but a music-focused social network for the mid-2020s and not the early 2000s could be viable.

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We'll be keeping an eye on Hive. If it comes back online and you want to follow me, I'm @DavidGewirtz on the site. And if you still want to follow me on old-school Twitter, I'm @DavidGewirtz, there too.

What do you think? Are you looking for a Twitter alternative? Have you tried Hive? Do you think it's a possible solution for you once it comes back online? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to 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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