Skip to Content
Culture

Twitter killers: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Millions of people have fled the “bird site” owned by Elon Musk and flocked to decentralized social media services instead.

January 8, 2024
a hotel crime scene in in Hitchcock-era noir film lighting with a chalk outline of the twitter logo marked as exhibit 1. A tesla badge on the nightstand is marked 2 and a cell phone on the carpet is marked 3.
Jennifer Dionisio

WHO

Bluesky, Discord, Mastodon, Nostr, Threads

WHEN

Now

For the better part of 17 years, the roiling, rolling, fractious, sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying, never-ever-ending global conversation had a central home: Twitter. If you wanted to know what was happening and what people were talking about right now, it was the only game in town. 

But then Elon Musk purchased Twitter, renamed it X, fired most of its employees, and more or less eliminated its moderation and verification systems. He put in place a new financial structure that incentivized creators to spread and amplify lies and propaganda. Many people have begun casting about for a replacement service—ideally one that is beyond any individual’s control. 

Decentralized, or federated, social media allows for communication across independently hosted servers or platforms, using networking protocols such as ActivityPub, AT Protocol, or Nostr. It offers more granular moderation, more security against the whims of a corporate master or government censor, and the opportunity to control your social graph. It’s even possible to move from one server to another and follow the same people. 

To be sure, the dream of a decentralized Twitter-like service has been around for years. History is littered with failed attempts—most notably App.net and Identi.ca. A real competitor never broke out because not enough people had a strong reason to leave Twitter, or a place to go if they did. Now they have both.

According to Similarweb, X’s traffic is down by nearly 20%, year over year. Another study, by Apptopia, found that the number of daily active users went from 141 million to 120 million. Meanwhile, decentralized services like Mastodon, Bluesky, and some Nostr clients have surged in popularity.

But it’s Threads, from Meta, that’s been the big winner. Meta disclosed in September that Threads already had nearly 100 million monthly users. (As of press time, Threads has not yet implemented ActivityPub, but it promises to do so.) Nerd favorite Mastodon is a distant second at 1.5 million active users but is growing, while the still invite-only Bluesky, which runs on the AT Protocol, is at 2 million. 

And of course, the real Twitter killer? That’s Elon Musk. 

Deep Dive

Culture

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Every year, we look for promising technologies poised to have a real impact on the world. Here are the advances that we think matter most right now.

Meet the divers trying to figure out how deep humans can go

Figuring out how the human body can withstand underwater pressure has been a problem for over a century, but a ragtag band of divers is experimenting with hydrogen to find out.

China’s next cultural export could be TikTok-style short soap operas

These apps are betting on low-budget productions, two-minute episodes, scripts adapted from Chinese web novels, and an aggressive marketing strategy.

The end of anonymity online in China

Chinese social platforms have already expanded the scope of a controversial rule that requires influential users to disclose their legal names. Regular users are right to be worried.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.