As Twitter ditches its iconic branding in favor of owner Elon Musk’s favorite letter “X,” its open source rival Mastodon is seeing usage numbers soar. According to a new post from Mastodon founder and CEO Eugen Rochko, the number of monthly active users for his Twitter alternative has been steadily climbing over the past couple of months to have now reached 2.1 million — or, as remarked Rochko, “not far off from our last peak.”
Previously, Mastodon’s monthly active user numbers had peaked at 2.5 million between the months of October and November, which was shortly after Elon Musk officially took ownership of Twitter. Before, Mastodon had been a much smaller network, with approximately 300,000 monthly active users, the founder had said.
The fate of Mastodon’s growth seems often to be tied to Twitter’s moves — or rather, its missteps. After Twitter’s acquisition, for example, there was a bit of a Twitter exodus as longtime users rebelled against the changes that Musk soon enacted on their favorite microblogging site, ranging from widespread layoffs to erratic moves impacting Twitter’s platform, policy, and product strategies, which included a mishandled relaunch of Twitter’s subscription, Twitter Blue, which devalued verification by opening it up to anyone with a credit card to pay for it. That decision is still negatively affecting the Twitter experience, as the company recently admitted to having a Verified spammer problem, requiring a change to Twitter DMs.
While some fleeing Twitter users tested out Mastodon following Musk’s takeover, not all stuck with it, and, as a result, Mastodon’s monthly active users dropped from the high of 2.5 million monthly users to 1.7 million as of the the beginning of this month. Other people may have drifted over to the different Twitter alternatives that had emerged, including Bluesky, T2, Spill, Post, and more. And some may have just dropped Twitter for good or significantly reduced their posting, leading Twitter traffic to decline.
It’s not immediately clear if Mastodon is now once again benefitting from Musk’s missteps with Twitter or if it’s being lifted by the renewed interest in ActivityPub, the decentralized social networking protocol that powers the Mastodon network and other apps. Meta’s recently launched Twitter rival known as Instagram Threads has committed to integrating with ActivityPub, which may have raised awareness around Mastodon and decentralized social networking in general.
Then again, Twitter users could simply be frustrated with Musk’s recent move to enact rate limiting that reduced the number of tweets that could be viewed by users and subscribers — an incredibly odd product decision that essentially prevents users from viewing content on the platform, now known as X as of today’s rebranding. Musk claimed that Twitter needed to change the rate limits to deal with a significant increase in bots and spam. But while most social networks have some form of rate limiting in place for the same reason, they don’t usually extend those limits to end users, preventing them from actually viewing the site’s content (and, of course, the ads.)
This, too, could be a factor in Mastodon’s renewed active user growth.
Or perhaps, it’s a combination of both of these things and more, including the momentum created by the launches of polished third-party Mastodon clients that have made using the social network less complicated and more enjoyable. That includes apps built by former Twitter third-party app makers, like Tapbots’ Mastodon client Ivory, the TweetDeck-inspired Woolly, and Mammoth, a Mastodon client from the developer who made the Twitter app Aviary, but is now being led by a new developer following Mozilla’s investment.
Other Mastodon apps like Ice Cubes and the no-frills client Radiant have also debuted, while Mastodon’s official mobile app received a refresh of its own earlier this month, aimed at addressing various pain points and adding more customization options. At the time of its launch, Mastodon then had 1.4 million monthly active users and Rochko had noted posting activity had tripled over the weekend — a change likely attributable to Twitter’s new limits on viewable tweets.
Mastodon has been benefitting from interest across other tech companies, too, including WordPress, which acquired a plugin that lets WordPress blogs feed into Mastodon; Medium, which launched its own Mastodon server; and Flipboard which integrated with the network in its social reading app, launched its own server and is working to integrate with ActivityPub.