Explainers

The Best Decentralized Twitter Alternatives You Should Use (And Why)

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Twitter is one of the most popular social networks in the world, but it isn’t without its problems. In recent years, the network has been blighted with accusations of censorship, condoning harassment, the spread of fake news, and creating a hostile space, especially for minorities.

Many people see the site’s problems as part of a wider issue of centralization. In theory, then, decentralized social networks could be the key to creating a more transparent Twitter alternative. Fortunately, there are two decentralized social networks you can try right now; Mastodon and Peepeth.

Let’s take a look at how these two Twitter alternatives stack up.

Mastodon vs. Twitter

Screenshot of Mastodon timeline

Mastodon is not technically a social network. It is, in fact, an open-source software suite that allows anyone to start up their own Twitter-style social network.

How Is Mastodon Decentralized?

This is the basis for Mastodon’s decentralization. Instead of a single company like Twitter controlling all of the data, it is shared among multiple Mastodon servers. Mastodon servers are hosted around the world and have their own codes of conduct and rules.

You may be thinking that a niche social network set up by your local sports club would be kind of limiting—and you’d be right. Twitter’s strength is that it allows everyone to join in with conversations happening around the world. Segmented Mastodon servers wouldn’t give that same global conversation. That’s why Mastodon is part of the Fediverse, a collection of social networks that can communicate with one another.

More Structured Content

When you load Twitter, there is just a single timeline with content from the people you follow. Mastodon has three timelines; Home, Local, and Federated. The Home timeline shows you content from the people you follow. The Local timeline expands that out to everyone on your server. The Federated timeline takes things out again to display content from all across the Fediverse.

This approach means that you can stay within the confines of your chosen server, interact with the people you follow, or check out what’s going on globally, too—but you don’t have to. On Twitter, it can be hard to escape, say, politics, even with the mute word options. If you choose a Mastodon server that prohibits politics talk, then you don’t have to be bombarded with it. But, if you’re curious, head to the Federated timeline, and you can catch up on the latest events.

Data Portability

Data portability is also a problem with Twitter. If you choose to leave the network, you also leave behind your digital profile. That may include contacts made over multiple years and any content you’ve created. And, even if you could export it, there is nowhere to import it either. Mastodon makes data portability a breeze. Don’t like the server you’re on, or want a change? Simply head to your profile settings and export the data. Once you’re set up on a new server, it takes just seconds to import your account data.

Peepeth vs. Twitter

Screenshot of the Peepeth timeline

Since the launch of Bitcoin, the blockchain has been one of the most popular decentralization methods. While Mastodon is a decentralized social network, it isn’t based on the blockchain. This is crucial, as there is a school of thinking that believes blockchain could pave the way to a truly decentralized internet.

Improved Social Interaction

Peepeth is one of the most established blockchain-based Twitter alternatives available today. As with many decentralized apps (DApps), Peepeth is based on the Ethereum blockchain.

Where Mastodon attempts to tackle Twitter’s issues with social interaction and server choice, Peepeth takes a more technical approach. The ad-revenue model favored by traditional social networks means they don’t behave or make decisions for the benefit of the end-user. Instead, feeds are manipulated, sponsored posts are injected, and the goal is to increase engagement at all costs—even if the social cost is net negative.

Peepeth is ad-free and encourages you to be thoughtful in your responses. Unlike on Twitter, where it’s easy to fire off a tweet in the heat of the moment, Peepeth opens a reminder prompt before your post is sent. The reminder forces you to take a moment to consider what you’re about to post. It also mentions that the post will forever be stored on the blockchain. The pop-up, together with the permanence of your post, is designed to make you really think about whether this is how you to want to interact with fellow Peepeth users.

Intelligent Moderation

That said, Peepeth is not an anything-goes platform. Users still have to adhere to their Terms of Service, and posts that fall short will be saved to the blockchain, but will not be viewable on Peepeth. There are alternatives if you’re after an unmoderated network; Peepeth even points you in their direction on their About page. The network also tackles spam with the blockchain. It costs financially to save a post to the blockchain.

However, this is provided at no cost to the user, as Peepeth takes on the price instead. If an account is caught posting spam, they lose their free posting privilege, increasing the cost of spam. Once you’ve acknowledged that you do really want to save your post, you need to confirm and write it to the blockchain. To do this, you need to install the MetaMask browser extension.

This connects you to the Ethereum network and is an intermediary between Peepeth and the blockchain. While it doesn’t cost you to post your peeps (Peepeth’s version of a tweet), you still need to hold the Ethereum cryptocurrency in your MetaMask account. This is to allow you to confirm the blockchain transactions, but it also serves another purpose. Like decentralized Reddit-alternative Steemit, Peepeth helps you monetize your content by letting others tip you.

The Best Decentralized Twitter Alternative: Mastodon vs. Peepeth

While both networks offer a different take on the decentralized social network, there are some key differences.

Setup Difficulty

The most notable is the blockchain. Mastodon has quite a low barrier to entry as it only requires you to choose a server and create an account. For the Peepeth app to operate within your browser, you need to use the MetaMask extension, which connects you to the Ethereum blockchain.

For those who have used DApps in the past, this shouldn’t be a hurdle. However, it has a knock-on effect on the network. Peepeth currently has a large community of blockchain and cryptocurrency enthusiasts. That’s not to say that other things aren’t discussed on the network, but it is heavily skewed towards one type of user and area of interest.

As you need to install MetaMask on your web browser to use Peepeth, the network is complicated to access on mobile. First, you need to install a mobile DApp browser or cryptocurrency wallet and import your MetaMask seed phrase. Then, navigate to the Peepeth website in your DApp browser, and it should log you in.

This is in stark contrast to Mastodon. While there is no official Mastodon mobile app, there are plenty of third-party choices out there, many of which are open-source as well. Some of these apps even support the wider Fediverse, allowing you to log into your Diaspora, PixelFed, PeerTube, or NextCloud accounts too, among others.

Terms of Service

Peepeth operates under a single Terms of Service. Mastodon has multiple servers with differing Codes of Conduct and Terms of Service so you can choose one that suits your needs. By far, the most popular Mastodon server is the mastodon.social network. This is considered the entry-level server and has the most users, giving you the most Twitter-like experience.

Level of Decentralization

That may all sound as though the balance hangs in Mastodon’s favor. However, Mastodon is not entirely decentralized. The data is still controlled by the server operator, and it is possible to delete or edit posts. This setup makes it harder to replicate the harassment and trolling so commonplace on Twitter, but not impossible.

As Peepeth is based on the Ethereum blockchain, it is fully decentralized. The data is permanently written to the blockchain and is a historical record of what was posted. Obfuscation is rife on Twitter, with people deleting posts, or modifying screenshots to create a false version of events. This isn’t possible on Peepeth.

Which Decentralized Twitter Alternative Will You Join?

There is a growing distrust of the mainstream social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Both platforms have been accused of manipulating users in the quest for ever-increasing growth and profits. This distrust is causing users to look elsewhere.

Decentralized networks are well-placed to overcome these hurdles. Mastodon is currently the most popular decentralized social network. However, it could still be vulnerable to some of the same issues that have plagued Twitter. Peepeth is a truly decentralized, blockchain-based social network. Yes, there are more barriers to entry, but, ultimately, it may prove to be the more viable decentralized network.

Many of us rely on the large tech companies to verify our digital identity. Whether it’s an email address, social network account, or personal landing page, the companies are in control of your online identity. However, decentralization can help you move away from these data-hungry platforms too. Interested? Then it might be time to find out what a decentralized blockchain identity really is.

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James Frew
James is a Staff Writer for Blocks Decoded and an Editor for MakeUseOf. He is a proponent of technology; he wants it to be affordable, accessible, and safe for everyone. Through his tech writing, he quickly became aware of the problems that centralization of business and data creates for users. It’s this realization that sparked his interest in decentralized platforms and the blockchain. He is now keenly fascinated in blockchain technologies with a focus on security, privacy, and societal benefit.
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2 Comments

  1. Are there any figures yet on the number of users on the alternative sites?

    1. Peepeth maintains its own stats page: https://peepeth.com/stats

      As of today, Peepeth has 6,194 users.

      Mastodon is harder to estimate. As each server operates independently, there is no accurate way to glean user numbers. However, The Federation (https://the-federation.info/) puts the userbase at 2,040,031 users. A bot account on the most popular Mastodon instance, mastodon.social, estimates the number of users there to be 406,387 (https://mastodon.social/@usercount).

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