Open source Twitter alternative Mastodon has gained a bit of attention in the wake of Elon Musk’s Twitter acquisition. Now, it’s gaining interest from third-party Twitter app developers, as well. The makers of popular Twitter clients, including Aviary and Tweetbot, have recently set their sights on building similar clients for the growing Mastodon user base.
While the Twitter exodus has only impacted a sliver of the social network’s overall user base, the influx of newcomers to the much smaller Mastodon ecosystem has had a significant impact on its community. Today, Mastodon has grown its active user base to somewhere between 3.3 million and 3.6 million, according to independent estimates, up from 655,000 in the days just after Musk’s Twitter takeover.
New Mastodon users are learning the basics of how to choose a server and find their friends, as well as learning about other community values, like the use of “content warnings” for their posts, when appropriate. They’re also realizing that Mastodon is not a Twitter clone, despite some initial similarities. Universal search doesn’t exist, requiring heavier use of reposts and hashtags to increase a post’s visibility. Direct messages work differently than on Twitter. An equivalent to quote tweets isn’t available. And so on.
The new Mastodon clients now in the works, however, could help make Mastodon feel more familiar to former Twitter users who are looking to make the shift to the “fediverse” — as the interconnected collection of servers powering Mastodon and other apps is called.
To be fair, the Mastodon community was not hurting for mobile apps. There were already quite a few third-party clients available, in addition to the official app, including MetaText, Tootle, Toot!, Mast, Mastoot, Tusky, Mercury and others. Several of these have seen increased development activity over the past month or so, as their makers realized their app side projects had suddenly gained a new following.
But for longtime Twitter users, the addition of well-known app makers from the Twitter ecosystem is an exciting prospect.
Among these is Tapbots, known for its popular Twitter app Tweetbot for iOS and Mac. Hailed as one of the third-party Twitter clients that keeps improving with age, the company earlier this year had released Tweetbot 7, which added features like picture-in-picture, a stats tab and widgets. Now, Tweetbots’ developer Paul Haddad is working on a similar app for Mastodon.
Haddad said that while the company hasn’t experienced disruption to the Twitter API since Musk’s takeover (besides a small increase in bugs and other issues), they’ve lost their contacts at Twitter following the layoffs and subsequent employee departures.
To address the “large number of requests” from current users leaving Twitter, the company is now working on a subscription-based app for Mastodon users that is much like Tweetbot.
The app, called Ivory, is still in the initial stages of development, but will likely appeal to Tweetbot users who want an app that also offers quick access to key features — in this case, navigation buttons that take you to your home timeline, @ mentions, favorites, search and trends, and your own user profile. You can swap out some buttons for others if you prefer. For example, a long press on the search button lets you switch over to a statistics feature or another screen for configuring mute filters. In addition to helping users mute topics they don’t care about or find disturbing, the latter could also help older Mastodon users from having to constantly read about Twitter and Musk in their feeds — something that’s been a steady complaint since the Twitter exodus.
And for creating a new post, it adds a floating button with a little horn — a nod to Mastodon’s version of the tweet, which is sometimes called a “toot.”
“Our starting goal for the app is to replicate the Tweetbot experience for Mastodon,” said Haddad. “We want people who are familiar with Tweetbot on Twitter to feel like they are at home with Ivory. Once we have a solid 1.0 version we’ll start working on adding more Mastodon-specific features, as well as some features that we’ve wanted to add to Tweetbot but couldn’t because of technical limitations,” he noted.
One of Ivory’s differentiators is that, unlike Twitter, it won’t show metrics like the number of boosts (Mastodon’s retweets), or the number of favorites or comments a post received in timeline view — a design choice intended to reduce screen clutter (and perhaps, clout-chasing).
Tapbots says Ivory will be developed alongside Tweetbot as they share a lot of code, and a Mac version of both Tweetbot and Ivory are in development, too.
The app is already proving popular, as the TestFlight version of the app blew up and quickly became full after its release.
Another third-party Twitter app maker, Shihab Mehboob who develops Aviary, has also begun work on a Mastodon client, called Mammoth. The new app will be a paid download with a yet-to-be-determined price, and will include the latest Mastodon API features when they’re released, as well as 4.0 features like editing posts and edit history. An iPad and Mac version will be released, as well.
“I was motivated by wanting a ‘good’ Mastodon app out there, as all the existing ones lacked features or design paradigms in one way or another. They all fell short, and didn’t feel native to the iOS and Apple platforms either. So I set out to make my own that achieves all this,” Mehboob explains. He says the app differentiates itself with an iOS-focused design “that feels at home on your device,” and a comprehensive feature set.
“It’s also a joy to use, and has some cool features like sharing posts as images, viewing them in AR, tweaking various parts via settings, and more,” Mehboob adds.
However, one notable third-party Twitter app developer, The Iconfactory, makers of the popular Twitterific apps for iOS and Mac, said they haven’t yet decided to enter the Mastodon app space. Co-founder Gedeon Maheux admits they, too, have lost their API contacts at Twitter in recent weeks. But for now, the company is just watching the development of this alternative ecosystem — and using Mastodon for themselves.
“It’s exciting to be a part of a service that’s growing and adapting to many new users, just as Twitter did back in the day,” said Maheux. “As for a Mastodon app from The Iconfactory, we don’t have anything to announce at this time,” he noted.
Of course, all these third-party apps will still have to compete with Mastodon’s own app, which has been seeing its own improvements since Musk’s Twitter acquisition, and gained another developer to help speed up app updates. But unlike Twitter, which actively worked to crush third-party clients in years past, Mastodon is open to new developments.