The seemingly unending chaos at Twitter, from rounds of layoffs to technical failures to public spats between its CEO and users, has left many industry watchers wondering: Will an alternative come along to take on Twitter's crown as the center of media, sports and politics?
On Tuesday, social reading app Flipboard will make its biggest push into social networking yet, throwing the weight of its more than 145 million monthly users toward the alternative app Mastodon. The company's short-term goal is to provide tools to connect Flipboard with another social media service, much the same way its users can today with Twitter.
Long term, Flipboard said it's hoping to offer a true social networking alternative.
Flipboard CEO Mike McCue said in an interview that he realizes that creating any alternative requires a lot of work, which is why he's starting with the ability to read from and post to Mastodon on Flipboard. Flipboard is also creating its own Mastodon server, Flipboard.social, that will include the company's moderation rules against bad behavior and links from untrustworthy websites.
"It'll be fast and be reliable, and you can count on our moderation, which by the way, will never be perfect, but you can at least know that it will be one of the very safest places you can be," said McCue, whose history in tech includes stints at web browser pioneer Netscape, tech giant Microsoft and a couple years on Twitter's board of directors.
Flipboard has always stood out for its design aesthetic and editorial control, highlighting communities of people devoted to topics like hiking, photography and science. Flipboard's teams program their app to prioritize must-reads from publications they've vetted as responsible and trustworthy, rather than outrage-driven headlines from questionable sites.
The company's also expanded its capabilities to include features like the ability to create posts, in addition to sharing links, photos, videos and podcasts. With Mastodon capabilities, Flipboard will be able to link up with other social networking alternatives like PixelFed, a photo-sharing service similar to Instagram and YouTube competitor PeerTube.
So far, McCue's approach has been working. Flipboard notched more than 145 million monthly users and is tied with Twitter as among the top five traffic referrers on the web, McCue said last year citing data from the analytics company Parse.ly.
But McCue admitted that applying Flipboard's stricter rules to a broader social network will take work.
"We're going to be careful," he said, noting that Flipboard's Mastodon server will be invite-only to start. "We can't protect against every scenario, but for the kind of mainstream ways that people will be using this app, you should know you're in a place that's pretty well moderated."