App Store Rankings as a Proxy for Social Network Momentum

On the occasion of Threads opening up to users in the EU, here’s Apple’s year-end list of the App Store’s “2023 Top Free Apps”, in order:

  1. Temu1
  2. CapCut Video Editor
  3. Max
  4. Threads
  5. TikTok
  6. Instagram
  7. Google
  8. YouTube
  9. WhatsApp
  10. Gmail
  11. Google Maps
  12. Facebook
  13. Snapchat
  14. Shein
  15. Telegram
  16. Cash App
  17. Spotify
  18. Messenger (Facebook)
  19. McDonald’s2
  20. Google Chrome

Apple doesn’t reveal the methodology behind this list, so it’s possible that X “deserved” to be on it but was omitted by Apple because of the political stench permeating the X platform. But this doesn’t seem like a list over which Apple exerted any editorial control. It’s not an “Our Favorites” list, it’s a “top” list. Apple is not exactly corporate pals with Meta or Google, but those two companies account for fully half of that list.

On today’s list of top free apps on the App Store — across all categories aside from games — Threads is #2 and X is (scrolls, scrolls, scrolls...) #63. TikTok and Instagram are in the top 10 and Facebook’s blue app for the elderly remains at #16. Threads’s placement today is surely buoyed significantly by its launch in the EU, but X is downright buried. Keep in mind that popularity charts like this follow power curves — #63 is in the long tail.

Over in Google’s Play Store’s top free apps list today, Threads is #6, behind Temu, TikTok, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Shein. Telegram, Cash App, Snapchat, and Messenger round out the top 10. (Google’s own flagship apps aren’t in that list because they’re all included with Android.) Facebook is #13, Facebook Lite #37, Reddit #39, Discord #43 and Pinterest #48. X is down at #67, right below the renowned “Domino’s Pizza USA” app.3

These app stores rankings suggest strongly that Twitter/X is dying, and I think Threads in particular is helping to kill it. Momentum and traction are hard to gain and easy to lose.

The Others

It brings me no joy to report this, but unless I scrolled past one, there are no Mastodon clients in the top 200 free apps, even looking specifically within the “social networking” category, on either the App Store or Play Store.4 (Twitter/X categorizes itself as “News”, not “Social”, as a sad crutch to place higher in a category with less competition.) Even Bluesky makes these lists (#80 on the App Store; #49 on Play Store). And in what may be an interesting socio-economic demographic data point, Orange Jesus’s Truth Social app is #48 on the Play Store (just ahead of Bluesky), but not in the top 200 on the App Store. (Red hats, green bubbles?)

I enjoy Mastodon, and love Ivory, but Mastodon has seemingly peaked in popularity. It’s a niche for nerds. I think it’s a successful niche for nerds — I still see a stream of interesting content in my feed there, and enjoy thoughtful engagement from readers — but Mastodon has seemingly no mainstream relevance, and I don’t think ever will. Regular people do not want to use social networks without algorithmic feeds, and do not want to use social networks whose basic premise they do not understand.

  1. Oh man, do I need to write about Temu. So here’s a footnote teaser to force my hand. Temu is what my dad would call “a real piece of work”. ↩︎

  2. Hats off to McDonald’s for being the only pre-internet company with an app on this list. No snark implied — this seems like a genuine success story that until now I’d completely overlooked. I never would have guessed the McDonald’s app would rank higher than, say, Starbucks. ↩︎︎

  3. They’re as good at naming apps as they are at making pizza. ↩︎︎

  4. Mastodon, the social network, surely suffers to some degree when trying to gauge platform popularity by app store rankings because it’s an open platform with a slew of different client apps — especially on iOS. I’ll bet if we could somehow combine all iOS Mastodon clients together, the combined “Mastodon” entity would make the list. But still, the fact that none, including the completely free official Mastodon client, make the list at all is a strong signal that the platform has peaked. ↩︎︎