Pebble, a startup that took on Twitter and failed, has returned from the dead — as a Mastodon instance, it seems. The company announced last month that it was shutting down its Twitter/X alternative citing the increasingly competitive landscape, X’s ability to retain users, and its own failure to gain traction with a wider audience. But after deliberately avoiding any plans to participate in the decentralized social network Mastodon during its time as a startup, Pebble has now given itself a fresh start as a dedicated Mastodon server dubbed pebble.social.
It was initially unclear if the new Pebble server was a community-led attempt to keep the small network afloat or something more official. Despite clearly displaying Pebble’s branding and tagline, there wasn’t any information about who started the Pebble instance or why.
But TechCrunch has now confirmed the Pebble instance was recently established by Pebble co-founder and CEO Gabor Cselle as something of a new social experiment. However, members of the Pebble community are involved in the server’s moderation.
Cselle tells us that the community asked the founders to set up a subreddit and a Mastodon instance so they’d have somewhere to go when Pebble shut down, so they did.
“And then something really interesting happened, which is after we started with Mastodon, a bunch of people came over,” he says. One of them, a user only known as “Blobcat” (@firstname.lastname@example.org) posted a link to their GitHub repo where they had styled the Mastodon instance to look just like how Pebble used to. So Pebble.social got a new look and has since grown to a few hundred active users, as well.
“It’s really a testament to the power of open source,” says Cselle.
After restyling the server and learning how to use blocklists to keep out unwanted content and trolls from the wider Mastodon network, Cselle put a few people in charge of managing moderation of the instance as he dealt with winding down the Delaware C-Corp that was the old pebble.is.
At its height, Pebble reached just 20,000 registered users but its usage had fallen to just around 1,000 daily users following its rebranding from T2, a placeholder name that was meant to signify its position as a Twitter clone. The startup had prioritized copying Twitter’s user interface and features, right down to DMs and a checkmark-based verification system, but aimed to differentiate itself by focusing on trust and safety as a key selling factor. As it turns out, that message didn’t resonate with would-be T2 users — or at least, it wasn’t enough of a draw to get them excited about abandoning one app for another.
As part of its mission, the company chose not to integrate with Mastodon or other decentralized social networks. As Cseelle had once put it, “It’s just very, very hard to do trust and safety on these [federated networks].” He said that when you’re federated with other servers, you would have to block an entire instance (that is, another server) if it hosted content that didn’t fit with your own trust and safety guidelines. “It leads to a Balkanization of the network,” he had noted.
With Pebble.social, which has now added a few hundred users to Mastodon’s broader network, the goal is merely to experiment with social and community in a federated space. There are no grand plans, but it’s unusual to see a social startup community live on, after the company itself shuts down.
“I think it’s good to see that the community finds value in this and that’s that we had a real community on Pebble,” says Cselle.