Social crowd
Get away from the crowds with a niche social network. Vero

More than a billion people have accounts on Facebook, but giant networks like that can actually make you miserable. Instead of quitting social media entirely, look beyond the big players: A more specialized small network might be a better fit for you. Often, these niche options fill a specific need. Try a network that connects with your neighbors, puts you in touch with like-minded pet owners, leads you to new artists, or provides another service.

1. Nextdoor

What if the connections you forge online could bring you closer to your actual neighbors? Nextdoor, now active in around 169,000 neighborhoods in the U.S., connects you with the people who live nearby. These links may not blossom in to friendships, but they still come in handy if you want to buy or sell used furniture, throw a street party, or take care of local issues like potholes.

To start getting to know your neighbors, first fill out your profile, much as you would on any other social network. Then start finding friends, although you’re limited to adding people in your geographical location. If nobody else in your part of the country has connected to the network, you can create a new community and invite your neighbors.

Once you’ve made a few friends, their posts will begin populating your Nextdoor news feed, an experience much like using Facebook. However, rather than random musings and photos of lunches, you’ll see posts relevant to local people. Need a babysitter at short notice? Spotted a crime that your neighbors should be aware of? Nextdoor can help. While you don’t need to turn these interactions into face-to-face meetings, that can certainly help you get to know your neighbors a little better.

Nextdoor is free online, with apps for Android and iOS

2. Ello

Once upon a time, Ello promoted itself as a genuine rival to the big social-media networks. In the end, it never fulfilled that promise—instead, it developed into a platform for creators. If you’re make art or simply enjoy looking at the art of others, this could be the network for you.

When you create your Ello profile, you don’t have to explain who you work for and where you attended school. Instead, you create a profile based on your interests and the type of content—writing, photography, visual art, architecture, and more—you want to see. If you have wide-ranging interests, you can choose several categories.

Once you add this information, Ello serves you a feed of posts that might appeal to your interests, from landscape shots to travel diaries to digital illustrations. You can comment, like, and repost work that speaks to you, or follow that artist to see more. You can also find new people to follow by visiting the Discover section.

In addition to following others, you can also share your own content and sell your work through the website. Part of Ello’s appeal is the slick and simple interface, which makes it easy to upload art by dragging and dropping images or links into your browser.

Ello is free online, with apps for Android and iOS

3. Catster or Dogster

Attention pet lovers! Catster and Dogster focus on celebrating your domesticated animals. Join up to show off your cat or dog, scroll through an endless feed of cute pet pictures, and share advice on canine and feline health and training issues.

When you set up a profile, it’s technically a profile for your pet. Use it to share details with like-minded cat or dog owners, as well as show off your furry friend’s cutest looks. Once you’ve established your pet bona fides, check out the sites’ busy community sections. Here, you chat with other cat and dog owners, swapping tips and stories on just about every animal-related topic you can imagine.

Done socializing for the day? These sites provide animal information and advice as well. Learn about different breeds and what to expect from them, read tips for first-time cat and dog owners, and watch video clips on everything from pet science to behavioral issues.

There are a couple downsides to Catster and Dogster. Because neither community is as big as Facebook, you won’t attain the same reach as you would creating an FB profile for your cat or dog. In addition, these sites haven’t received updates lately, so they’re starting to look quite dated by modern standards. However, you can’t beat their relevance, or the pet-related information they provide.

Catster and Dogster are free online

4. Peanut

Peanut helps mothers connect with other moms. This lets users find emotional support, swap stories, listen to advice, or just get out of the house once in a while. You do need an existing account on either Facebook or with Google’s Gmail service in order to use Peanut though, and it’s only accessible through an app, as it lacks a strong web presence.

When you launch Peanut for the first time, it will ask you to sign in with your Facebook account. Then you answer a few questions about topics such as your interests, your location, and how far into a pregnancy you are (if relevant). Based on where you live and what you like, Peanut will show you other moms’ profiles, and much like dating app Tinder, you swipe left or right to connect with them. Once you’ve made a few new friends, you can chat and share tips.

The app also enables group conversations and hosts public discussion forums. This lets you run polls and get even more advice on whatever part of motherhood you want help with, from understanding your new baby’s sleeping patterns to picking the best school for your tot. You can also schedule events through Peanut, arranging to hang out with your new friends in person.

Peanut has free apps for Android and iOS

5. Wanelo

As an online community for avid shoppers, Wanelo guides its users to the best deals on everything from furniture to fashion. It also includes a strong social aspect—you can follow other shoppers, set up wish lists, swap ideas for bargains, and more.

Once you sign up for the network, you write a short bio for your profile, pick out a few of your favorite stores, and follow any fellow-shoppers whose tastes seem to align with yours. Based on this information, Wanelo works out a customized, curated feed of shopping deals that might interest you. If a deal or item catches your eye, you can buy it immediately through the app or save it for later. Wanelo lets you set up various wish lists for different items—for example, you might maintain one list for your summer wardrobe and another for dining-room furniture and accessories.

Beyond those features, Wanelo offers a social experience. As you shop, you can pin collections, products, and curated lists to your own profile, or browse the profiles of other users. You also have the opportunity to share photos of and reviews for products you’ve bought, adding helpful details for other member of the Wanelo community.

Wanelo is free online, with apps for Android and iOS

6. Vero

Photo-sharing network Vero aims to rival Instagram. It’s very much an up-and-coming rather than an established social network, which means that you’ll encounter some bugs while using it. However, if you manage to stick with Vero, it has potential.

The basic setup is similar to Instagram. You mostly post pictures, though you can also share links or recommendations for music, movies, and books. Like on Twitter, you can draw attention to these posts with hashtags and mentions. In an attempt at privacy control, the app lets you customize who sees your posts—you can share each update with different groups of people. And, once you’ve made a few friends, you can instant-message with other individuals and groups.

Vero also differentiates itself in a few ways. The app makes it easy to search through old posts, allowing you to quickly view, say, all the movies friends have recommended to you. It also promises not to use any algorithm magic on your feed, so you’ll always see posts in reverse chronological order. Finally, Vero offers an ad-free experience. Instead, the company plans to cover expenses with subscription fees. For now, however, Vero is still free for the first million people who sign up, so if the network sounds appealing, you should act fast.

Vero is free online, with apps for Android and iOS

7. Tumblr

With some 345 million users, Tumblr has already hit the mainstream. But we’re including it in this round-up because most people view it as a blogging platform. We’d like to point out all the social networking features it offers.

On the one hand, Tumblr has lots of blogging tools. You can post text, audio, links, images, and video to your timeline, and of course, your posts get built-in support for GIFs galore. But it’s not just about managing your own timeline—in fact, you can use the platform perfectly well with your profile set to “private” so nobody else can view it.

One of the main appeals of this platform is the ability to endless scroll through the content posted by accounts you follow. Thanks to its visual style, Tumblr is particularly good for indulging your love of particular movies, musicians, TV shows, comics, or artists. Just follow your favorites, and you’ll see everything they create. Plus, you can interact with the content the same way you interact with posts on Twitter. Search for relevant content through hashtags, click a heart icon to “like” favored posts, and even do the Tumblr version of retweeting: Re-share another user’s post to your own timeline, sometimes adding a comment before publishing.

Tumblr is free online, with apps for Android and iOS