Tired of Twitter? Mastodon aims to calm the discord
For years, tech headlines have been flooded with stories about Twitter. From censorship to bullying to billionaire takeovers, Twitter headlines are constantly trending. The past few months have been especially rife with news about the social media giant, with reports predicting a technical collapse of the Twitter code base itself. And in a sector where influential platforms like MySpace and Google+ went from millions of users to defunct relics of dot com history, it’s logical to wonder if Twitter will be the next digital dinosaur to become extinct.
Thousands join Mastodon following Twitter’s big takeover
After Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter, many avid users began looking for a new home – only to find there weren’t many great options. The Guardian reported that techy, computer-literate users are rallying around Mastodon, which a single corporation or wealthy individual cannot control. Decentralization is obviously appealing to over 49,000 users who have recently signed up. But that’s only a fraction of Twitter’s reported 450 million daily active users. One of the barriers to more widespread adoption may be that decentralized software remains difficult for many people to use.
What is Mastodon?
While Mastodon looks a heck of a lot like Twitter, the technology behind it is something very different. Mastodon is a free, open-source, decentralized social media platform supporting the users’ right to use, copy, study and change the code, benefitting from a community of contributions, much like WordPress.
Mastodon was founded by Eugen Rochko, a German software developer, in 2016. Built on open web protocols, Mastodon can speak with any other platform that implements ActivityPub, which is an official W3C recommended standard published by the W3C Social Web Working Group. You get access to a whole universe of social apps with one account.
There are similarities between Twitter and Mastodon. Both are microblogging sites, and the process of creating, viewing, and reposting content from your feed is essentially the same. However, Mastodon isn’t a single website you can sign up for. You need to create an account with a unique provider (they call servers) to use it. An independent person or group operates each server.
Even though accounts are hosted on separate servers, you can still follow any person on any other server. According to the Mastodon website, “To be in complete control, you can create your own server.” As you can see, this level of tech-savvy could be a barrier for people who know nothing about blockchain and decentralized computing.
How is Mastodon different from Twitter and other social networks?
In an interview with Time, Rochko said, “There is no way for Mastodon, the company, or anyone really—except the normal law enforcement procedures—to really go after anyone specifically running a Mastodon server.” Mastodon’s decentralized nature potentially makes it “the ultimate free speech platform.”
Rochko acknowledges that when you create a product that anyone can use, “bad people” will use it too. He goes on to explain that
“…I think that the differentiating factor to something like Twitter or Facebook, is that on Mastodon, when you host your own server, you can also decide what rules you want to enforce on that server, which allows communities to create safer spaces than they could otherwise have on these large platforms that are interested in serving as many people as possible, perhaps driving engagement up on purpose to increase time people spend on the web.”
Is Mastodon really better than Twitter?
While escaping perils such as spam bots, misinformation, corporate greed, and Twitter trolls is a good reason for giving new social networks a try, ultimately, people sign up for a social network to go where their friends are. TikTok, which also had its initial release in 2016, now has over 1bn active users, compared to about 360,000 on Mastodon. In that respect, Mastodon may only be a viable choice for you if you have some friends to tag along with.
However, social media is also a place to seek fresh content and expand your network. Mastodon’s server instances target various interest groups, from astronomy enthusiasts to LGBTQ+ tech professionals. So if you’re looking to build a new group of friends with similar passions, then it’s worth the time it takes to get approved by a server moderator.
The evolution of social needs
Mastodon has real potential for topping the microblogging behemoth. But there are many other types of social networks that may better suit the evolving needs of social media users.
- Discord. An instant messaging social platform initially targeted at gamers, Discord is another player benefitting from the anti-Twitter wave. Users can communicate with voice calls, video calls, text messaging, media, and files in private chats or as part of communities called “servers.” Like Mastodon, servers are sorted into topic-based channel feeds, but some say Discord is more flexible and easy to use.
- Marco Polo. Another standout in the new wave of social media apps is Marco Polo. Capturing the popularity of video content, the Marco Polo mobile app lets users send and receive video messages. Unlike Facetime or Skype, which require people to connect live, Macro Polo captures recorded video messages that are sent and received like email, offering a live chat experience for people on very different schedules.
- Substack. Founded in 2017 as an email newsletter platform, Substack now integrates a blog, newsletter, and subscription system into a simple, social media-like network. It’s an excellent choice for people who want to push their writing to a wider audience and those looking to discover new storytellers and independent journalists. They’ve added podcasting and video capabilities to the text options, and recently launched a Discord-esque chat feature.
- LinkedIn. Once the domain of HR managers and the unemployed, LinkedIn has become a hub for thought leaders in the business world. It is now easier than ever to connect with college classmates, former colleagues, and even celebrities.
Earlier this year, Facebook parent company Meta reported that total daily active users had declined for the first time in the site’s history. And in late October, a leaked internal report from Twitter showed that once-active tweeters are now tweeting less than they used to.
While the cause of these downturns is debatable, a seismic shift away from algorithm-driven social feeds is likely underway. Online attention spans are changing, and as new online communication platforms like Mastodon come into existence, it’s only a matter of time before the law of natural selection consumes yet another former beast.
If you found this story useful, be sure to subscribe to the Namecheap blog for more stories like this as well as helpful articles about building a website, cybersecurity, running a small business, and tech news.