In the week since Elon Musk took over Twitter, the number of people signing up to a small social network called Mastodon has increased.
You may not have heard of the Mastodon, which has been around since 2016 but is now growing rapidly. Some are turning away from Twitter for this, or at least looking for a second place to post their thoughts online, as the much better-known social network faces layoffs, controversial product changes, an expected change in its approach to content moderation, and a jump. in hateful rhetoric.
There may not be a clear alternative to Twitter, a uniquely influential platform that moves fast, is text-heavy, conversational, and news-oriented.
But Mastodon causes a certain itch. The service has a similar look and feel to Twitter, with a timeline of short updates sorted chronologically rather than algorithmically. It allows users to join multiple different servers run by multiple groups and individuals rather than a central platform controlled by a single company like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Unlike the larger social networks, Mastodon is free and ad-free. It is developed by a non-profit organization run by Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko and is supported by crowdfunding.
Rochko said in an interview on Thursday that Mastodon had gained 230,000 users since Oct. 27, when Musk took control of Twitter. It now has 655,000 active users each month, he said. Twitter reported in July that it had nearly 238 million daily active monetizable users.
“It’s not as big as Twitter, obviously, but it’s the biggest this network has ever been,” said Rochko, who originally created Mastodon more as a project than a consumer product (and, yes, its name was inspired by the heavy metal band Mastodon).
Who is joining Mastodon?
Mastodon’s new entries include some Twitter users with large followings, such as actress and comedian Kathy Griffin, who joined in early November, and journalist Molly Jong-Fast, who joined in late October.
Sarah T. Roberts, an associate professor at UCLA (University of California) and faculty director at the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, began using Mastodon seriously on October 30, shortly after Musk take over Twitter. (She created another account years ago, she said, but didn’t join it until recently because of Twitter’s popularity among people at the gym.)
Roberts, who worked at Twitter as a team researcher earlier this year while on leave from UCLA, said she was inspired to start using Mastodon because of concerns about how Twitter’s content moderation might change under Musk’s control. She suspects that some newcomers are simply tired of social media companies that capture too much user data and are driven by advertising.
And she pointed out that Twitter users might migrate to Mastodon in particular because its user experience is quite similar to Twitter’s. Many of Mastodon’s features and layout (particularly in its iOS app) will feel familiar to current Twitter users, albeit with slightly different verbiage; you can follow other people, create short posts (there is a 500 character limit and you can upload images and videos), favorite or repost posts from other users, and so on.
“It’s as close as possible,” she said.
Feeling like a newcomer
I’ve been a Twitter user since 2007, but as an increasing number of people I follow on the social network have started posting their Mastodon usernames in recent weeks, I’ve been curious. This week, I decided to check out Mastodon for myself.
There are some important differences, mainly in the way the network is configured. As Mastodon user accounts are hosted on many different servers, user hosting costs are spread across many different people and groups. But that also means users are scattered all over the place, and people you know can be hard to find — Rochko likened this setup to having different email providers like Gmail and Hotmail.
This means that the entire network is not under the control of any one person or company, but it also presents some new complications for those used to Twitter – a product that has also been criticized over the years for being less intuitive than more popular than services like Twitter. Facebook and Instagram.
In Mastodon, for example, you need to join a specific server to sign up, some of which are open to anyone, some of which require an invite (you can also run your own server).
There is a server operated by the non-profit organization behind Mastodon, Mastodon.social, but it is no longer accepting users; I’m currently using one called Mstdn.social, which is also where I can sign in to access Mastodon on the web.
And while you can follow any other Mastodon user, no matter which server they signed up to, you can only see lists of who follows your Mastodon friends, or who your Mastodon friends follow, if the followers belong to the same server with which you signed up (I noticed this while trying to track more people I know who signed up recently).
At first it felt like I was starting over, in a sense, as a complete newcomer to social media. As Roberts said, it is quite similar to Twitter in terms of appearance and functionality, and the iOS app is easy to use.
But unlike Twitter, where I can easily interact with a large audience, my Mastodon network has less than 100 followers. I suddenly had no idea what to post – a feeling that never bothers me on Twitter, perhaps because the size of this network makes any post seem less important. I got over it quickly, though, and realized that Mastodon’s smaller scale can be calming compared to Twitter’s never-ending stream of stimulation.
A social media escape hatch
However, I’m not ready to close my Twitter account; to me, Mastodon is something of a social media outlet in case Twitter becomes unbearable.
Roberts also hasn’t decided whether to close her Twitter account, but was surprised at how quickly her following on Mastodon has grown. Within a week of signing up and alerting her nearly 23,000 Twitter followers, she has amassed over 1,000 Mastodon followers.
“It could be very soon that people don’t want to be seen on Twitter,” she said.
In a way, starting over can also be fun.
“I thought, ‘What’s it like to start over?” she asked. “It’s kind of interesting: Oh, this person is here! Here’s so-and-so! I’m so glad they’re here so we can be here together.”
Source: CNN Brasil