At a glance Mastodon resembles aspects of Twitter - users can post “toots” (the equivalent of “tweets”), like and reply to others’ toots and follow one another. These toots are also twice as long as tweets - so you can toot your horn for even longer, but when transitioning to the platform you may struggle to replace your Twitter follower list.
Regardless, with Elon Musk acting as CEO of Twitter for just over a week now and promising some sweeping new changes to the platform, some users have sought a Twitter-alternative which puts Mastodon under the spotlight.
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a not-for-profit ‘micro-blogging site’ founded by German software developer Eugen Rochko back in 2016. According to a report by Yahoo, Rochko’s concept was to develop a “user-friendly microblogging product that would not belong to any central authority”. Therefore, Mastodon claims to be a decentralised social media platform which means the application’s code is open source so anyone can make a server on it and store user data.
This suggests that no one company or group should have too much control over Mastodon, unlike Twitter and its shares which even prior to Elon Musk becoming CEO were divided between many investment organisations, private companies, retail businesses and The Vanguard Group as one of the biggest shareholders, The Sun reports.
How does Mastodon work?
Mastodon is an open-source and free social media network which “in most cases” has been crowdfunded rather than financed. It has an interface reminiscent of Twitter but instead it presents a timeline of “toots” (short posts) that are organised chronologically rather than algorithmically - you can interact with these posts as you would on any other platform.
Unlike Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it is decentralised meaning it is not run by one entity and exists as a collection of many servers that form one network - this is why it is referred to as a ‘federated social network’ or the ‘Fediverse’.
These servers are called “instances” and are themed similarly to subreddits on Reddit - each server has its own topic and reportedly acts independently with their own community rules.
How many users does Mastodon have?
According to an article by The Conversation, Twitter was losing active users from its 238-million-strong user list even prior to Elon Musk purchasing the network. This dwarfs Mastodon’s user base however Rochko himself posted on Monday that the platform “hit 1,028,362 monthly active users across the network,” he added “1,124 new Mastodon servers since Oct 27, and 489,003 new users. That’s pretty cool.”
What are the disadvantages of Mastodon over Twitter?
Mastodon has received praise for its verification being ‘free and easy’, the site being ad-free and posts having a larger text allowance than Twitter. However, its downsides have also been noted like how it is harder to find people to follow on Mastodon rather than the “neatly ordered town square” on offer with Twitter - the unfamiliar interface demands that users adapt to its navigation.
Furthermore, as The Guardian reports “finding Twitter users is a chore” and if you want to track down those that you followed on Twitter on Mastodon then there’s “no easy way to do this” unless you use services like Twitodon but this will only work for finding other users that also use that service.
What does Mastodon mean?
According to Merriam Webster the word “mastodon” refers to “any of various extinct mammals of the elephant family”, so it can be thought of as representing an extinct mammoth, for example. The dictionary reports it can also refer to something “unusually large” - perhaps an encouraging prophecy for Rochko’s platform as it grows despite competing with major tech companies.
Is Mastodon the first social media alternative of its kind?
Social media alternatives have been cropping up in recent years. For example, some critics argued that YouTube was not upholding its values of freedom of speech with intense restrictions on what constitutes a violation of the platform’s video policy.
This saw the creation of Rumble, a video-streaming platform that The Atlantic reported had not “positioned itself in the culture wars until quite recently” as it saw a “massive growth in users” following the American General Election.
Similarly, it appears the move from Twitter to Mastodon is being motivated by Elon Musk’s takeover of the social network and his promises to perform sweeping changes to it as well as firing many of Twitter’s pre-existing staff.
It could be in future we will observe a growing trend of alternative media as mainstream networks fail to match the values of their user bases.