After the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk, some users have been looking for alternative platforms. One of the most benefited has been Mastodon. But, what is it about?
That social network now claims to have more than 655,000 users , of which more than 230,000 joined in the last week.
On the surface, Mastodon resembles Twitter: users with accounts write messages (called “toots”), which can be replied to, liked or forwarded, plus users can follow each other.
However, under the hood, it works differently.
That’s one of the reasons it’s attracting new users, though it has caused some confusion among people just signing up.
This Mastodon user’s message humorously alludes to the confusion the platform can cause: “Every Mastodon explanation goes something like this: ‘It’s very simple, your account is part of a kerflunk , and each kerflunk can talk to each other . as part of a bumblurt. At that point every person you send a flurgle to can see your bloops …'”
The platform has been running for six years, but its current activity is unprecedented, so it is struggling under the load of new subscribers.
Here is a short guide for you to navigate.
What are all these servers?
The first thing you should do once you sign up is select a server. There are a lot of these. They have their own category – many depending on the country, city or interest – such as UK [for the United Kingdom, the country where I am], social, technology, games, etc.
It doesn’t really matter which one you choose because you’ll still be able to follow users from all the other categories, although it does give you an inbound community with users who are also likely to write about things of interest to you .
Some of the popular ones – like social and UK – are currently running very slowly due to demand.
Ryan Wilding, who runs the Mastodon.UK server through his firm Superior Networks, says he had 6,000 new subscribers in 24 hours and had to temporarily stop signups.
“I wanted to know what all the fuss was about,” he said.
“I stopped the server at 10 pm on Friday night, and woke up the next morning to find 1,000 people I didn’t know had arrived.”
Twitter fires half of its employees while Elon Musk assures that the company “loses US$4 million per day”
How do you find a person?
The server you select becomes part of your username – so, for example, I used my Twitter alias, zsk, and chose the UK server, which created my @firstname.lastname@example.org username. And that’s my address on the platform, what you would use to find me.
If you’re on the same server, you can do your searches using just the person’s name, but if they’re on a different server, you’ll need to use the full address.
Contrary to Twitter, Mastodon will not suggest followers you might be interested in .
You can also search for hashtags .
What are servers for?
Well, that’s complicated, but I’ll try to explain it in the simplest way.
Mastodon is not a platform. It is not a single “thing” and is not owned by any one person or firm.
All these different servers are linked together and form a collective network, but they are owned by different people and organizations .
In her post on Mastodon, Zoe Kleinman writes: “I’m looking at my followers and I feel like I’m very slowly recreating my Twitter community.”
This is called decentralization , and supporters of decentralized platforms love it for precisely this reason, as they cannot be managed, bought, or sold at the whim of a single entity.
The downside, however, is that you are instead at the mercy of the person or organization that runs your server, if they decide to leave your server, you lose your account.
Mastodon is asking server owners to give their users three months notice if they decide to shut it down.
Incidentally, Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey is working on a new network called BlueSky and says he wants it to be decentralized, too.
How is Mastodon moderated?
That is a really difficult matter. At the moment, all servers have their own moderation rules , and some don’t have any.
Some servers choose not to link to others because they are riddled with bots or because they have a lot of objectionable content, meaning they won’t be visible to those on the servers that block them.
Messages can also be reported to server owners.
If it’s hateful or illegal content, owners can remove it, but that doesn’t necessarily remove it everywhere.
That topic is going to become very controversial if this platform continues to expand.
There are already reports of people being subjected to objectionable content and the BBC has seen examples of homophobic abuse.
Is there advertising?
No. There are no banner ads, but there is also nothing to prevent someone from writing a message promoting your company or product .
Mastodon also doesn’t offer a curated experience, like Twitter does, in terms of how you view your posts; you usually see what your followers are saying as they say it.
It depends on the server you are registered on; some are asking for donations, as they are not paid, but in general it is free.