In the week after Elon Musk took over Twitter, there was a surge in the number of people signing up for the small social network called Mastodon.
You may not have heard of Mastodon, it’s been around since 2016, but now it’s growing rapidly.Some are fleeing Twitter, or at least Looking for second place Post their thoughts online The better-known social network faces layoffs, controversial product changes, an expected shift in content moderation methods and The jump in hate speech.
There may be no clear alternative to Twitter, a uniquely influential platform that is fast-moving, text-heavy, conversational and news-oriented. But Mastodon tickles. The service has a similar appearance to Twitter, with a timeline of brief updates sorted chronologically rather than algorithmically. Instead of one central platform controlled by a single company like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, it allows users to join a large number of different servers run by various groups and individuals.
Unlike the big social networks, Mastodon is free to use and has no ads. It was developed by a nonprofit run by Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko and supported through crowdfunding.
Mastodon has gained 230,000 users since Musk took control of Twitter on Oct. 27, Rochco said in an interview Thursday. It now has 655,000 monthly active users, he said. Twitter reported in July that it had nearly 238 million daily active monetizable users.
“It’s obviously not as big as Twitter, but it’s the biggest the network has ever seen,” says Rochko, who originally created Mastodon as a project rather than a consumer product (yes, its name was inspired by the heavy metal band Mastodon).
Just after Musk took over Twitter, Sarah T. Roberts, an associate professor at UCLA and faculty director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Investigations, started using Mastodon in earnest on October 30. (She said she created another account a few years ago, but didn’t really start using it until recently because of Twitter’s popularity among academics.)
Roberts, who worked as a researcher at Twitter during a sabbatical from UCLA earlier this year, said she was inspired to start using Mastodon out of concern that Twitter’s content moderation could change under Musk’s control. She suspects some newcomers are simply fed up with ad-driven social media companies that capture vast amounts of user data.
She noted that Twitter users will likely migrate to Mastodon in particular because its user experience is very similar to Twitter’s. Many of Mastodon’s features and layout (especially in its iOS app) look and feel familiar to current Twitter users, although the wording is slightly different; you can follow others, create short posts (limited to 500 characters) , and you can upload pictures and videos), bookmark or repost other users’ posts, etc.
“It’s getting close,” she said.
I’ve been a Twitter user since 2007, but as more and more people I follow on the social network have started posting their Mastodon usernames in recent weeks, I’m curious. This week, I decided to go see Mastodon for myself.
There are some key differences, especially in how the network is set up. Since Mastodon users’ accounts are hosted on a large number of different servers, the cost of hosting users is spread among many different people and groups. But it also means users are spread out all over the place, and people you know are hard to find — a setup that Rochko likens to having different email providers like Gmail and Hotmail.
This means the entire web is not under the control of any individual or company, but it also introduces some new complexity for those of us who are used to Twitter – a product that has also been criticized over the years for being less intuitive than more popular products Services like Facebook and Instagram.
For example, on Mastodon you have to join specific servers to sign up, some of them are open to anyone, some of them require an invitation (you can also run your own server). Mastodon.social, the nonprofit behind Mastodon, runs a server, but it doesn’t accept more users; I’m currently using a website called Mstdn.social, which is where I can log in to access Mastodon on the web.
While you can follow any other Mastodon user, no matter which server they are registered with, you will only see a list of Mastodon friends who follow you or who your Mastodon friends follow, if the follower happens to belong to the same server you are registered to (I Realised this while trying to track down more of the more recently registered people I know).
At first, in a sense, I felt as if I was a brand new social media novice. As Roberts said, it’s very similar to Twitter in terms of look and functionality, and the iOS app is easy to use.
But unlike Twitter, where I can easily engage with a large audience, my Mastodon network has less than 100 followers. Suddenly I didn’t know what to post – a feeling that never bothered me on Twitter, perhaps because the size of the network made any post less important. I quickly got over it, though, and realized that Mastodon’s smaller scale can be calming compared to the endless excitement of Twitter.
I’m not ready to shut down my Twitter account, though; for me, Mastodon is a sort of social media escape in case Twitter becomes unbearable.
Roberts also hasn’t decided whether to shut down her Twitter account, but she’s surprised by how quickly her Mastodon following has grown. Within a week of signing up and alerting her nearly 23,000 Twitter followers, she had amassed more than 1,000 Mastodon followers.
“People may soon not want to be caught on Twitter,” she said.
In some ways, it’s also fun to start over.
“I thought, ‘What would it be like to start over?'” she asked. “It’s kind of funny: Oh, that guy is here! Lord so-and-so! I’m glad they’re here so we can be together.”