per week since Elon Musk takes over TwitterThe number of people signing up for a small social network called Mastodon has increased.
you may not have heard MastodonExisting since 2016, but now growing rapidly. Some are fleeing Twitter for this, or at least looking for a second place to post your thoughts online much better known social network layoffs, controversial product changes, an expected change in content moderation approach, and a leap in hate speech.
It may not be a clear alternative to Twitter, a uniquely effective platform that is fast-moving, text-heavy, conversational, and news-driven. But Mastodon does scratch a certain itch. The service has a Twitter-like look, with a timeline of short updates sorted chronologically rather than algorithmically. It allows users to join a number of different servers operated by various groups and individuals, rather than a single central platform controlled by a single company such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Unlike the larger social networks, Mastodon is both free and ad-free. It was developed by a nonprofit run by Eugen Rochko, the creator of Mastodon, and is supported by: crowdfunding.
Rochko said in an interview Thursday that Mastodon Musk has gained 230,000 users since Oct. took control of Twitter. It now has 655,000 active users each month, he said. Twitter reported in July that it had approximately 238 million daily active monetizable users.
“It’s obviously not as big as Twitter, but the biggest this network has ever been,” said Rochko, who created Mastodon more as a project than a consumer product (and yes, the name was inspired by the heavy metal band Mastodon).
Among Mastodon’s new entries are some Twitter users with large followings, such as actors and comedians. Kathy GriffinParticipating in early November and journalist Molly Jong-FastJoined in late October.
Sarah T. Roberts, associate professor at UCLA and faculty member of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, started using Mastodon in earnest on October 30, right after Musk took over Twitter. (She said she created another account years ago, but she didn’t really get in until recently due to Twitter’s popularity among academic circles.)
Roberts, who worked as a staff researcher at Twitter when he left UCLA earlier this year, said he was inspired to start using Mastodon because of concerns about how Twitter’s content control might change under Musk’s control. He suspects some newcomers are tired of social media companies capturing a lot of user data and driven by advertising.
He pointed out that Twitter users may migrate specifically to Mastodon because the user experience is quite similar to Twitter. Many of Mastodon’s features and layouts (particularly in the iOS app) will sound familiar and familiar to existing Twitter users, albeit slightly off-putting; you can follow others, create short posts (there is a 500 character limit and you can upload images and videos), add to favorites or reshare other users’ posts, etc.
“As close as possible,” he said.
I’ve been a Twitter user since 2007, but I was intrigued when the number of people I follow on the social network started posting Mastodon usernames in recent weeks. This week I decided to check out Mastodon myself.
There are some important differences, especially in how the network is set up. Because Mastodon users’ accounts are hosted on a large number of different servers, user hosting costs are distributed among many different individuals and groups. But it also means users are scattered all over the place and people you know can be difficult to find – Rochko likened this setup to 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 introduces some new complications for those of us who are used to Twitter – a product that has also been criticized for years for being less intuitive than more popular. Services such as Facebook and Instagram.
In Mastodon, for example, you have join a specific server to sign up, some are public, some require an invitation (also run your own server). Behind Mastodon is a server run by the nonprofit, Mastodon.social, but it does not accept any more users; Currently I am using one called Mstdn.social which I can login to access Mastodon over the web.
And while you can follow any Mastodon user no matter what server they are registered on, you can only see who is following your Mastodon friends or who your Mastodon friends are following, if the followers belong to the same member. the server you signed up to (I noticed this while trying to find more people I know who signed up recently).
At first, in a sense, I felt like I was completely new to social media. It’s pretty similar to Twitter in looks and functionality, as Roberts said, 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 bothered me on Twitter, perhaps because the size of this network makes any post feel less important. I quickly got over it, though, and realized that Mastodon’s smaller scale could be calming compared to Twitter’s endless stream of alerts.
Still, I’m not quite ready to close my Twitter account; For me, Mastodon is a kind of social media escape route in case Twitter becomes unbearable.
Roberts has yet to decide whether to shut down his Twitter account, either, but was surprised at how fast his followers grew on Mastodon. Within a week of signing up and alerting nearly 23,000 Twitter followers, he had amassed over 1,000 Mastodon followers.
“It may very soon be that people don’t want to get caught on Twitter,” he said.
In some ways, it can also be fun to start over.
“‘What will it be like to start over?’ I thought,” he asked. “This is kind of interesting: Ah that person is here! Here it is! I’m so happy they’re here so we can be here together.”
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