What Is Mastodon, The Twitter Alternative?

With Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, many users are ditching — or at least threatening to ditch — their accounts in favor of an alternative. The reasons vary, but many users say their decision stems from either a personal dislike of Musk or fears that his so-called “free speech” plans for the platform could turn it into a toxic cesspool. Musk himself has expressed plans to mitigate this potential reality with new systems, such as the potential implementation of a rating-based system so users can get the kind of experience they’re looking for.

It’s too early to tell what the future of Twitter will look like, but in the meantime, it might be a good idea to settle on another platform just in case. Mastodon is one such option due to some of its similarities to Twitter, but the underlying technology behind it is very different and a bit confusing. What exactly is Mastodon and is it a suitable alternative to Twitter? The answer is complicated.

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon, The Twitter Alternative

At first glance, Mastodon is essentially a Twitter clone. The microblogging social media platform offers many of the same features as Twitter, including the ability to mention other accounts, post content visible only to followers, and post content that can be seen by the general public, plus there is support for sharing multimedia content such as images, videos, and even creating polls. Mastodon also offers its users access to posts from their followers in a chronological news feed, which addresses one of the biggest problems Twitter users have had with the latter platform in recent years.

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But the platform, whose popularity mostly rises and falls based on how people feel about Twitter at any given moment, is fundamentally different from Twitter: it’s a decentralized network, meaning communities have much more freedom to create their own little corners of the internet and moderate them as they see fit. Although these communities exist on a wide variety of servers, Mastodon allows these servers to exist in a unified environment, meaning that a Mastodon user can follow and see content from other users who are spread across multiple servers using a single account.

How does Mastodon work?

How does Mastodon work?

Mastodon is open source and free; users can access it through a large number of third-party mobile apps, some free and some paid, each offering a variety of features, so there’s something for everyone. Mastodon is also accessible on a computer and even via a web browser on a mobile device, provided you don’t want to install the app. Anyone can also set up their own server—provided they have the funds and know-how—and build a community on it that offers a type of flexibility and range of options beyond what’s available on Twitter.

Accounts are created on the server, although there is an option to move the account to another server later. Regardless, users can view content and interactions from users who have created their accounts on another server – provided that instance is federated with others – so despite its decentralized nature, Mastodon feels somewhat like a unique platform to participate in each. Many servers are built around specific themes, including servers for the LGBTQ community, technology, and even food, art, and music.

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Most of the communities you can find on Twitter can also be found on Mastodon – there are even a few servers for furries if you’re into that sort of thing. At the time of writing, Mastodon says on its website that there are more than 3,000 servers on the network and more than 450,000 monthly active users, meaning there is no shortage of opportunities to interact and engage. That said, not every server is open to the public, and some require interested users to join a waiting list to (possibly) gain future access to the communities.

Advantages of mastodon

Advantages of mastodon

One of Mastodon’s greatest strengths is its decentralized design. Because fediverse is made up of many servers, users have the ability to find a group that interests them and that offers the type of experience they are looking for. However, Mastodon does not require users to isolate themselves in one community. As such, Mastodon is flexible.

Since Mastodon is open source, any developer can create their own application to access the platform, so users are not limited to one official application and some unofficial ones that can be removed or broken at any time. Apps are available on all major platforms, including Android and iOS, plus there’s an option for SailfishOS. For example, Android users can download Tusky for free or Fedilab if they are willing to pay for the app. Meanwhile, iPhone users have more options with the likes of Toot!, Mast, Amaroq, Mercury, iMast and Metatext – two of which are paid and the rest are available as free downloads.

Each Mastodon server offers something different, so users who want a less moderated experience have the option to find like-minded communities. The nonprofit behind the platform explains that this grassroots moderation allows communities to operate as they see fit, rather than requiring them to follow an overarching set of rules. Perhaps one of the best features of Mastodon is the lack of ads, and there are no algorithms to decide what you see (and what you don’t see).

Mastodon negatives

Mastodon negatives

Mastodon’s decentralized nature and locally based moderation is a double-edged sword. While it offers communities more freedom compared to Twitter, this means that some servers are also quite toxic and contain racist, sexist and otherwise negative and hateful comments and content that are not easily found on centralized big name social media platforms. You will simply have to avoid these online destinations as there is no central company you can refer to in an effort to get the content removed.

Also, the Mastodon experience can be overwhelming at first because of how the servers – called instances or nodes – act as their own little islands. Each instance has its own post feed, and depending on the software you’re using to access the instance, switching between content streams across multiple instances can feel clunky.

Additionally, the decentralized design means that it can be difficult for other people to find you on Mastodon, and this could be particularly frustrating for many people. You can only watch and see content from users on other servers if those instances are federated with other instances. The platform has also been criticized for focusing too much on attempts to clone Twitter, so much so that critics say it’s limiting itself in a way that makes it less appealing. Example? The platform calls user posts “toots,” which is clearly a play on the term tweety, but it’s probably terrible and a lot of users don’t like it.

How Mastodon is used

Since Mastodon is defined by an ocean of instances (servers), there is no single place where you can register. Instead, you’ll need to find a server you like and create an account on it. Probably the most popular instance of Mastodon is called mastodon.social, but there are many others to choose from. When you find one you like – provided it allows anyone to join – joining the platform is as easy as joining a server and creating an account. You can do this from your web browser, but if you prefer apps, you can download the official Mastodon app from Google Play or the App Store — or, of course, download one of the other options listed above.

When you go to create an account, you’ll see the rules enforced by that particular server – and as mentioned, these rules will vary between instances, so what’s acceptable on one node may not be acceptable on another. If we use mastodon.social as an example, the instance prohibits racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and the like, does not allow its members to promote or call for violence, disinformation and other things that you normally find on a regular social network. media platform.

After agreeing to the terms presented by the Mastodon server, you will be able to enter your display name, which is the name other users will see, as well as your username, which you will use to log into the server. . The username will be appended to “@mastodon.social” or whatever your instance name is, and you’ll be able to use that as something like a URL for others to connect with you. You will also need to enter your email address and create a password for your account.

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