I first heard of Mastodon back in August of 2018. A friend was getting sick of Twitter and wanted me to come join him on Mastodon. I had no idea what it was, or what “decentralized” meant, or what “federated” was, but I joined anyway for my friend.
At first, I didn’t see the big deal. So what? It just seemed like a Twitter clone to me. Designed a lot like Tweetdeck ( twitters power user platform ) you had “toots” instead of “tweets” and “boosts” instead of “retweets”. The character limit was longer ( 500 ), but other then that, it just seemed like a much smaller Twitter.
Then I noticed three separate timelines. “Home”, “Local” and “Federated”. I had no idea what these meant. They seemed like the same things to me. Timelines with updates. So why were they separated? What was the difference?
Then I watched this video, and I started to understand…
Mastodon isn’t just one company like Twitter. It isn’t a company at all. Mastodon is software, a lot like the WordPress blogging software that hosts this page. What separates it from WordPress though, is that Mastodon has no central authority. There is no Mastodon corporation. Anyone can download Mastodon to their server and create whats called an “instance”. Each “instance” is ran and governed by it’s own administration with it’s own set of rules and guidelines. This gives you your own private “twitter” clone with your domains URL. For example the Mastodon instance I belong to is mastodon.social. If I ran my own server, my instance would be mrfunkedude.com. There are thousands of instances with more being created everyday.
” This in my view, is one of the key ways in which Mastodon distinguishes itself from Twitter. “
Each instance can decide if it wants to become what they call “federated”. This means they have the option to connect with all, some, or none, of all of the other instances of Mastodon that are out there. This is why there are three other timelines. “Home” where you see the toots of people you follow. “Local” where you see the toots of everyone on your instance. And lastly, “Federated” where you see all of the toots from all of the other instances that your instance has connected with. This in my view, is one of the key ways in which Mastodon distinguishes itself from Twitter. It gives you more control. You can view the local timeline and just stick to the focus of your Mastodon instance, or you can view the federated timeline and read the toots of people from all over the world. It’s focus is on being a social network. Not a “We tell you who to follow and you can only see someone else’s post if someone you know wants to promote it, social network”
Finding people to follow is easy. In the 4 months that I’ve been on mastodon.social I’ve found 51 people to follow, and I have 51 people following me back. I found them simply by reading both of the timelines a little everyday. Sure, it’s mostly stuff I don’t care about. People talking about whatever enters their minds, posting memes, the usual things you find on most social networks. Every now and then something someone would say would interest me. I’d then click on their name to go to their profile and I would check out more of their toots and read their bio. If I thought they were interesting, I’d follow them.
Which leads me to another great thing about Mastodon. Engagement. I have been on Twitter since beta when no one knew what Twitter was. To this day I only follow 69 people, and I have 193 followers. I’ve never tried to get Twitter famous or anything, it’s just a simple account. When I joined Mastodon I didn’t want to post twice to both Mastodon and then Twitter. Luckily I found a free service at moa.party that allowed me to post on Mastodon and have it also posted on Twitter. The difference in engagement became obvious soon after. My toots on Mastodon were getting more boosts ( like retweets ) and favorites, as well as more comments then they were on Twitter. By a large amount. This was due to the fact that my toots aren’t limited to just the people who follow me or who retweet me. People can see my toots in the local and federated timelines as well. More visibility equals more engagement.
Your toots can either be public, where everyone can see them. Unlisted, where everyone can see them but you aren’t listed in the public timeline. And followers only.
But, what if you don’t want to be visible? What if you don’t everyone to see your toots? Mastodon has you covered. Your toots can either be public, where everyone can see them. Unlisted, where everyone can see them but you aren’t listed in the public timeline. And followers only. They make it easy for you to block, report, or simply mute someone as well as allowing you to create filters to block toots with words you’d like to avoid. You can opt out of search engine indexing, hide who you follow and who follows you, and control which apps are allowed access. There’s even two factor authentication. Mastodon give you plenty of control.
And yes, I said there were apps. Since there is no Mastodon authority or corporation, all apps are third party developers. Currently there are 15+ apps in the Google Play store, and 16+ apps on IOS app store. That should tell you something about it’s growing popularity. The platform has only been out for 2 years and as of December 2018 it has over 2840 instances with over 2 million users. For a non corporate, grass roots, word of mouth social network, that’s not too bad. ( consider that it took Twitter 2 years with a ton of seed money to hit 1 million users )
Lastly, and probably my favorite thing about Mastodon, is that it uses the ActivityPub standard. This means you can follow people on other platforms that also use the ActivityPub standard like Peertube, Pixelfed, Plume, and more, FROM Mastodon. All you need, is their username. For example, if I see someone on Pixelfed that I’d like to follow, I don’t need to create a Pixelfed account. I just need their username. I can just do a search in Mastodon for @email@example.com then, whenever that person posts a new update, I would see it in my Mastodon home timeline. Crazy right? Imagine seeing your friends Facebook update on Twitter. It’s like that.
I have high hopes for Mastodon and decentralized federated social networks. I really think it’s the future of social networks and it’s a great way to take the internet back from the corporations. ( read more about what decentralized federated social media is, and why you want it here. ) I highly suggest you give it a try. The developer of Mastodon has a friendly welcome page at joinmastodon.org where you can find an instance to join that best represents you. When you do, make sure to give me a follow. I’m @firstname.lastname@example.org or just visit my profile here.