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I Made a Mastodon Account and so Far I like It

Preslav Rachev
A software engineer, turning writer. Lifetime learner. Solver of people problems. Follow me into building a sustainable online business.
・4 min read
NOTE: I joined Mastodon a bit more than a week ago. This is my personal recollection of my first 24 hours on the platform. It was originally published on my blog.

So, you might have heard about Mastodon. A micro-blogging alternative to Twitter, boasting itself for being 100% open-source, and for its decentralised nature.

Unlike traditional social networks like Twitter and Facebook, Mastodon is not driven by a single company profiting by selling your identity to others, but by a network of instance maintainers and supporters who put their own money on the line. Ensuring that Mastodon is going to live in the long term sounds easy...on paper. Many of the instance maintainers gladly accept donations through Patreon or other means, and of course, adding your own instance to the network is relatively easy. Whether this is actually going to work in the long run, is a different question. There has been a list of alleged P2P Facebook/Twitter killers, which for one reason or another, have failed to the critical mass needed for mass adoption. I am willing to bet on a hopeful "YES".

Being an early adopter of all things digital, and annoyed by the direction that Twitter is taking, I signed up for an account yesterday: @preslavrachev@mastodon.technology. I gladly encourage everyone to join and follow me. In case you ask yourselves what @mastodon.technology has to do with my username, this is the name of the instance where I registered my account.

Instance names are somewhat like email domains. Being on a particular instance ensures that one will get the entire flow of communication inside the given instance. Just like email however, cross-instance communication is an essential part of what makes Mastodon work. In fact, a large percentage of the people I follow now are not on the same instance as I am but communicate flawlessly with each other.

Just like with email, the real advantage of having multiple identities on Mastodon comes when one wants to claim allegiance to a certain organisation, group, or topic of interest. Say, your company decided to run a private Mastodon instance. Having an identity there would allow you to follow locally shared chatter, but also prove to the rest of the Mastodon Universe that you belong to the given organisation. As of yet, I haven't yet figured out how multi-identity management really works, so I might have to leave this part for a later post.

The last 24 hours of being on Mastodon feel very much like the early days of Twitter. When I joined Twitter in 2008, it was still a very turbulent time for both the service and the team. There have been way too many occasions when the fail whale appeared on my screen, something which I have not really witnessed during the past couple of years.

With the frequent downtimes and shakes inside the team, something else slowly started going away - the community spirit of the early days. Don't get me wrong, I still use Twitter on a daily basis, though somewhat automatically. The community is still there, it is just that the bond and the friendly chatter of the early days is gone. It got replaced by incessant advertising (which I fervently mute on every occasion) and a stream of posts clearly optimised to target eyeballs and clicks. And of course, the clear statement to third-party app developers. I still remember the early days, when budding app or Web developers would use the developer-friendly Twitter API and boast with the client they developed. In no small terms, it was the developers who helped Twitter reach mainstream fame, and it is just sad that things had to reach their current state. Looks like my thoughts are being shared by the community as well:

Back to Mastodon, during my first 24 hours, I spent an hour browsing among the many available alternative clients for both iOS and macOS. I spent another couple of hours waiting for the instance to go back up after a maintenance downtime that took longer than expected. Everyone else in my place would have backed off and left, but this just raised my level of excitement. It showed me that there is some actual work needed, and that the community is working hard to put things where they should be. I can but clap in respect to the efforts that the maintainers of my instance put yesterday, in order to ensure its stability in the upcoming days and weeks. During the hours when the instance was online, I managed to set up a few friendships and engaged in some interesting discussions. It seems like a bunch fo the early spirit is back. People reply more often, and others join in to the chat. I have the feeling that conversations flow more easily.

In many respects, being on Mastodon feels like the Wild West. There are many open questions I have, like how to manage multiple accounts, what would happen with my identity, if an instance dies. I am not yet sure if I am going to leave Twitter for Mastodon (not in the foreseeable future, at least), but it sure feels exciting to try a refreshing look at what Twitter might have evolved into, had it not been forced to turn into an ordinary business.

Discussion (4)

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zcdunn profile image
Zack Dunn

Just a heads up... Even though the Mastodon project tries to hide it, Mastodon is not a social network unto itself. Mastodon uses an open protocol, ActivityPub, and is just one implementation of AP. The whole network is usually referred to as 'the fediverse' and has other implementations like Pleroma, microblog.pub, Plume, Peertube, Funkwhale, and castling.club. There are also existing project that are discussing adding AP support, like Ghost and Known.

All of these project can communicate with each other, so if you don't like Mastodon, try out one of the other microblog projects

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preslavrachev profile image
Preslav Rachev Author

This is a very good point, and one that I started digging into, the more I began using Mastodon. Similar to how the concept of a blockchain is more groundbreaking than the value of any single cryptocurrency, the potential behind ActivityPub is more compelling than Mastodon alone. This is something that I would definitely want to write a follow-up post on, and I would be really grateful, if you could help my research with a few starting points into the history of ActivityPub, its background and motivation, as well, how the development has gone so far.

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tux0r profile image
tux0r

Mastodon has its problems though:

  • Most Mastodon users are on Twitter anyway, many of them mirror their accounts. Being on Mastodon does not do much except a slightly more attractive GUI. Unless you use TweetDeck... which Mastodon's default UI (badly) imitates.
  • Mastodon has just another wave of "Twitter sucks" users. This is one of the problems of GNU Social/Quitter, ello, Diaspora and Mastodon: They try to attract disappointed Twitter (and/or Facebook, at least Diaspora does that) users instead of a new group of users. The only "Twitter alternative" that does not just try to get Twitter users to tweet on a different platform instead would probably be twtxt - but who (except me and a few others) uses that?
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biros profile image
Boris Jamot ✊ /

I left Twitter and Facebook (and many others...) to Mastodon and Diaspora and found myself a bit disappointed by these alternatives.
I essentially use the social networks to grab info on some specific topics like politic, ecology, alterglobalization, and to discuss about this with people.
The fact is that most of the people I follow now are bots that cross post from Twitter/Facebook and almost no comment are done on their publications.

And most of all, no one of my former friends is on these alternatives. I'm like Tom Hanks with Wilson :D