In the week since Elon Musk took charge of Twitter, the number of people subscribing to a small social network called Mastodon has skyrocketed.
You may not have heard of Mastodon, which has been around since 2016, but is now rapidly growing. Some are fleeing Twitter for him or at least Searching for second place To spread their ideas online as The most popular social network is facing layoffs, controversial product changes, and an expected shift in its approach to content moderation and Leap into hate speech.
There may not be an obvious alternative to Twitter, a uniquely influential, fast-moving, text-heavy, conversation-oriented, news-oriented platform. But mastodons scratch a certain itch. The service looks similar to Twitter, with a schedule of short updates arranged chronologically rather than algorithmically. It allows users to join a large number of different servers operated by different groups and individuals, rather than a single central platform controlled by a single company such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Unlike the big social networks, Mastodon is free to use and ad-free. It was developed by a non-profit organization run by Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko, and is supported by crowdfunding.
Rochko said in an interview Thursday that Mastodon has gained 230,000 users since October 27, when Musk took control of Twitter. He said it now has 655,000 active users every month. Twitter reported in July that it had approximately 238 million active and monetized users daily.
“It’s obviously not as big as Twitter, but it’s the biggest network ever,” said Rochko, who originally created Mastodon as a project rather than a consumer product. Mastodon Heavy Metal Band).
Mastodon’s new signups include some Twitter users who have a large following, such as the actor and comedian Kathy Griffinwho joined in early November, the journalist Molly Jung Fastwho joined in late October.
Sarah T. Roberts, associate professor at UCLA and faculty director of the UCLA Center for Online Critical Inquiry, began using Mastodon in earnest on October 30, after Musk took over Twitter. (She said she created another account years ago, but didn’t really get into it until recently due to Twitter’s popularity among people in academia.)
Roberts, who worked at Twitter as a researcher on the task force earlier this year while taking leave from the University of California, said she was inspired to start using Mastodon due to concerns about how the moderation of Twitter content under Musk’s control might change. She suspects that some newcomers are simply fed up with social media companies that capture a lot of user data and are pushed by ads.
She noted that Twitter users may migrate to Mastodon in particular because its user experience is very similar to that of Twitter. Many of Mastodon’s features and design (especially in its iOS app) will look familiar to current Twitter users, although the verbiage is slightly different; You can follow others, create short posts (there is a 500 character limit, you can upload photos and videos), favorite or repost other users’ posts, etc.
“It’s as close to it as you can be,” she said.
I’ve been a Twitter user since 2007, but as an increasing number of people I follow on the social network have started posting their Mastodon usernames in recent weeks, I’ve been curious. This week, I decided to check out Mastodon for myself.
There are some key differences, particularly in how the network is set up. Since Mastodon user accounts are hosted on a large number of different servers, the costs of hosting users are spread out among many different people and groups. But it also means that users are ubiquitous, and it’s hard to find people you know – Rochko likened this setting to having different email providers, such as 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 complexities for those we are accustomed to on Twitter – a product that has also been criticized over the years for being less accessible than the most well-known. Services like Facebook and Instagram.
On Mastodon, for example, you have to join a certain server to sign up, some are open to anyone, and some require an invite (you can also run your own server). There is a server run by the non-profit organization behind Mastodon, Mastodon.social, but it is not accepting more users; I’m currently using one called Mstdn.social, where I can also login to access Mastodon on the web.
And while you can follow any other Mastodon user, regardless of which server they signed up with, you can only see lists of who follows your Mastodon friends, or who your Mastodon friends follow, if the followers belong to the same server you signed up from During it (I realized this while trying to track down more people I know who signed up recently).
At first, I felt as if I was starting over, somewhat, as a completely newcomer on social media. As Roberts said, it’s quite similar to Twitter in terms of look and functionality, 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. Suddenly I had no idea what to post – a feeling that never bothers me on Twitter, probably because the size of that network makes any post seem less relevant. I quickly got over it, realizing that Mastodon’s smaller scale can be soothing compared to the endless stream of Twitter stimulation.
I’m not quite ready to shut down my Twitter account, though; For me, Mastodon is kind of a social media escape hatch in case Twitter becomes unbearable.
Roberts also hasn’t decided yet whether to shut down her Twitter account, but she was surprised at how quickly her followers on Mastodon were growing. Within a week of registering and alerting nearly 23,000 Twitter followers, I amassed over 1,000 Mastodon followers.
“It may be very soon that people won’t want to be discovered on Twitter,” she said.
In some ways, starting over can also be fun.
“I thought,” I asked, “What would it be like to start over?” “It’s kind of interesting: Oh, this guy’s here! Here such and such! I am so happy they are here so we can be here together.”
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