Is Mastodon the New Twitter? How Mastodon Works

By Lisa Hirst Carnes | December 2022

Birds surrounding the Mastodon logo.

The hashtag #RIPTwitter has been flying around as users wait to see whether Twitter will die following the exodus of hundreds of the company's employees. The mass resignation followed an ultimatum by Twitter's new owner, Elon Musk. Musk stated that staff should prepare to work 'long hours at high intensity' or quit. Over 50% of employees chose the latter. 

But, it isn't only employees who are quitting. Twitter users have also been leaving the platform in anticipation of abusive content. First, Musk has made calls to roll back content moderation in favor of free speech. Twitter also let go of its human rights and machine learning ethics teams. The unethical firing of staff has also created a bad reputation for the company.

The Growth of Mastodon: How Much Has Mastodon Grown?

Some former Twitter users are now on Mastodon, an alternative social media platform. The new platform has benefit from the Twitter chaos following Elon Musk's takeover. As of November 12, the platform had over 1 million users. Only eight days later, Mastodon passed the two million users mark. 

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is a social media app that allows users to share short messages in real-time. Eugene Rochko founded Mastodon in 2016 while in University. He envisioned a social platform that supported healthy debate without central control and profit motives to discourage abuse.

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Mastodon vs Twitter

One similarity between Mastodon and Twitter is that posts have word count limits and the platforms both use hashtags (#). The use of hashtags is important because Mastodon doesn't use algorithms to suggest posts to users. Hashtags help categorize your posts for people who might be interested.

Here's how Mastodon is different from Twitter:

1. A decentralized network: your server, your rules

Unlike Twitter, Mastodon is a decentralized network of privately-owned servers. As a user, you can use open-source software to start your own server, called an instance. Anyone can download all Mastodon's code and add to it, making it completely open-source.  
 
Users can interact with other instances through the Fediverse (interconnected servers operated independently). Server hosts set their own content moderation rules and choose which servers to "federate" with. This means you can block a server that doesn't have content moderation rules that you don't like.

2. Composed of thousands of social networks

Twitter has one town square for all users, but Mastodon has thousands of social networks running on different servers that communicate through the Fediverse.
 
The Fediverse also contains other social networks:
You do not have to connect your Mastodon server to the Fediverse.

3. A non-profit platform

Mastodon is also a not-for-profit social media site. It is a free, crowd-funded platform with no algorithm, no ads, and no paid accounts. The platform makes money through Patreon funding. Patreon doesn't give any special privileges. Users can make monthly contributions ranging between $1 and $500. Companies can sign up to sponsor the platform. The company has at least 3,091 patrons who make a $15,610 monthly contribution.

4. Uses users post 'toots'

Mastodon posts are called "Toots". You can follow people and companies and favorite (like) or boost (retweet) their posts. 

5. Differences in post features

Mastodon features differ from Twitter in several ways. First, each post in Mastodon has a 500-character limit to 500 instead of 280 as in Twitter. You can also include links, images, audio files, and videos. Other post features include:
  • Users can mark posts with a "content warning" requiring a click before viewing.
  • Send post edits, with each version available for review and an edit notice to people who reblog your post
  • Direct messages are different - people @ can see the message
  • Mastodon offers four levels of visibility for all your toots
  • Four levels of visibility for posts including:
    • public
    • followers only
    • completely unlisted from all timelines
    • posts for specific servers with your favorite and custom emojis
  • Content moderation distribution across instances like Reddit

How Do You Join Mastodon?

There's no common sign-in area for all as in Twitter. Instead, users must pick a server and register. Mastodon has a list of about 100 servers that you can filter by factors such as region or language. You can learn more about each instance and its rules on the 'about' page. If you can't find the server you need, try other directories such as instances.social or sortable list.
 
Most Mastodon servers with open registration only require users to present an email address and password. Apps such as Debirdify, Twitodon, and Fedifinder help users find Twitter accounts that have migrated to Mastodon.

Mastodon Timelines

Unlike Twitter, which has one timeline starting with top stories, Mastodon has three timelines, which include:
  • The Home timeline, which displays all your followers' posts and reblogs
  • The Local timeline, which shows posts from your own server instance
  • The Federated timeline, which shows posts from all Mastodon servers
You can set Mastodon to show one feed at a time or see all feeds at the same time by choosing "Advanced view."

Mastodon Apps

You have a lot of choices for apps on both iPhone and Android due to the open-source nature of Mastodon.

Mastodon apps for iPhone include: 

Mastodon apps for Android include: 

How Will Mastodon Handle Growth?

As instances grow, it will cost more to scale up content moderation and server upkeep. Twitter dealt with the same difficulties in its initial years as it tried to keep its service running.
 
Mastodon will face the same difficulty. But, the advantage is that instead of needing to increase staff hires and expand server capacity, users can build up instead of out by starting new servers

Is Mastodon the New Twitter?

It may be too early to tell whether Mastodon will replace Twitter. But again, Mastodon is not meant to be a Twitter replacement. The goal is to provide a decentralized platform that gives users freedom and control over their experience. This could be escaping an algorithm that exposes you to content you don't like or getting an instance of users you love. There is even an instance made up of former Twitter employees.
 
The shift to Mastodon may affect Twitter as a marketing platform. To ramp up your social media campaigns and take the best marketing steps amid the shift, contact us today!

Topics: Digital Marketing

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