With Twitter in chaos, Mastodon is on fire

CNN business

Since Elon Musk took over Twitter this week, the number of people signing up for the little social network called Mastodon has soared.

You may not have heard of Mastodon, which has been around since 2016, but is now growing rapidly. Some people are running away from Twitter because of it or at least looking for second place to post their thoughts online the release of a much more popular social network, controversial product changes, an expected change in the approach to content moderation and a leap of hateful rhetoric.

There may not be a clear alternative to Twitter, a uniquely influential, fast-moving, text-heavy, conversation- and news-oriented platform. But Mastdon scratches a certain itch. The service looks similar to Twitter, with a timeline of short updates ordered chronologically rather than algorithmically. It allows users to join multiple servers run by various groups and individuals, rather than a central platform controlled by a single company like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Unlike larger social networks, Mastodon is free to use and ad-free. It is managed by a non-profit organization led by Mastodon founder Eugen Rochko and supported through crowdfunding.

Rochko said in an interview Thursday that Mastodon has gained 230,000 users since Musk took control of Twitter on Oct. 27. It now has 655,000 monthly active users, he said. Twitter announced in July that it had nearly 238 million daily active users on how to monetize it.

“It’s not as big as Twitter, obviously, but this network is the biggest it’s ever been,” said Rochko, who originally created Mastodon as more of a consumer product than a project (and, yes, it inspired its name). Mastodon heavy metal band).

Mastodon’s new signings include a number of Twitter users with large followings, such as an actor and a comedian Kathy Griffinwho joined at the beginning of November, and a journalist Molly Jong-Fastwhich entered at the end of October.

Sarah T. Roberts, a UCLA associate professor and faculty director of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, began actually using Mastodon on October 30, shortly after Musk took over Twitter. (He created another account years ago, he said, but didn’t really get into Twitter until recently because of its popularity among the academic crowd.)

Roberts, who worked as a staff researcher at Twitter earlier this year while on leave from UCLA, said he was inspired to start using Mastodon by concerns about how Twitter’s content moderation might change under Musk’s watch. He suspects that some newcomers are fed up with social media companies that take a lot of user data and are driven by advertising.

And he noted that Twitter users may migrate to Mastodon in particular because its user experience is quite similar to Twitter’s. Many of Mastodon’s features and designs (especially in the iOS app) will be familiar to today’s Twitter users, albeit with slightly different wording; you can follow others, create short messages (there is a 500 character limit, and you can upload images and videos), favorite or repost other users’ posts, etc.

“It’s the closest,” he said.

I’ve been a Twitter user since 2007, but as more people I follow on the social network have started posting Mastodon usernames in recent weeks, I’ve become curious. This week, I decided to check out Mastodon for myself.

There are some key differences, mainly in how the network is configured. Because Mastodon’s user accounts are hosted on different servers, user hosting costs are spread across many different individuals and groups. But that means users are scattered all over the place, and finding people you know can be difficult – Rochko likened this setup to having different email providers, like Gmail and Hotmail.

That means the entire network isn’t under the control of one person or company, but it also introduces some new complications for those of us accustomed to Twitter — a product that has been criticized over the years for being less intuitive than it has become. Services like Facebook and Instagram.

In Mastodon, for example, you have to join a specific server to register, some of which are open to anyone, and some of which require an invitation (you can even run your own server). There is a server managed by the non-profit organization behind Mastodon, Mastodon.social, but it no longer supports users; I’m currently using one called Mstdn.social, which I can also log into to access Mastodon online.

And while you can follow any other Mastodon user, regardless of which server they’re registered with, you’ll only be able to see lists of people who follow your Mastodon friends, or who your Mastodon friends follow, if they’re the same followers. the server you’re registered with (I realized this while trying to track down more people I know who have recently signed up).

At first, it felt like I was starting over, sort of like a complete newbie to social media. As Roberts said, it’s pretty similar to Twitter in terms of looks 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, perhaps because the size of that network makes any message feel less consequential. I quickly got over it, though, and realized that Mastodon’s smaller scale can be comforting compared to Twitter’s endless stream of stimulation.

I’m not quite ready to close my Twitter account, though; For me, Mastodon is a sort of social media escape hatch if Twitter becomes unbearable.

Roberts also hasn’t decided if he’ll close his Twitter account yet, but he was surprised by how much Mastodon’s following has grown. Within a week of signing up and alerting nearly 23,000 Twitter followers, he’s amassed over 1,000 followers on Mastodon.

“It’s going to be pretty soon when people don’t want to be caught on Twitter,” he said.

In a way, even starting over can be fun.

“I thought, ‘What will it be like to start over?'” he asked. “It’s interesting: Oh that person is here! Here it is! I am very happy that they are here so that we can be here together.”