A couple of weeks ago I was among those people who decided that it’s about time to leave twitter behind and look for something else. For me leaving Twitter was relatively easy. I just had a tiny account there which just a handful of followers. In recent years I mainly used Twitter for reading, it was part of my daily reading routine and worked in combination with other news sources like RSS feeds. All of this use case is rather simple to replace, I have to admit. So it was a rather easy question for me if or when to leave Twitter.
But nonetheless I always liked Twitter for its basic approach, for its simplicity, for its universal appeal. Most of the time I used Twitter with third party client apps like Tweetbot, so the annoyances by too many ads in my timeline have never been a big problem. On the other hand using the native Twitter app has always been a rather painful experience for me. The app just feels messy, full of irrelevances, is clunky to use and is still not much more than a web view of Twitter. And of course there are ads, many disgusting ads. On my phone! I don’t understand how Twitter could get such a big impact on almost all of our lives with such a mediocre app experience.
So what did I do instead? Well, I did what the cool kids are doing these days, I switched to Mastodon. Mastodon is a decentralized, free and open source network not too different from Twitter in the end. Looking deeper the underlying structure of the network built up of so called federated servers is completely different, though. The so called Fediverse can be so much more than just a replacement for microblogging services like Twitter. With the right tools it also can be a replacement for all of your image sharing needs as well, so it’s a potential replacement for Instagram. For image sharing the network is called Pixelfed and at this moment it’s not quite ready yet, as there are just a few rudimentary mobile apps for Android, but so far no native clients for iOS. The unified protocol all these different services are using is called ActivityPub.
How does it feel to be on Mastodon? For me the most important part of feeling at home at a new digital place is the app that is in front of my eyes all the time. First of all the native Mastodon app is ok but so far it has not that many features implemented. If you’re using an iOS device stop looking for other apps, just use the Toot! app, it’s much better than all the rest and is mostly fully featured. It’s definitely an app that has its own character but I would say in this case it’s a good thing. Also Tapbots, the makers of Tweetbot, is working on a new client for Mastodon called Ivory, but the app is currently in beta. Also the makers of the Twitter client Spring are working on a new Mastodon client called Mona. So in terms of apps and app experience I’m very optimistic about the near future of Mastodon.
Also the Mastodon community feels just very friendly and approachable. As everything is still new there for almost anyone, everybody is nice and responsive and is eager to help you out or assist you if you have any problems. This kind of innocent feel seems to get lost somehow as a new social network becomes older and gets more mature. People seem to become more stubborn and are no longer interested in making new connections. They just stick to their daily behaviors without changing the circles they are currently in anymore. For new accounts it’s incredibly hard and painful to get seen within such a fixed landscape. So this is definitely a good time to try out Mastodon as there are many new users coming in with the same problems that you might have.
But before diving in what’s good about Mastodon I quickly want to number the things that are more difficult or even impossible due to the different nature of the network. First of all Mastodon is not central, there’s not just one big server handling all the user data globally, instead there are many tiny, so called federated servers with their own sets of rules. And of course all these servers need to be capable enough to handle all that new data coming in from so many new users. In the first weeks after Elon Musk took over Twitter and the mass migration to Mastodon began, this was sometimes a problem. The servers sometimes were slow and unresponsive. Currently the server capabilities are ramped up again to be able to handle the influx of new users. So right now Mastodon feels very smooth and responsive. Also servers cost money and it remains to be seen how many Mastodon servers will still be able to operate with that load of users when there’s no appropriate funding with in the next months. So be generous if you start liking this new place.
For creators Mastodon is still a bit difficult as obviously all the big brands and companies haven’t moved to Mastodon yet. So your potential clients might still be on Instagram and Twitter while you’re already spending your time and showing your work on Mastodon. So self marketing and creating additional streams of income that way, or even become a financially independent creator might still be a problem on Mastodon. But at least you can grow your audience there, make new friends and connections and maybe translate these efforts later into a business idea, maybe via your own website. For the big brands and also for big audiences it will still take time for the shift to happen.
Also don’t expect to find all of your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram friends on Mastodon already. The shift away from Twitter seems to be massive in the last weeks of 2022, but still it takes time until billions of users have found their new homes. And don’t judge those who can’t or simply don’t want to leave the big brands. Their situations might be different from yours, so don’t blame them.
There are many good reasons to join Mastodon. As mentioned above Mastodon is open source, so it’s currently free to use but obviously the individual servers of the network would appreciate some minor payments from their users as servers cost real money.
Mastodon is completely ad free which for me is a huge reason to leave Twitter besides all the turmoil regarding Elon Musk. In fact on Mastodon you’re again the customer and not the product anymore which we got so used to and tired of using all those products from those few big tech companies around the globe. So obviously Mastodon also doesn’t have this weird leadership structure like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. There simply is no super rich person in charge for the network to run smoothly and independently.
Instead there are many small, individual servers with their own sets of rules operated by all sorts of people. This potentially could be a problem as well but if you pick one of the bigger, more renowned instances you are relatively safe that your data is not at risk.
So far there’s also very limited hate speech, misinformation and fake news on Mastodon. Of course this might change in the future as the network grows hopefully exponentially and definitely this is a problem to focus on in the coming months and years.
As the network of Mastodon is open source there’s also an open API to access the service and change the way the network can be accessed by your client apps. So with this background we probably will see many very good, polished and fully featured apps showing up doing all sorts of clever things with the data provided on the network. It’s also quite important to me that all the data I put into these apps and services is effectively still mine, I can always download it, make a backup, move it to another account or completely delete it. The social graph, the people I follow and the people that follow me, is also my own. Also this data can be downloaded and used starting fresh with a new account on another instance. So you always can continue working from where you left off, you do not have to start new with zero followers every time you decide to switch networks or accounts.
Mastodon currently is still very new. There are many new, fresh ideas, uncommon behaviors, things that haven’t been seen before, unfinished things, raw things, innocent things that are actually still too small and new for a big audience. But this current state probably won’t last too long. The big names, journalists, reporters, politicians, scientists, artists are starting to explore this new place. With them comes a bigger influence, more media penetration but also more mainstream content that already has been seen anywhere else. So there’s no better time to come on board, right now. It’s gonna be fun! And it’s like a revival time of the beauty of the internet. It’s like email has just been invented yesterday.