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Exploring Mastodon: The Sudden Surge in Popularity as a Twitter Alternative

Many individuals flocked to Mastodon as an alternative to Twitter, though it posed challenges for some. While the Mastodon social media platform has been in existence since early 2016, its popularity surged dramatically in late 2022. This growth appears to be closely tied to controversies surrounding the new Twitter CEO, Elon Musk.

In this article, we delve into what Mastodon is and assess whether it truly stands as a viable alternative to Twitter. Let’s start with the fundamental question: What exactly is Mastodon?

What Is Mastodon?

Mastodon is a decentralized, open-source social media platform that operates on a free network. Positioned as an alternative to Twitter, Mastodon’s unique feature lies in its decentralized structure, where no central authority enforces rules. Instead, communities, known as Mastodon Instances, govern themselves. We’ll explore these instances in detail shortly.

Image: joinmastodon.org

Mastodon Instances

Mastodon Instances are essentially servers running different versions of Mastodon’s decentralized social media software. Through this open-source network, users can host independent instances, forming communities centered around specific topics or interests. These communities operate autonomously from one another and from Mastodon’s flagship instance.

Image: mastodon.social

The flagship instance, “mastodon.social,” is overseen by Eugen Rochko and his team. Currently, registration for this main instance is closed as they focus on optimizing it for existing users. However, other instances can still be joined, offering a wide array of communities catering to various interests.

The Connection Between Mastodon’s Rise and Twitter

Prior to Elon Musk assuming control of Twitter in late October of the previous year, Mastodon boasted around 500,000 users. In just half of November, that number quadrupled to 2 million active users. The Mastodon app saw a consistent rise in users throughout November, peaking at over 130,000 daily users.

This surge seems to be a response to controversies surrounding the new Twitter CEO and his decisions that were met with disapproval. These decisions included alterations to verification policies, the termination of thousands of Twitter employees, and the suspension of accounts belonging to select journalists.

A graph provided by The Guardian illustrates the correlation between the growth of the Mastodon app and Twitter-related events. 

Additionally, Google Trends revealed a spike in search interest for Mastodon around the same time Elon Musk announced he had become the largest Twitter shareholder.

Eugen Rochko: The Brain Behind Mastodon

Eugen Rochko, dissatisfied with the trajectory of Twitter, embarked on a mission to create a microblogging platform that would not be under the control of a single central authority. In 2016, Rochko released Mastodon shortly after completing his computer science degree at the University of Jena in Thuringia at the age of 24.

Image: Eugene Rochko

Rochko, a devoted Twitter user since 2008, believed that instant global communication was too crucial to be dictated by a single authority and driven by monetization. Thus, he developed a decentralized social media platform that aligned with his vision.

Mastodon vs. Twitter: Key Differences

While often pitched as an alternative to Twitter, delving into Mastodon reveals its unique characteristics. If you’re contemplating a switch, here’s a comparative breakdown of Mastodon versus Twitter:

Posts

On Mastodon, posts are referred to as ‘toots’. These can encompass text, images, videos, and various types of content, shareable either publicly or privately. Unlike Twitter’s 140-character limit, Mastodon allows users up to 500 characters. 

In November of the previous year, Mastodon replaced its ‘Toot’ button with a simple ‘Publish’. Many still refer to it as ‘Toot’, hence the mention.*

Timelines

Similar to Twitter, your Home timeline on Mastodon displays updates from users you follow. Mastodon features two additional main timelines: the Local timeline showcases toots from every user on your server, while the Federated timeline aggregates public posts from users followed by people on your server. The Federated timeline is akin to a “friends of friends” feed. On Mastodon, posts are viewed chronologically—no hidden algorithms at play.

Connections

Both Mastodon and Twitter allow users to follow one another on the platform and view updates on their respective feeds. Moreover, you have the option to mute users whose posts you’d prefer not to appear on your feed, or even block them from your Mastodon account.

Hashtags

Like Twitter, Mastodon employs hashtags to categorize content, making it easier for users to discover posts related to a specific topic. By using hashtags, you can peruse all toots pertaining to a subject across instances. If you’re a small business owner or influencer considering Mastodon for your social media marketing strategy, invest time in exploring relevant hashtags to gauge interest in your offerings on the platform.

Content Moderation

On Twitter, all communication is bound by the platform’s policies and regulations. In contrast, Mastodon Instances operate independently. Users and groups (server moderators) managing the servers are autonomous from one another and can establish their own set of guidelines. This grants you the freedom to choose servers aligned with terms and conditions you agree with.

Advertising

Unlike Twitter, the creators of Mastodon are staunchly against advertising. As a result, there’s no system in place for distributing ads on specific servers or across the platform. If you’re learning how to utilize Mastodon for business, this might entail reworking your accustomed social media marketing strategy. However, since each server operates independently, you may find servers permitting self-promotion. For instance, servers centered on books allow you to share your published work with potential readers and promoters.

Reach

It’s undeniable that Mastodon’s reach is still considerably smaller compared to Twitter. Hence, if you’re in the process of figuring out how to employ Mastodon for business, take this into account. Even on the most populated Mastodon servers, your reach will be less extensive than on Twitter. Additionally, if your target audience leans towards the mainstream, you might be better served without Mastodon.

Conclusion: Is Mastodon a Genuine Twitter Alternative?

Experts contend it falls short of being a true alternative. While Mastodon shares similarities with Twitter, its declining interest may reflect its complexity. Users who migrated may have found the platform to be significantly different and challenging. Mastodon lacks the convenience and expansive reach that Twitter offers to both personal and commercial users.

Twitter’s user base surpassed 250 million active users in November of the previous year, averaging 2 million daily sign-ups. While Mastodon deserves recognition, it must offer an experience on par with or superior to Twitter to truly claim the title of its alternative.

If you require assistance in tailoring your social media marketing strategy for Mastodon, our team at Leadshouse is well-equipped to help. Alternatively, if you’re looking to optimize Twitter’s advertising features, we’re proficient in that area as well. For further details, visiting our website today!

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