Many jumped shipped to Mastodon as a Twitter alternative, but it proved hard for some. And while the Mastodon social media software has been around since early 2016, it only skyrocketed in late 2022. The expansion of Mastodon seems to be linked to controversies surrounding the new Twitter CEO, Elon Musk.
Here, we answer what Mastodon is and whether it is a true alternative to Twitter. Let’s begin with the ringing question, what is Mastodon, exactly?
What Is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a free, open-source network and decentralized social media software. Hailed as an alternative to Twitter, Mastodon social media is decentralized in such a way that no central governing party implements rules and regulations. Instead, it allows communities to self-govern. These communities are called Mastodon Instances, which we’ll look into later.
The Link Between the Rise of Mastodon and Twitter
Before Elon Musk took over Twitter at the end of October last year, there were roughly 500,000 Mastodon users. But just halfway through November, that figure quadrupled to 2 million active users. The Mastodon app had a steady increase in users through November, reaching a daily peak of over 130,000.
The surge appears to follow controversies surrounding the new Twitter CEO and his decisions that do not fare well with people. Musk’s drastic decisions involve the following:
• Changing verification policies.
• Firing thousands of Twitter employees.
• Suspending Twitter accounts of select journalists.
To put things in perspective just how the growth of the Mastodon app ties with Twitter, here’s a graph by The Guardian:
Through Google Trends, the same source above found a spike in search interest for Mastodon in April last year, about the same time Musk revealed he had just become the largest shareholder of Twitter.
With this, the connection between Mastodon and Twitter favored the prior, so much so that Mastodon app users reached 2.5 million users at the beginning of December. However, Mastodon statistics reveal a steady and slow decline since the peak. As of writing, it appears that the number of users plummeted to 1.4 million active users — a 45% drop.
Still, many regard Mastodon as a fitting Twitter alternative. But is it really? Let’s circle back and take a closer look at the platform, its features, its founder, Eugen Rochko and the differences between Mastodon vs Twitter.
What Are Mastodon Instances?
Mastodon Instances are essentially another term for a ‘server.’ Each server runs on a version — or an instance — of Mastodon’s decentralized social media software. Through the open-source network, users are free to host independent Mastodon Instances and form communities based on topics, themes or interests. These communities are similar to subreddits or Discord servers but wholly autonomous from each other and Mastodon’s flagship instance.
The flagship instance is “mastodon.social.” It is administered by Eugen Rochko himself and his team. Currently, he has closed registration to this main instance because he’s focusing on polishing the server for the present users. However, this does not mean you can no longer join Mastodon’s other servers. You can find a variety of instances at joinmastodon.org/servers, including:
• hometech.social for all things home automation.
• disabled.social for people who are chronically or mentally ill or disabled.
• mograph.social for VFX artists, 3D artists, animators and the like.
• veganism.social for vegans.
• drumstodon.net for drummers.
• mastodonbooks.net for readers and writers.
The Man Behind Mastodon Social Media: Eugen Rochko
Dissatisfied with Twitter’s state and trajectory, Eugen Rochko set out to create a Twitter alternative — a new microblogging platform that a single central authority would not control. In 2016, Rochko released Mastodon soon after graduating from the University of Jena in Thuringia with a computer science degree at 24.
Image: Eugene Rochko
Rochko claimed to be a heavy Twitter user since 2008. But he sees instant global communications as “too crucial” for today’s society only to be driven by a single authority and monetization. So he landed with a decentralized social media platform that functions the way he hoped Twitter would.
Now apart from the decentralized ecosystem, let’s look into how Mastodon further contrasts with Twitter in terms of its features and functions.
To Twitter Is To Tweet, to Mastodon Is To Toot (Mastodon vs Twitter)
Despite being touted as an alternative to Twitter, you’d find Mastodon can be unique once you’ve dabbled with it. If you’re considering making the switch, here’s a breakdown of the differences and similarities between Mastodon vs Twitter.
As the subheading suggests, posts are referred to as ‘toots’ on Mastodon. These posts can be texts, images, videos and other types of content which you can share publicly or privately. One distinction to be made is that, unlike Twitter, where you’re allowed 140 characters, Mastodon grants users up to 500 characters.
Note: In November last year, Mastodon has since retired its publish button, ‘Toot,’ with a simple ‘Publish.’ Many are still referring to it the same way, thus the inclusion.
Akin to Twitter, your Home timeline on Mastodon displays updates from the users you follow. Mastodon has two other main timelines; The Local timeline shows toots from every user on your server, whereas the Federated timeline pulls public posts from users whom people in your server follow. The Federated timeline is like a “friends of friends” feed. On Mastodon, you view posts chronologically — no algorithms are working behind the scenes.
Both Mastodon and Twitter allow users to follow one another on the platform and view each other’s updates on their respective feeds. Additionally, you can mute users whose posts you don’t want to appear on your feed or even block them from your Mastodon account.
Like Twitter, Mastodon employs hashtags to organize content and make it simpler for users to discover posts related to a specific topic. Using hashtags, you can view all the toots on a subject across instances. If you’re a small business owner or an influencer considering Mastodon in your social media marketing strategy, take the time to explore relevant hashtags and see the interest surrounding your offerings on the platform.
On Twitter, all communication is governed by policies and regulations set by the platform. That’s not the case for Mastodon Instances; users and groups (server moderators) who run the servers are independent of each other and can create their own set of guidelines. You have the freedom to choose servers on which terms and conditions you agree with.
Unlike Twitter, Mastodon’s creators are adamantly anti-advertising, so there isn’t a system in place for distributing ads on specific or across servers. So if you’re learning how to use Mastodon for business, this might mean overhauling your familiar social media marketing strategy. But since each server runs independently, you might find servers allowing self-promotion. For example, servers centered on books allow you to share your published work with potential readers and promoters.
There’s no denying Mastodon is still minuscule compared to Twitter in terms of reach. So again, consider this if you’re figuring out how to use Mastodon for business. Even if you’re on the most populated servers on Mastodon, you’ll have lesser reach than on Twitter. Moreover, if your target leans toward the mainstream group, you might be better off without Mastodon.
More Alternatives to Twitter
Many alternatives to Twitter have come and gone; here are some that you can still explore today. Most of these platforms offer a significantly different experience far from Twitter.
• Post.News – The platform is the most similar to Twitter visually. However, Post.News is still in Beta mode, so expect to encounter hiccups here and there.
• Hive Social – Another Twitter alternative, Hive Social offers similar microblogging features, including posting texts, images and polls to followers.
• Discord – Some see the platform as a decent alternative to Twitter even though it’s mainly for text and voice chatting by hundreds of millions of users.
• Reddit – Perhaps the most established platform of all, Reddit is a long contender and one of the top alternatives to Twitter, despite dissimilarities.
So, Is Mastodon a Rightful Alternative to Twitter?
Not quite, experts say.
It’s reasonable for many to cite Mastodon as a Twitter alternative, owing to its similarities. But the downward interest surrounding the decentralized social media network could be a reflection of its complexity. A theory is that after jumping ship, users realized just how different and difficult Mastodon is — there seems to be a lot of friction just from signing up. Not to mention the absence of proper “onboarding” after registering, new users seem to be left at a loss.
Both platforms champion quick-paced social media, but Twitter has two things Mastodon does not: convenience and an expansive reach for personal and commercial users alike. In November last year, Twitter crossed 250 million active users, averaging 2 million daily sign-ups. While we can certainly give our hats off to Mastodon, it would have to offer an experience up to par with Twitter or something undeniably better to become its true alternative.
If you need help reshaping your social media marketing strategy suitable to Mastodon, our team at Thrive can help. But if you want to capitalize Twitter’s ad features better, we can do that too. You can read more about our services here:
• Social Media Management
• Social Media Brand Management
• Social Media Marketing
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