Mastodon - Could This Be A Fatal Blow To Twitter?

Mastodon’s sudden popularity should serve as Twitter’s wakeup call (

There’s a hot new social network these days and it’s called Mastodon. Well, it’s not that new — it’s been around since September 2016 — but it’s gained tens of thousands of users in the last few days.

Nicole Lee, @nicole – 04.07.17 in Internet at

The reason for the growth? According to its founder, Eugen Rochko, it has a lot to do with people getting increasingly fed up with Twitter, especially the recent decision to nix @usernames from Replies. Mastodon — named after an American heavy metal band — is mopping up users seeking an alternative. Sure, Mastodon is still small and relatively unheard of, but the very fact that it spurred this much interest is a sign that the established social networks like Twitter are fundamentally failing at one thing: keeping users happy.

Before we go on, it would help to know what Mastodon is. Some would say it’s a Twitter clone, but there are enough differences that it’s really quite a bit more than that. Yes, the interface looks very much like Tweetdeck: there’s a vertical timeline, you can retweet (known in Mastodon as a “boost”), favorite (stars instead of hearts) and posts have a funny nickname (they’re “toots” instead of “tweets”). But a few features really set it apart.

Toots have a 500-character limit instead of 140, you can set content warnings per post by hiding sensitive content behind a “show more” button (some users have taken to using it as a joke setup mechanism) and you have way more privacy options. Posts can be totally public, private (only your followers can see it) or unlisted — which means it’s still viewable to the anyone who goes to your profile page, but it won’t show up in the public timeline.

But the key differentiator from Twitter is that Mastodon is a free, open-source protocol that’s distributed across multiple “instances,” so there’s no centralized server. It’s not really a traditional social network in that sense. Each instance has its own set of users, but you can still follow and interact with users from others. A “local timeline” only shows posts from your current server, but a “federated timeline” shows posts from yours as well as the instance of the people you follow (There’s a more succinct explanation of it here).

One of the benefits of having these multiple instances is that each can set its own rules. For example, the main instance,, has a strict policy of no Nazis, no racism, no sexism, no xenophobia and no discrimination, which can be seen as a direct result of Twitter’s inability to handle harassment and abuse. The one that I’m on,, just has one rule for now, which is to not be a jerk. Other instances could very well set their own rules too; it’s entirely up to the local admins.

“I was a heavy Twitter user since 2008,” says Rochko. But Twitter kept making bad decisions, he says, like changing Tweetdeck, closing down a third party app ecosystem, adding ads and even introducing algorithmic timelines. “Twitter was really trying hard to be not-Twitter,” he says.

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