Depending on where you stand, we’re currently looking at either the spiral of Twitter into its eventual downfall, or its glorious comeback from the ashes as Elon Musk takes the helm of this once-unicorn darling of the startup world.
One thing’s for certain though as of this writing— Twitter’s not a fun place to be in right now.
Like many others, I too was curious whether other platforms like Twitter existed— if we were to jump ship, where could we go next?
After countless searches across the web, one platform stood out: Mastodon.
After the sale of Twitter to Elon Musk, the platform saw almost 180,000 people sign-up in a single day.
I was intrigued.
Once I had everything set up on Mastodon (more on this later), I felt right at home. Tweets (or “toots”) were as simple as typing on a blank canvas and hitting ‘publish’. With a character word count of 500 vs. Twitter’s 280, you could fit more in a single post and skip the long threads.
Everything from retweets to favorites had its Mastodon equivalent. It even has its own ‘Discover’ tab showcasing trending news and the most talked about hashtags.
And the most interesting part of it all, everyone on the platform seemed to be happy— almost all of the people there celebrated the presumed downfall of Twitter.
But if Mastodon is everything that Twitter wished it could ever be, why haven’t the rest of the platform flocked to this platform yet?
The Signup Experience
Opening an account on Mastodon was not as straightforward as just signing up with an email address.
The first thing I had to learn about were ‘instances’— Instances are self-hosted servers created by individuals or organizations who are into creating a community around a specific topic or hobby, kind of like a Discord server.
Once you find the right one for you, it’s easy to jump into one and sign-up for an account— provided that there’s no interview or approval process involved (some of the instances on Mastodon have them).
- Are you into indie tech or the latest in home automation technology? @indieweb.social and @hometech.socialhas you covered. Maybe you’re more into book recommendations from people around the globe? @mastodonbooks.net could be your thing. Hardcore rock music? Yep, there’s an instance for that as well.
Once you have an account up and running, you’ll jump straight in to your ‘Home’ feed.
From this point on, it starts to look like Twitter— you can start following people in your chosen instance, as well as start posting ‘toots’ and editing your profile.
From here, you’ll start to notice two things:
- From your discover tab, you might come across people from outside your instance (people with different ‘@‘ handles).
- If you do decide to follow them, you’ll be able to interact with them like how you do it on Twitter— but if you want to find more people outside your instance, you’ll be out of luck as Mastodon doesn’t offer that feature.
By this point, you’ll start to get frustrated as to why your Home feed looks so empty with no one interesting to fill it up.
It was also at this point when I started to look up how-to’s on using Mastodon, as I figured out that the app’s own onboarding process doesn’t give you a good run-through on how to use it.
Off the bat, I realized why most people that try to start up on Mastodon end up backing out from an abhorrent onboarding experience.
As much as I wanted to set up a new Twitter-like platform to plant my roots in, I knew that a high learning curve like this would stop users from signing up en masse like how Twitter could.
Was there a meaning behind all these hoops that you had to jump through?
The “D” Word
Once you get a hang of how Mastodon is set up, you’ll start to learn how the platform exists in this vast decentralized world called the ‘Fediverse’— the Federated universe.
The fediverse is a term used to describe the collection of all the servers that are running free, open-source software that implement the OStatus and ActivityPub protocols.
Simply put, if you want open-source, decentralized versions of popular online apps, the fediverse is for you.
Want a decentralized version of YouTube? PeerTube is your answer. Maybe you want an escape from Meta’s clutches and jump ship to a a decentralized version of Instagram? Pixelfed might be a good choice.
With the fediverse being decentralized, there is no central authority or organization that controls it. Instead, each server is independently owned and operated, and users are free to choose which server they want to join.
This allows for a great deal of flexibility and freedom, as users are able to find a server that aligns with their values and interests.
Each instance exists like self-sovereign country of sorts, which means that it has its own community, rules, and policies. There’ll be different rules and regulations for each instance to abide by if you choose to sign up for one, but you’ll be free to talk to anyone in the Fediverse.
Behind this madness was the common goal working towards social media platforms centered around decentralization. Mastodon says it best:
Instead of being governed by one single entity (like Twitter owning all content on its platform), Mastodon is a decentralized platform, which means that there is no central organization that owns or controls the instances.
And like Mastodon says, if ever an eccentric billionaire decides to purchase an instance on Mastodon, other communities in the fediverse will not be affected.
At this point, a curious thought pops into my mind— words like “decentralization” and “self-sovereign” were prevalent across the fediverse’s philosophies.
I knew I’ve seen these buzzwords before— heavily sprinkled across terms that were said to describe the future of the online world.
Web3 And The Future of Social Media
Web1, also known as the “static web,” refers to the early version of the internet that was primarily used for the sharing of static documents and information.
This version of the internet was characterized by its lack of interactivity and the limited ways in which users could interact with web content.
Web2, also known as the “interactive web,” refers to the next stage of the internet’s evolution, which began in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
This version of the internet was characterized by the widespread adoption of technologies such as social media, blogging platforms, and online marketplaces, which enabled greater interactivity and collaboration between users.
Think online forums and social media apps like Facebook and Twitter, owned and operated by a single entity for users to hop on to.
The issue here being that although content created on these platforms are originally from the creativity of users, ownershipitself is still fully controlled by the entities controlling these mega-platforms.
Web3, also known as the “decentralized web,” refers to the use of decentralized technologies, such as blockchain and peer-to-peer networks, to create a more decentralized and autonomous internet.
Web3 technologies have the potential to enable a wide range of new applications and use cases, such as decentralized finance, self-sovereign identity, and decentralized governance.
Without getting into much detail, the blockchain presents an immutable reference of transactions and ownership across all users on the chain.
As social media adapts to a Web3 system, benefits such as the elimination of dummy accounts, the death of misinformation, and the freedom from control of a single mega-corporation becomes a possibility.
It’s debatable whether Mastodon can be considered Web3 as it lacks the foundations of blockchain technology, but the ideas remain the same— platforms with decentralized governance, a self-sovereign community, and responsibility of whatever you say online.
In my short time exploring Mastodon, it felt like a breath of fresh air seeing people living in an online world outside of our general understanding of social media.
Each instance I explored had an aura of community and camaraderie— free from the opinions of an online society swayed by fear of moderation, or disruption by a hive mind thought driven by bad influencers and bot accounts.
In essence, people were just living their lives around a group of people with the same thoughts and ideas.
In all honesty, it was kinda boring.
But maybe that’s where the world is heading right now— a search for boring without the weight of nonsense trends and toxic comment sections.
A world where, with the development of Web3 technologies, can enable people to fully own their accounts, words, and opinions, and live in a community driven by social media’s true desired goal— connection.