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Goodbye Twitter, Hello Mastodon!



Over 1 million new users in less than 2 weeks

Ok. So it will be what you make of it. There’s not going to be a seamless leap from a heavy web2 monstrosity like what Twitter has become to a clean alternative overnight.

It makes sense, though. A platform that’s built to monetize your life, and does so on a massive scale, can’t be replaced easily by an entirely different beast.

Mastodon is not based on blockchain, for a social platform that is blockchain based, check out Lens Protocol, but does have an open source, ad-free structure that is controlled by users. It is also a microblogging network based on a UX that somewhat resembles Twitter.

As a “Federated” network system, Mastodon has various servers, each of which run by users, and differentiated, for the most part, by affinity.

Basically, rather than having a centralized corporate entity controlling and monetizing your account and data, you trust a peer who has set up a server. You can choose and join a group (server) based on the theme, rules and configuration of that server / moderator. In some cases you will need to be invited or prove worthiness, but such stipulations are set by the moderator and group.

Are we, ex-Twits, sophisticated enough to take on digital self-determination?

The challenge lies in the trade off that is built into the systems, one vs. the other. On a highly commercialized, slick, UX optimized platform like twitter there are lots of addictive, albeit shallow, reasons to participate. And the downsides can be seen everywhere – massive bot harassment, constant DMs from unwanted scammers, hate and ugliness, you get the picture.

A user controlled, open source platform, on the other hand, requires more real engagement from everyone for it to work. This is a double-edged sword – all that extra effort can seem overwhelming, but the benefits, particularly longer term can be magical.

Imagine a place where you are free to communicate with others that share your interests, and those that may not, but without an algorithm to force you to see whatever it wants you to see, or to shadow-block you from being seen, only because you didn’t pay or play its preferred game.

Losing the algorithm that serves the centralized commercial platform’s agenda is, ultimately, the only way forward, but not an easy place to get to.

In the end it is a question of realizing the potential of the internet (web2, 3 or 4) for deeper and more effective communication, not just to create a hellscape of fluff and vitriol that benefits a Zuckerberg and now, potentially, Elon Musk.

By now the shortcomings of Facebook (Meta), Twitter and the various Google services are glaringly obvious and, for the most part, agreed on nearly as much as global warming. However, just like the solutions to that other soon-to-be hellscape, the possibility of millions or even billions of people (in the case of Facebook) spontaneously migrating to a new platform or platforms is slim.

Ultimately, it will take a change in the people that comprise the network itself, not a top down makeover or feature-set rollout.

That is the most interesting point that can be gleaned from the current Mastodon moment; those that have pre-migrated before the current Twitter melt-down era seem to be acutely aware of the challenges, but also of the potential benefits, of growing into the new experiences that are only available there.

This underscores the potential irony of the current Twitter meltdown, intentional or not. Is Elon Musk doing the world a favor by pushing many of the best and brightest communicators out of the nest at the precise moment that it might be possible for another platform to gain a foothold?

Or will this be more akin to the moment that Clubhouse had which was seemingly diluted and washed away by copycat offerings (like the audio services Twitter added) and demoted to near irrelevance?

As has been the case in the past, even with the initial adoption of Facebook and Twitter by the masses, it is user sophistication and need that drives huge new platforms and activities.

Whenever a new platform for online communication is able to meet the moment and the new needs of a critical mass of users, that will be the place and time for the past to fade and something, hopefully better, to emerge.

And, perhaps, learning how to better interact with one-another online, even at the cost of taking more responsibility for learning and co-managing the platform itself, will begin with Mastodon and the Twitter devolution phase.

The following excerpt from TheMarkup.Org, from an interview by Julia Angwin of Adam Davidson gives a bit of a view into what some might find worthwhile at Mastodon:

Angwin: What would you say your biggest takeaway from this experience has been so far?

Davidson: I would say the screaming headline for me is, “Wow, this was awesome. This was amazing.” The Mastodon community was amazing. The journalism community was amazing. It’s really one of the best professional experiences of my life. I just love it.

What I’m finding most satisfying about Mastodon, and I’m seeing a lot of other journalists feel this, is that it actually forces you to ask and confront some of these questions and to make active choices. Even if Mastodon were to remain Twitter’s very tiny stepbrother, I would still like to be part of a Mastodon journalist community because I think we got lazy as a field, and we let Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, and, god help us, Elon Musk and their staff decide all these major journalistic questions. I don’t know for how many people that’s a good siren call to join Mastodon, but for me that’s been pretty exciting.

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